Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI: Road America kicks off hectic six-week stretch of action

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The full Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder is on display this weekend at Road America for six more races that kick off a busy six-week stretch of action. The three series race four times in the next six weekends.

After Road America this weekend, the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series also race at Iowa and Toronto back-to-back weekends in July; these two and Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires are all in action at Mid-Ohio.

In total, there are 19 races to run over the next six weeks (7 Indy Lights, 7 USF2000, 5 Pro Mazda) that will go a long ways towards determining the champions who will receive the Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarships to the next level at year’s end.

INDY LIGHTS

With the top six drivers separated by only 30 points and the top eight by only 49 points, the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires title is fully wide open.

Thus far Kyle Kaiser has used consistency to move to the top for Juncos Racing, with finishes between first and ninth in all seven races thus far. His first win of the year came at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course; he enters Road America, where he finished sixth both races last year, with a 14-point lead over Nico Jamin (151-137).

Jamin may have concerns over ultimate power this weekend, having been hamstrung a bit on top-end both at last month’s Freedom 100 and at a recent Road America test. Still, the Andretti Autosport driver has both his wins this year on permanent road courses – at Barber and IMS – and will be keen to add to that this weekend.

Colton Herta sits third in points with 129, 22 back of Kaiser, after a roller coaster debut season with Andretti/Steinbrenner Racing. The talented teenager has alternated between booms and bust with two wins, a second, and four finishes of 10th or worse. Some issues haven’t been of his own doing, but he needs a consistent weekend here.

Two more Americans, Aaron Telitz and Neil Alberico, are tied for fourth with 122 points. Telitz, the Birchwood, Wis. native, enters looking for another home race high after sweeping this weekend in Pro Mazda last year. He’s also with a team, Belardi Auto Racing, which won the first race here last year with Zach Veach. Alberico’s parlayed consistent finishes into a top-five spot in his sophomore season. The cool Californian looks to join teammate Matheus Leist as a winner for Carlin this season.

Leist comes to Road America sixth in points with 121 and with a lot of track time in the last month-plus. He made his IndyCar test debut last week, fresh off winning the Freedom 100 at Indy last month, and also has tested here in a Lights car. Another good weekend here could pay distinct dividends for his longer-term prospects.

At 46 and 49 points back, respectively, Santiago Urrutia (Belardi with SPM) and Zachary Claman De Melo (Carlin) have outside chances to keep their title hopes alive – but must get rolling here. Both have runner-up finishes on their scorecard this year but have been dogged by inconsistency.

Of the remaining six drivers entered, all bar rookie Ryan Norman have prior MRTI race experience at Road America. Norman and Herta have tested here though ahead of the weekend.

The pair of Indy Lights races are at 12 p.m. Saturday and 8:45 a.m. Sunday; Indy Lights TV coverage from Road America airs at 11:30 a.m. ET on Sunday on NBCSN, as the lead-in to the Verizon IndyCar Series race.

PRO MAZDA

The two-horse race for the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires championship heats up this weekend at Road America. Anthony Martin (Cape Motorsports) swept St. Petersburg while Victor Franzoni (Juncos Racing) responded with a sweep at the Indy road course. Franzoni holds a six-point lead, 116-110, heading into this weekend’s action.

Team Pelfrey’s TJ Fischer is the only other driver with a realistic title shot. The Californian has finished on the podium in all four races with three third places and a second. At 25 points back, he’s not out of it; Telitz overcame a 55-point deficit last year starting with a Road America sweep, but he’ll need a bit of help from the two drivers in front of him to make it happen.

A further 20 points back of Fischer, 10 points cover fourth-placed Carlos Cunha to seventh-placed Phillippe Denes. Cunha, Denes, Nikita Lastochkin and Sting Ray Robb have been consistent top-five finishers but not threatened the leaders thus far.

There’s 10 other drivers in an enhanced 17-car field. Noteworthy there is the return of Max Hanratty, a Milwaukee native, with ArmsUp Motorsports while Kris Wright makes his series debut with JDC Motorsports, moving on after parting ways with John Cummiskey Racing in USF2000.

