Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI: Consistent Kaiser leads Indy Lights into Iowa

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The 2017 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season has been feast or famine for some drivers expected to be championship favorites.

Colton Herta has two wins and one additional podium, but has also recorded five finishes of tenth or worse. Aaron Telitz, too, is a race winner this year and has four additional finishes of fifth or better to his name, but his season has also been blighted by three finishes of 11th or worse.

Matheus Leist (15th and 11th), Nico Jamin (13th and 14th), and Zachary Claman De Melo (14th, 11th, and 10th) are also race winners who have suffered poor finishes at various times this year.

This highlights a remarkable aspect of Kyle Kaiser’s 2017 campaign. The Juncos Racing driver, in his third Indy Lights season, has finished every lap of the season so far, scored a victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course (Race 2), finished on the podium five additional times, and has a worst finish of ninth. In fact, his season results run as follows: 6-4-2-2-3-1-9-3-2.

The remarkable run of consistency has propelled Kaiser to the lead of the Indy Lights championship as the series heads to Iowa Speedway next weekend.

Kyle Kaiser won Race 1 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course earlier this year. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

However, one should not mistake Kaiser’s consistency for conservative driving. As he explained after Road America, running conservatively could leave him vulnerable to other competitors, so he remains as aggressive as he can be.

“I don’t want to put myself at risk by not being defensive or not being aggressive. I’m trying to drive the way I normally drive and hope everybody else respects the racing room,” Kaiser asserted.

Multiple factors have converged to see Kaiser leap to the fore, but the engineering side of the team may be the biggest. Kaiser currently works with Peter Dempsey, a former competitor in the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires and current Indy Lights engineer at Juncos Racing, and the relationship between the two has been a productive one.

“I like Peter a lot,” Kaiser said of Dempsey’s influence. “He worked with me in Pro Mazda, so we had a really good relationship. He’s been super helpful.”

The leadership of Juncos Technical Director Ernesto Gonella has also been a big influence. And while his style is a little unorthodox, as Kaiser explained, it’s highly effective.

“He just goes by feel. Every morning, he goes ‘What does the air feel like?’ He’s really cool, I love the way he works. He totally relates to the driver, which makes it a lot easier.”

The next race at Iowa Speedway presents a unique challenge for Indy Lights as the lone short oval on the calendar, and Kaiser has personal experience with the difficulties of driving on short ovals. “I had a little accident there last year in practice, and that really was a wake-up call. You got to respect these short ovals.”

However, given that his first Indy Lights win came on a short oval (Phoenix Raceway, 2016), Kaiser is confident his run of success will continue. “I like the short ovals. I got my first win at Phoenix, so I think we’ll have a good setup and hopefully we’ll be up front again.”

Kaiser heads to Iowa Speedway with a 27-point lead over Matheus Leist in the championship standings.

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Valtteri Bottas takes pole position for season-opening Austrian GP

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas upstaged Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to take pole position Saturday for the Formula One Austrian GP.

The Finnish driver edged out the world champion by 0.012 seconds to claim the top spot for the season opener at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg. He clenched his fist as he climbed out of his car and shared a hug with Hamilton.

“It’s something special when you push the car to the limit,” said Bottas, who is chasing an eighth career win. “Feels so good. It’s very impressive (from the team).”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was third, and Lando Norris gave McLaren a boost by finishing fourth. Verstappen has won the past two years here, including 2019 when he started third behind Hamilton and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

“It’s going to be interesting quite a bit warmer tomorrow and hopefully this will play to our advantage,” Verstappen said. “Today, Mercedes was on a different level, unfortunately. Last year we were also a little bit off in qualifying so I expect we will be a bit better in the race.”

Bottas had the leading time when drivers embarked on their final laps and beat his own mark before sliding off the track into the gravel.

Hamilton was chasing a record-extending 89th career pole. He was ahead but then dropped off slightly as Bottas secured a 12th career pole.

“Great job by Valtteri. It’s a great start to the season,” Hamilton said. “We show year on year that we continue to be the best team. We’re open-minded … constantly learning from each other and pushing the boundaries.”

Ferrari struggled for speed, with Leclerc nearly one second behind in seventh and Sebastian Vettel failing to make it into the third and final part of qualifying, known as Q3. He starts the race from 11th on the grid.

Vettel is leaving Ferrari at the end of the season with his future in F1 uncertain.

Earlier, Hamilton posted the fastest time in morning practice. The 35-year-old British driver was also quickest in both sessions on Friday.

Midway through third practice, F1 newcomer Nicholas Latifi misjudged the exit of a turn and spun his Williams car into a protective tire wall.