New driver for No. 38 this weekend. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI: Flinn Lazier, Bayley Mickler set for USF2000 debuts in Barber

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The Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires is back in action this week after more than a month off since the season-opening St. Petersburg weekend. A couple new faces are set to debut in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season at Barber Motorsports Park.

Last week, John Cummiskey Racing announced karting and Skip Barber veteran Bayley Mickler will make his series debut in the team’s No. 33 Tatuus USF-17 Mazda.

Mickler, a 19-year-old out of Perth, Australia, will look to deliver the form on par with Cummiskey’s last Australian, last year’s USF2000 champ Anthony Martin, who cut his teeth at JCR in an excellent 2015 campaign.

Cummiskey ran New Zealander Michael Scott – not of NBC’s “The Office” – at the season finale last year at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Photo: John Cummiskey Racing

“We’ve heard lots of good things about Bayley, and we are looking forward to getting him in the No. 33 car,” said Cummiskey, whose car will feature Regency Food Services sponsorship for the weekend. “Though he only has a year in open wheel cars he’s already shown his potential, and we think he can get up to speed quickly. We are expecting good things from him.”

Meanwhile today it was announced a famous last name makes its debut in the Mazda Road to Indy.

Photo: Newman Wachs Racing

Flinn Lazier, son of 1996 Indianapolis 500 champion and perennial modern day one-off runner Buddy Lazier, will be in Newman Wachs Racing’s No. 38 entry. A skiing and soccer star outside the track, the Vail, Col. native has moved from karting to Formula Vee the last few years.

“I am very excited to say that we will have Flinn Lazier driving the No. 38 NWR car at Barber and hopefully we’ll have him with us for more events this season,” said team manager Brian Halahan.  “With all the racing history that the name Lazier carries, this makes a great story and a great opportunity for our team to help him move forward with his racing career.

“This whole thing started when a long-time friend who works with Flinn in racing contacted me recently and said I should speak to him, and here we are!”

JCR ran Kris Wright in the team’s No. 34 car at St. Petersburg and we shall see whether he will continue this weekend. Lazier replaces Cameron Das in NWR’s No. 38 car; Das was only on a one-weekend deal with the team at St. Petersburg.

Lewis Hamilton takes F1 pole in dramatic Russian GP qualifying

Russian pole Lewis Hamilton
Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton took a step closer to equaling the Formula One win record Saturday by clinching pole position at the Russian Grand Prix, after narrowly avoiding early elimination when Sebastian Vettel crashed.

Hamilton charged to a track-record time of 1 minute, 31.304 seconds, beating the Red Bull of Max Verstappen by 0.563 for his fifth straight pole position. Hamilton can achieve his 91st career win in the race on Sunday, matching the record held by Michael Schumacher.

Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was beaten into third by Verstappen’s fast run at the end of the session and was .652 off Hamilton’s time.

The long run from the grid to the first significant turn means Bottas could yet threaten to overtake Hamilton at the start Sunday using the slipstream from his teammate’s car.

“It’s nice being on pole but here is probably the worst place to be on pole,” Hamilton said.

“This year you’re seeing that our cars are more draggy and there’s more tow this year than we’ve seen in other years. So I generally expect one of (Verstappen and Bottas) to come flying by at some point. I think I’m just going to focus on my race and run the fastest race I can.”

Bottas earned his first win at the 2017 race in Russia after starting third and overtaking the two Ferraris ahead of him at the start.

Verstappen and Bottas both start the race on medium tires, which could give them an edge in terms of pit strategy over Hamilton, who is on soft tires, which wear much faster.

“I’m just going to have to nurse those tires for as far as I can. These guys, if they get by, they’re going to be pulling away,” Hamilton said.

Verstappen said he was delighted to start second.

“I wasn’t expecting that and of course it’s great for us. If we can get a good start tomorrow you never know what can happen,” he said.

Vettel lost control of his car over the kerb on the inside of the 90-degree, right-hand turn four and spun into the wall, before the Ferrari bounced back onto the track. Teammate Charles Leclerc was following closely behind and narrowly missed the wrecked car, driving over its discarded front wing.

“Oh my God, that was very, very close,” Leclerc told his team over the radio. Leclerc qualified 11th and Vettel 15th as Ferrari failed to reach the top-10 shootout with either car for the third time in four races.

Vettel’s crash meant the red flag was waved while Hamilton was trying to set his first valid lap time to make the third session – after his first attempt was earlier ruled out for going off the track.

After the track was cleared and the session restarted, Hamilton had to rush his out-lap to make it over the line in time for another flying lap with just a second to spare.

“It was horrible,” Hamilton said. “Heart in the mouth.”

Hamilton was also asked to report to race stewards over another incident in which he went off the track in the first part of qualifying. No further action was taken. It was found Hamilton didn’t gain an advantage because the lap time wasn’t counted.

Hamilton is the runaway championship leader with a 55-point advantage over second-place Bottas and 80 over Verstappen. If he can earn four more pole positions in the last seven races, he would be the first driver to 100 in F1 history.

Earlier in the third and final practice Saturday morning, Hamilton set the pace with a time of 1 minute, 33.279 seconds that was 0.776 better than his Mercedes teammate Bottas, who had been quickest in the first two sessions.