Kaiser. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI: Kaiser, Telitz, Franzoni score Mazda Raceway poles

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MONTEREY, Calif. – Qualifying for the first of two races in each of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires series in this weekend’s “Soul Red Finale” at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is now complete.

Here’s quick qualifying reports, below:

Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires

What seemed a closely packed qualifying session for today’s first of two Indy Lights races on the Mazda Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Presented by Cooper Tires weekend was quickly erased once Ed Jones dropped the hammer with just under 13 minutes remaining in qualifying.

That was, until Kyle Kaiser decided to interrupt Jones’ personal party at the top of the charts for today’s first race of the weekend, which goes green at 3:10 p.m. today

Kaiser, who has a wealth of bankable laps at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, edged Jones for the top spot with a late flier of 1:15.2733 in his No. 18 Juncos Racing Dallara IL-15 Mazda. Jones was second at 1:15.3904 in the No. 11 Carlin entry; Max Chilton’s 2015 lap record of 1:14.2329 will stand as the track record.

Jones secured the first sub-1:16 lap of the weekend at the 2.238-mile Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca road course, at a 1:15.6984. Jones’ lap put him nearly four tenths clear of the field – a relative light year in spec car terms – before more new tire runs took place as the session went on. Per Cooper Tire, the track temps rose from 77 degrees at the start of the session to 81 at the end of it.

“Friday was a very unique day. I’ve never felt this place to be that low grip before,” Kaiser said. “I had to learn a new setup. It gripped up a lot this morning. The team gave me a great car. We found a second on the last set of Coopers. Ready to go.”

Jones added, “With the first two sets we were really fast and quite comfortable. Last set, the car felt a bit different. A bit odd. Made it hard to put the lap together. My quickest lap, I went off at the Corkscrew and that slowed us down. Second today and provisional pole for tomorrow. Important result. Today, maximize the points. Start will be a very important part.”

Had Jones got the pole, it would have brought him into a tie with Santiago Urrutia, 319 points apiece, in the championship standings. As it is, Urrutia will have a one-point lead for today and took his No. 55 Soul Red Mazda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian into third on the grid at 1:15.4164. But Urrutia dropped his car off the road at the end of the session and that may hurt him in terms of his second fastest lap for race two.

Zach Veach, who remains mathematically eligible for the championship but was dealt a significant blow earlier this week with a 10-point penalty assessed after winning at Watkins Glen, slotted into fourth in the No. 5 Belardi Auto Racing entry at 1:16.6074. Jones’ Carlin teammate Felix Serralles was fifth, at 1:15.6470.

The rest of the runners six through to 10 were as follows: the Team Pelfrey pair of Sean Rayhall and Garett Grist, then Dean Stoneman, Andre Negrao and Zachary Claman De Melo.

Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires

Championship leader Aaron Telitz banked a series of fliers in his No. 82 Team Pelfrey car to secure the top spot for the first of three races in the Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Monterey Presented by Allied Building Products weekend.

Telitz, who entered the weekend with a 14-point gap to teammate Pato O’Ward, set a best time of 1:23.2863 to capture the first pole of the weekend. Telitz also had a couple other second and third fastest laps, in the 1:23.4 and 1:23.5 ballpark, that will help him as the weekend goes on.

O’Ward led early but fell back to second behind his teammate, and only had a best time of 1:23.8741.

Juncos Racing rookie Nicolas Dapero posted an impressive third on the grid ahead of Pelfrey’s third car, TJ Fischer, with double Mid-Ohio race winner Nico Jamin completing the top five.

A fog delay caused a one-hour delay to the schedule, but race one for Pro Mazda will roll off at 2:15 p.m. this afternoon.

Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda

ArmsUp Motorsports drivers Victor Franzoni led his third straight session to kick off the weekend for the Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Monterey Powered by Mazda, this time securing the pole for the first of two USF2000 races. This one rolls off at 4:15 p.m. ET.

Franzoni’s best time in the No. 9 car was a 1:26.3066, which was laid down early, and not beat as the session went on.

While Franzoni has a mathematical but remote chance of scoring the title, the likelihood is that one of the Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing teammates will do it. Anthony Martin leads Parker Thompson by 21 points going into the race, and outqualified him as well on Saturday. Martin’s best lap in the No. 8 car was 1:26.6471, Thompson’s a 1:26.7100 in the No. 2 car.

Jordan Lloyd (Pabst Racing) and series debutante Michael Scott – and not Steve Carell’s character from the U.S. version of “The Office” – looked poised to complete the top five.

Scott fell down to seventh after the third Cape car, driven by Nikita Lastochkin, and Luke Gabin (JAY Motorsports) got ahead of the John Cummiskey Racing driver.  Lastochkin stopped on course betweens Turn 4 and 5 towards the end of the session, though.

Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

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NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?