Pro Mazda races at 1:35 p.m. on Friday and 2:05 p.m. on Saturday.

USF2000

With a 60-point lead and a five-race win streak, the only questions for Team USA Scholarship winner and thus far USF2000’s most dominant driver Oliver Askew are how soon can he clinch the title and how many races he can win consecutively. The talented Floridian has been a cut above the rest this year with Cape Motorsports in all aspects, and will look to add to his season long tour de force this weekend. Only Robert Megennis has defeated him this season, doing so at the season opener in St. Petersburg.

Second place could be up for grabs as Rinus VeeKay, Kaylen Frederick and Parker Thompson are separated by just 28 points. None has won yet this year although all have been regular podium finishers; Dutch rookie VeeKay leading Pabst Racing’s charge, Baltimore teenager Frederick impressing regularly with Team Pelfrey despite a disqualification at Indy that was devastating from a title standpoint, and Canadian veteran Thompson looking to break through for Exclusive Autosport’s first USF2000 win. Thompson won in F1600 competition at the Canadian Grand Prix weekend, which was a huge confidence booster for him and the Exclusive team.

Elsewhere there’s a bit of disappointment this weekend with a reduced, 18-car grid, including the absences of three drivers in the top-10 in points owing to financial straits.

All of Dakota Dickerson (fifth, Newman Wachs Racing), Luke Gabin (seventh, Exclusive Autosport) and Ayla Agren (ninth, Team Pelfrey) are no-shows for the weekend and only NWR, with Darren Keane moving over from BENIK, answers the bell among those cars this weekend.

The field hit a high of 24 cars at the Barber weekend but cars not present this weekend include Gabin’s No. 91 car, Agren’s No. 82 car, the two BENIK entries (Nos. 31 and 32), the two John Cummiskey Racing entries (Nos. 33 and 34), and the remaining Newman Wachs cars (Nos. 37 and 38) which have all run in earlier events this season. David Malukas (No. 79 BN Racing) and Jayson Clunie (No. 93 Exclusive Autosport) continue for a second weekend after making their season debuts at Indy.

USF2000 races at 11:45 a.m. on Friday and 1:10 p.m. on Saturday.

Adam Cianciarulo wins 250 championship, Eli Tomac wins Ironman 450s

Vanessa O'Brien. KawasakiUSA
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Not content with the championship, Eli Tomac ended the season in style with his sixth overall victory of the season at Ironman Raceway in the season finale.

Finishing third in the first race behind the two riders who were his principal rivals for most of 2019, Tomac did what he has done for most of the season and finished better in his second moto. In fact, he scored his 11th moto victory in that race.

“It was a fun day,” Tomac said on NBC Sports Gold after Moto 2. “The mindset was there to attack. The first lap there (in Moto 2) was chaos with the crash with Marvin (Musquin). After that, Ken (Roczen) got by me right away. He was so good on the first couple of laps. I rode behind him for the majority of the race and was able to get by. What a year.”

The first moto may have been one of the best fans have seen all year.

Roczen grabbed the early lead, but Tomac kept him in sight. The other member of 2019’s Big 3, Musquin lurked in third and none of them were able bot get away from the other. In the closing laps, Musquin surged from third to the lead. At the checkers Musquin held a .707 second lead over Roczen with Tomac less than three seconds back in third.

Neither Musquin nor Roczen could keep their momentum, however. Musquin crashed in the opening lap of Moto 2 and was carted off the track. Roczen had the lead of the second race before giving it up to Tomac after the halfway point – and has often been the case this season, he faded in the closing laps to finish third.

Roczen’s 2-3 was enough for second overall.

Zach Osborne (5-2) rode to a top five finish in the first moto, but it was his performance in the second that gave him his sixth overall podium finish of the season.

In what is probably his last ride with the Monster Energy Kawasaki team, Joey Savatgy (4-6) finished fourth overall.

