MRTI: Tight title battles beckon ahead of Toronto doubleheader

Thompson, Martin, Franzoni. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The usual six-pack of Mazda Road to Indy races are back in action this weekend at Toronto, and this also starts a run of each of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series beginning their final seven races of the year.

Indy Lights has two races in Toronto, two at Mid-Ohio, one at Watkins Glen and two at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Then for Pro Mazda and USF2000, it’s two in Toronto, with two Pro Mazda and three USF2000 at Mid-Ohio, then three Pro Mazda and two USF2000 at Mazda Raceway.

The beginning of the runs to each title and the respective Mazda Road to Indy advancement scholarships that come with them start this weekend at the series’ lone race outside the United States. Each series has one race Saturday, one race Sunday, a far cry from Road America when both Pro Mazda and USF2000 ran twice on Saturday.

Canadians set to compete this weekend on home soil include: Garett Grist, Dalton Kellett and Zachary Claman De Melo in Indy Lights and Parker Thompson in USF2000.

Serralles and Veach stole show at Iowa. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Serralles and Veach stole show at Iowa. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

INDY LIGHTS

The three-way fight of Ed Jones, Dean Stoneman and Santiago Urrutia took a backseat to Felix Serralles and Zach Veach’s win battle at Iowa, but with Jones, Stoneman and Urrutia finishing in that order in third, fourth and fifth, the points situation didn’t change.

Jones has 236 points to Stoneman’s 213 and Urrutia’s 206. Lurking and not out of it are the Iowa sparring partners, Serralles and Veach at 199 and 194, with Kyle Kaiser hanging on at 189, 47 points back.

This weekend could be a “winnowing” if the top three in points dominate proceedings but if Serralles and Veach – or Kaiser, who drives for Juncos Racing and was arguably strongest on Indy Lights’ only other street course this year of St. Petersburg (third and second) – throw a big result up, then the title battle will remain wide open.

And Kaiser – or De Melo, for that matter – is a decent pick for the weekend because Juncos’ Spencer Pigot swept these races last year. Other potential big results could come from Felix Rosenqvist, back after a two-weekend absence, and Grist, who knows the streets of Toronto well and whose Team Pelfrey outfit bagged its only podium of the year on a street course, second at St. Petersburg, with Scott Hargrove.

O'Ward and Telitz. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
O’Ward and Telitz. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

PRO MAZDA

In the battle between Team Pelfrey teammates Pato O’Ward and Aaron Telitz, the pressure is now squarely on the 17-year-old Mexican who won six of the first seven races but watched from off the podium as Telitz swept on home soil at Road America.

Telitz has now closed to within 28 points of O’Ward following his domination at Elkhart Lake, and will look to carry the momentum this weekend. The pair split wins on the only other street course this year at St. Petersburg and with no pressure on him and riding the wave of momentum, Telitz will look to close that gap even more this weekend.

Juncos, which not only has a good Indy Lights setup on street courses, banked a Pro Mazda win here last year with Grist. Emerging star Nicolas Dapero, who’s scored two podiums in his last three races, or Will Owen could be in with a shot at their first series wins and ending the thus far Pelfrey sweep of the season. Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing returns to two cars with Jorge Cevallos back alongside Nico Jamin; the young Mexican ran the opening races this year for JDC.

USF2000

Simply put, whoever emerges ahead of the Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing teammates this weekend – Anthony Martin or Parker Thompson (pictured top of page) – will be the points leader.

Because the pair enter tied and Martin is the one surging after winning four of the last five races, including the last three in a row.

The Australian and the Canadian have different driving styles and while both are calm, good kids outside the cockpit, the pressure is intensifying between them since only one of them can win the title.

Thompson, who started stronger, will probably feel the weight of racing on home soil this weekend. Yes, Red Deer, Alberta is a fair way from Toronto, but it’ll still be important for Thompson to want to deliver with a win here.

Third place in points is ArmsUp’s Victor Franzoni, who should be better here than at St. Petersburg when he was in his first weekend for the team. Franzoni’s banked five podiums this year but is yet to win.

Pabst Racing could play spoiler, having had the best setup cars at St. Petersburg and having swept the weekend there between Jordan Lloyd and Yufeng Luo. Garth Rickards is due a good result for the team as well, as is fellow series sophomore Ayla Agren of John Cummiskey Racing, who was fourth last time out at Road America.

Another driver to watch is the third Australian, Luke Gabin, who it appears will race after JAY Motorsports has worked to find funding for the talented and likable young driver for this weekend. Gabin scored his first USF2000 podium at Toronto a year ago with Team Pelfrey. Englishman Jordan Cane, formerly of Pelfrey, could be poised for his first podium since St. Pete – both he and Robert Megennis (Pelfrey) banked podiums at the only other street race this year.

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)