MRLS Saturday: Intense qualifying for MRTI, PWC

Max Chilton. Photos @ Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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MONTEREY, Calif. – Each of today’s Mazda Road to Indy races from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – are recapped in separate posts.

Here’s the rest of the day’s activities from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, with qualifying for two of those three series, qualifying for the Pirelli World Challenge GT and GTS classes, and a second straight thrilling Touring Car race. Here’s quick recaps:

PRO MAZDA QUALIFYING

Championship leader Santiago “Santi” Urrutia was poised to take pole position at 1:22.959 in the No. 81 Team Pelfrey entry, but was pipped on the final lap by Garett Grist of Juncos Racing, at 1:22.879 in the No. 5 car. Urrutia will start second with Will Owen, Neil Alberico and Timothe Buret completing the top five. Weiron Tan reported a roll into the Corkscrew with his No. 22 Andretti Autosport car, but was checked and cleared after the accident.

INDY LIGHTS QUALIFYING

In the most crucial qualifying session of the year, records fell by the new Dallara IL-15 Mazda. Max Chilton set the new mark of 1:14.828, breaking Tony Kanaan’s 18-year-old track record of 1:15.090 set in 1997.

But then the records flew fast and furious from there, with Chilton finally nailing down the ultimate new track record mark of 1:14.233 in the No. 14 Carlin entry, now adorned with Activision’s Skylanders franchise this weekend.

“It’s the best lap I’ve done all year,” an exuberant Chilton told MotorSportsTalk after his lap, which netted him his second pole of the year (Iowa). “I just love it here. I was surprised by how the track developed, actually.”

Chilton noted that he started on scuffed Cooper Tires, then went to two new tires later in the run.

Kyle Kaiser, a seriously experienced driver at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, clocked in second in the No. 18 Juncos Racing entry at 1:14.359.

“I’m just focusing on myself this weekend,” said the California native, who seeks his first career series win. “I’ve wanted to win this race since the race was announced on the schedule. I’ve done countless laps here. I have no idea how many.”

The first three drivers in the championship – Spencer Pigot, Ed Jones and Jack Harvey – will roll off from third, fourth and fifth respectively after times of 1:14.393, 1:14.507 and 1:14.958 in the No. 12 Juncos Racing, No. 11 Carlin and No. 42 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entries.

RC Enerson, who also has a shot at the title, qualified eighth.

The top six drivers on the grid eclipsed Kanaan’s old track record.

USF2000 RACE

There’s a new series champion in USF2000 and his name is Nico Jamin. A full breakout to today’s first race and lone USF2000 on-track activity is linked here.

PIRELLI WORLD CHALLENGE GT/GTS QUALIFYING, TC RACE

Jack Baldwin took his No. 73 GTSport Racing Porsche Cayman S to the pole ahead of tomorrow’s GTS race. Kris Wilson, the two Kia Optimas and the two title contenders, Andrew Aquilante and Michael Cooper, completed the top six.

“This was really a challenge for us the last two days. We usually roll off the trailer with a good setup.  That hasn’t been the case this weekend.  We have made a number of changes to the car already.  I have to hand it to the crew guys for making the car much better.  They kept grinding to improve the car.  I made a bunch of pit stops and the car became better this weekend,” Baldwin said.

“I wasn’t sure were going to win the pole today.  It’s a tough series and some great drivers are competing here.  So I feel very good about a pole position at this great, historic track.  I think I have only won here once over my career.  I have been on the podium a bunch but I’d love to win here again on Sunday.”

GT qualifying, meanwhile, saw NGT Motorsport’s of Alessandro Pier Guidi and Alessandro Balzan sweep the front row in their one-off races in the pair of MOMO Ferrari 458 Italia GT3s.

Johnny O’Connell will start fifth, and title rival Olivier Beretta in 12th.

Saturday afternoon’s Touring Car race witnessed a thrilling bout between Corey Fergus and Ernie Francis Jr. Francis made several passing attempts in his No. 98 Mazda MX-5 on Fergus’ No. 00 Porsche Cayman – notably on the outside of the left-handed, downhill Turn 9 sweeper. At one point, Francis completed the pass, but then lost the lead the following lap on the entry to Turn 2, when he ran wide and left Fergus enough room to make it through.

It was a clean race between both drivers, neither giving an inch but both providing racing room.

“I had a lead for a while and then Ernie (Francis Jr.) got by Vesko (Kozarov) for second.  That made my race even more exciting as he began closing on me.  That Mazda was very fast behind me.  I definitely ran the rear tires off my car and I had a lot of fun,” Fergus said.

Paul Holton (TCA, No. 71 Honda Civic Si) and Joey Jordan (TCB, No. 47 Mazda 2) scored the other two class wins.

PRO MAZDA RACE

As Nico Jamin had earlier in the day, Santi Urrutia captured the championship in Pro Mazda. A full recap of that race is linked here.

INDY LIGHTS RACE

The championship was not decided, but Spencer Pigot took a pivotal step towards it on Saturday with a win in the first of two races. That recap is linked here.

FRIDAY CONTENT

Friday’s end of day recap from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is linked here.

Santino Ferrucci will drive No. 14 for AJ Foyt Racing full time in 2023 IndyCar season

Santino Ferrucci AJ Foyt
James Gilbert/Getty Images
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Santino Ferrucci will return to full-time racing in the NTT IndyCar Series next season, joining AJ Foyt Racing.

Ferrucci had made eight IndyCar starts with three teams since his last full-time season in 2020 while also racing part time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year.

He will drive the storied No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet for four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt’s team, which will field the car from its Waller, Texas headquarters.

“It’s incredibly exciting to be back in the INDYCAR Series full time,” Ferrucci said in a team release. “Being a part-time driver over the last two years has been hard for me, personally. I’m a race car driver, and I want to compete. Working with different teams has been exciting, and I’m proud that no matter which car I’ve raced, I’ve always shown speed and consistency. I couldn’t be more excited to join AJ Foyt Racing in the 14 Chevy. I can’t wait to make the best of it.”

Ferrucci, 24, had finished a career-best fourth in IndyCar four times, including the 104th Indy 500 in 2020. He was the 2019 Indy 500 rookie of the year with a sixth.

In nine Xfinity starts since 2021, Ferrucci has a career-best finish of 13th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I am thrilled to welcome Santino to the team,” Larry Foyt said in a release. “He’s shown a knack for getting toward the front of the field, and I think he is a racer who moves forward on race day. A.J. sees the fire in him and has enjoyed their meetings together. I think Santino’s experience will help his rookie teammate as well, so he is a great addition to our roster.”

Ferrucci will be teamed at AJ Foyt Racing with Benjamin Pedersen, who finished fifth in the 2022 Indy Lights standings. The team has yet to specify the number for Pedersen’s entry, which will be fielded out of its Indianapolis race shop.

Foyt’s two full-time drivers last season were Dalton Kellett and Kyle Kirkwood, who is moving to Andretti Autosport.