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.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
IMSA
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”