INDIANAPOLIS – Arguably the second most important weekend of the year for the full Mazda Road to Indy, second only to the Mazda championship finale weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, takes place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course this weekend.
Another six-pack of races are on tap, with two apiece for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda on the IMS road course.
It’s the only time Pro Mazda and USF2000 race at IMS while Indy Lights returns for the Freedom 100 on Carb Day, live on NBCSN.
Here’s quick primers on what to look for this weekend:
Five races, five winners. And the crazy thing is there are plenty of other talents who haven’t yet graced the top step of the podium.
Then look at the Indy Lights races the last two years at IMS, two with the old car and two with the new Dallara IL-15 Mazda, and there have been four different winners here too.
This year, in order, Felix Serralles, Felix Rosenqvist, Kyle Kaiser, Ed Jones and Santiago Urrutia have all scored the wins. The four past Indy GP weekend winners include in order, Matthew Brabham, Luiz Razia, Jack Harvey and Sean Rayhall.
Jones and RC Enerson had a podium apiece here last year; Jones will look to battle back from a chaotic race he had here in the second race last year, after a battle with Harvey. The tension between those two was palpable and set the stage for their title battle as the year went on, before Pigot won.
Considering Rayhall won here for what was 8Star Motorsports last year, look for Rayhall’s de facto replacement, Scott Hargrove, to contend this week in the renamed Team Pelfrey outfit. Since a second-place finish at the St. Petersburg opener, the talented Canadian and Pro Mazda Indy GP weekend winner in 2014 has had a rough go of it. He seeks a bounce back this weekend.
Any of the five winners thus far this year will seek to be first to number two, while those besides Hargrove who could be a bet for their first win of 2016 also include Enerson, Zach Veach, Dean Stoneman and Shelby Blackstock. Rookies Zachary Claman De Melo, Andre Negrao, Neil Alberico and Dalton Kellett are improving with more time.
Jones leads Kaiser, 108-102, in the points entering this weekend with numerous others in striking distance.
The Team Pelfrey juggernaut in Pro Mazda looks to roll on this weekend, with Pato O’Ward and Aaron Telitz having completed an unbelievable run of four straight 1-2 finishes to open the year. O’Ward’s been confirmed again at least through this weekend, a good sign for the 17-year-old Mexican’s future season prospects in the Gap Guard-suppoted entry.
Juncos Racing should be better here – Timothe Buret was quite quick and a race winner here last year while teammates Garett Grist, Will Owen and Jose Gutierrez nearly matched him for pace. Grist and Owen seek their best results of the year, with Grist looking to break into the top two. Weiron Tan (Andretti Autosport) and Santiago Urrutia (Team Pelfrey) also won here last year in a rare tripleheader weekend, with Tan winning the NOLA makeup round held on Thursday.
Cape needs a big weekend, with only one podium from a combined eight starts for rookies Nico Jamin and Jake Eidson to start the year. A four of Expert cars entered takes the car count up to 13 this weekend, although Jorge Cevallos of JDC Motorsports is not here this weekend.
Parker Thompson broke through for not just his first career win, but a weekend sweep for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing in Barber. The points leader from Red Deer, Alberta will look to carry that momentum with him this weekend.
It’s a good bet if not Thompson that at least one of USF2000’s trio of talented Australian sophomores – Anthony Martin, Jordan Lloyd or Luke Gabin – could win as well this weekend. Gabin, who drives for JAY Motorsports, is in the same team which won here in 2014 with Adrian Starrantino. Martin is due for his first win at Cape; Lloyd, who won the season opener at St. Pete, looks for his second win with Pabst Racing.
The wild card of the weekend is the experienced Victor Franzoni, who returns to USF2000 at Indy this year after making his Pro Mazda debut last year. Franzoni races with the ArmsUp Motorsports team.
As ever, the Team Pelfrey and John Cummiskey Racing teams should be right there or thereabouts, with other teams due to step up if they nail the setup right. With a 27-car grid, USF2000 nearly equals the combined totals of Indy Lights (16 cars) and Pro Mazda (13).