Justin Barcia (7-4) rounded out the top five.

450 Moto 1 Results
450 Moto 2 Results
450 Overall Results
Points Standings

In the 250 class, Adam Cianciarulo wrapped up the championship with one moto remaining.

Dylan Ferrandis needed to win in order to keep the pressure on Cianciarulo and he certainly did his part. Ferrandis took the lead from Kyle Peters on Lap 2, but it would not be that simple. Teammate Justin Cooper would not make it easy on Ferrandis when he grabbed the top spot on Lap 5. Ferrandis paced himself and regained the lead on Lap 12. With that pass, he was going to extend the championship battle into Moto 2 unless Cianciarulo could respond. Cianciarulo ran in third about five seconds back.

Ferrandis held on for his eighth moto win of the season.

“My goal today was to finish on a high note,” Ferrandis said on NBC Sport Gold after the first race. “So, I won a moto. I did the hard part of the job. AC was on it again today. He completely deserves this title. I was bad this year and lost points to him. I made a lot of mistakes this year, but I learned a lot also.”

When Ferrandis passed Cooper for the lead, it lit a fire under the championship leader. Cianciarulo caught Cooper in two laps to minimize the effect of Ferrandis’ win. Entering Moto 2 with a 27-point lead, he did not even need to start the race to claim the championship.

“Those guys were going really fast at the beginning,” Cianciarulo said. “It’s kind of hard. I felt like I had some pace, but I didn’t want to get in between them because that’s when things get hectic. So I thought I would let it play out as it was going to. I was cheering on Justin the whole moto. I was like ‘Come on man! Good lead, you’re doing good.’ Then I saw Dylan make a charge. I don’t know what happened to Justin, but then I knew I had to get him.

“I really did not want to sit in the rig for 45 minutes between (motos) and stress about it the whole time.”

All that was left was to see if Cianciarulo could round out the season with a perfect record of podium finishes.

Moto 2 was dominated by the same riders who ran well in the first race. After struggling with starts all year, Ferrandis earned the hole shot and rode to an easy win over Cooper getting his fourth overall win in the process. All four wins have come in the last six weeks.

With this moto win, Ferrandis bettered Cianciarulo in that statistic with nine to seven. This was Ferrandis’ best year in America with his Supercross championship and a second in the outdoor series.

Cooper’s second-place finish combined with his third in Moto 1 to give him second overall.

The answer to the question of whether Cianciarulo could sweep the podium was “yes.” Finishing fourth in the second race, he was third overall

Chase Sexton was able to snag the last podium spot of Moto 2 for his first such finish since Round 3. With a 4-3 he finished fourth overall.

Michael Mosiman (5-5) rounded out the top five.

250 Moto 1 Results
250 Moto 2 Results
250 Overall Results
Points Standings

Moto Wins

450MX
[11] Eli Tomac (Hangtown II, Pala I & Pala II, Thunder Valley II, WW Ranch II, RedBud I, Washougal I & II, Budds Creek I & II, Ironman I)
[5] Ken Roczen (Hangtown I, Thunder Valley I, High Point II, Unadilla I & II)
[4] Marvin Musquin (WW Ranch I, The Wick I, RedBud II, Ironman I)
[2] Cooper Webb (Spring Creek I & II)
[1] Blake Baggett (High Point I)
[1] Zach Osborne (The Wick II)

250MX
[9] Dylan Ferrandis (WW Ranch II, The Wick II, RedBud I & II, Washougal I & II, Unadilla II, Ironman I & II)
[7] Adam Cianciarulo (Hangtown II, Pala II, Thunder Valley I, High Point II, The Wick I, Spring Creek II, Unadilla I)
[3] Justin Cooper (Hangtown I, Pala I, Thunder Valley I)
[2] Hunter Lawrence (High Point I, Spring Creek I)
[2] Shane McElrath (Budds Creek I & II)
[1] Chase Sexton (WW Ranch I)

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