Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Hargrove, Pelfrey, plan Phoenix, Barber in working towards full season

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One of the most talented drivers in the Mazda Road to Indy is set to continue for at least the next two Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires weekends, with the plan of extending it to a full-season effort.

Scott Hargrove is set to continue in the No. 3 Gap Guard Team Pelfrey Dallara IL-15 Mazda at the Phoenix International Raceway and Barber Motorsports Park race weekends, the second car to teammate Juan Piedrahita.

It’s the next step as Hargrove, the 2013 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda champion, and his partners – others of note include Vancouver-based Full Torque Gear (apparel company) and Electra Meccanica (electric car company) – work towards finalizing a full-season program.

“I’ll be at Phoenix, and we’re going to try to run the whole season,” Hargrove told NBC Sports. “That was (always) the plan… and we just needed to put the pieces together.

“But it’s looking positive. We’re still working the business deals and looking to find a few more sponsors. Our intentions are to go run at Phoenix and Barber, and show we can run up front.”

Hargrove, who besides the USF2000 title has also won the Porsche GT3 Canada championship, has said his ability to look for new partners is one of his favorite parts of the sport.

“Racing is my passion but at the same time, but I’m absolutely hugely interested in the business side of the world,” he explained. “It’s a natural fit being able to move different parties and find solutions for their needs. It’s a lot of fun.

“Yes you hope to race, but the negotiating with different companies is a ton of fun. I’ve learned a lot from that. The whole thing is that sometimes I think that I learn more doing this than I would at school!

“And this year has been a lot more relaxed than last year. I go in thinking, ‘Whatever happens, happens, and I’ll give it my best shot.’ But things are looking positive. It’s all about the mindset and how you work on it.”

Hargrove finished second in the season opener at St. Petersburg, fighting through a broken car. Unfortunately he was caught up in an accident in the second race of the weekend on Sunday.

“We knew we had the speed to run up front,” Hargrove said. “The start went really well. The inside line moved a lot better than the outside. After that, we kind of settled in. It wasn’t too crazy.”

Hargrove’s chance to gain a position opened up when then-leader Zach Veach encountered electrical issues roughly halfway through the 30-lap race.

“Zach (Veach) had his issue and my eyes got pretty wide! I didn’t know what was going on with his car. I used my push-to-pass. He was figuring out why his car was having an issue. I don’t think he saw me.

Hargrove at St. Pete. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Hargrove at St. Pete. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

“We made slight contact and it bent the toe link. I ran the whole second half with a bent toe link and still came in second. I was really hoping to challenge Felix (Serralles) for the win, but after the contact, it was hanging on. Kyle Kaiser was right on me the rest of the race. It was definitely exciting.”

Sunday’s race still produced a positive despite first-lap contact at Turn 4.

“I’d been three-wide into (Turn) 1, and had some contact, side to side,” Hargrove said. “I thought I’d got through good. I had a good run coming on Shelby (Blackstock). I tried to go around the outside. After the contact with Shelby, I realized I had a flat tire. So that’s why I carried more speed into the corner than I was expecting. Unfortunately he was there.

“The positive was, we were still the second quickest lap of the race. We came into the pits with a bent suspension. But the guys were jumping on it working to fix it! For our team, the result was disappointing but the effort was outstanding. You can’t complain too much.”

He’ll now head into the next two weekends having tested at both tracks, although the Phoenix test was truncated with mechanical issues. Barber saw him at the pointy end of the timesheets.

“We were really happy with having such pace,” he said. “I hadn’t raced at Barber since 2014, so it was a good reminder of which way the corners go. We’re confident going there.”

The mindset of St. Petersburg though, although it was only one race last year, was different this year compared to last year then as 8Star Motorsports.

“It was a one-race deal going into St. Pete. But that said… compared to last year, things are looking a lot better now,” he said.

“It was a different situation. (This year) I was pretty sure we were going to Phoenix. So it seems different. Everyone’s happy at St. Pete, and we’re continuing. I’m just hoping that continues for the rest of the year.”

F1: Max Verstappen provides late-lap thrills at U.S. Grand Prix

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AUSTIN, Texas — Leave it to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen to provide some late-race thrills at the U.S. Grand Prix.

Verstappen’s key block on Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton late in Sunday’s race denied Hamilton a chance to maybe chase down Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen to win. And it helped deny Hamilton’s bid for the season championship.

Verstappen’s defensive skills allowed the Red Bull driver to finish second, his best result yet at the U.S Grand Prix, his fourth podium in six races. By keeping Hamilton third, it kept the season championship alive, even if just another week to the Mexican Grand Prix.

Last season, Verstappen had surged past Raikkonen on a final-lap pass to finish third. It was the kind of aggressive move that earned him the “Mad Max” nickname. Before he could even reach the podium, race officials declared Verstappen’s move illegal and bumped an angry Verstappen down to fifth.

The Circuit of the Americas this week installed a new curb on the same corner, dubbed “Verstoppen,” to punish drivers who tried anything similar this year. It worked when Verstappen hit it hard enough in qualifying to knock his car out of the session with a damaged suspension and gear box. He started Sunday’s race 18th.

The Dutch driver launched a furious attack through the field and found himself in the thick of things late Sunday. His move to block Hamilton wasn’t on the same corner with the curbs, and it came with him playing defense instead of being the aggressor.

Verstappen had to make multiple moves to keep Hamilton behind him and finally drove the Mercedes wide, forcing Hamilton to finally concede the position and the race.

“I was trying to get close to Kimi but at the same time keeping an eye on Lewis in my mirror. It was close, but we managed to hang on,” Verstappen said. “It is safe to say today went a lot better than expected.”

Knowing Verstappen’s aggressive nature, Hamilton said there was too much at stake to risk a collision.

“The key to me was to make sure I finished ahead of Seb. I don’t care when you win a championship, just that you win,” Hamilton said. “”For Max, to come back from so far, he did a great job.”

Verstappen has been just as aggressive at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.

In 2016, race officials ruled he improperly left the track to gain an advantage on Vettel to finish third and he was bumped from the podium. Last season, Verstappen’s strong start sent him into the lead out of the first turn, while Hamilton and Vettel bumped each other. The collision ruptured one of Hamilton’s tires.

Verstappen won the race while Hamilton limped home in ninth place, but still won the season championship.