Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI Notebook: Iowa

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The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda visited their first short oval of 2017 (and the only oval for USF2000). While USF2000 saw a return to normalcy of sorts, Indy Lights saw a bit of a championship shakeup.

Below are reports on both races.

INDY LIGHTS: LEIST GAINS GROUND ON KAISER WITH THIRD WIN OF 2017

Matheus Leist had to start tenth at Iowa Speedway, but immediately was on the charge and ran in the top three by lap 30.

He then made quick work of both Kyle Kaiser and Colton Herta, using an outside pass on the latter in turns three and four, to vault himself into the lead.

Leist ran unchallenged from there and led the final 69 laps to score a decisive victory, his third of 2017 and his second straight on an oval (he won the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May).

“I’m so happy. I think this was my best race this year,” an elated Leist said afterward. “Of course, the Freedom 100 was great but I led the whole race. Here, I needed to move forward and I did. I’m so happy for the team – we needed to make some points today.”

He added that the car’s strong handling allowed him to maintain his lead without abusing the tires. “The car was just so good so I was able to open a gap, save my tires and get the win. It is a very difficult championship since everything here is new to me so I am being realistic. We’re in a good position now so if we can keep winning, we can keep fighting,” he finished.

The win also sees Leist make a big dent in Kyle Kaiser’s championship lead. Kaiser, who had been running second to Leist in the second half of the race, began falling back as the finish drew closer. Both Santi Urrutia and Dalton Kellett passed him on lap 77, dropping Kaiser to fourth. Herta then mounted a charge and passed Kaiser with eight laps remaining, dropping Kaiser to fifth.

As a result, Leist has closed to within 12 points of Kaiser as the series heads to the Streets of Toronto next week.

Behind Leist, Urrutia managed to outduel Kellett for second, while Kellett came home third, which matches his best finish of the season (he finished third at the Freedom 100).

Herta finished fourth to keep himself in the championship picture, and he now trails Kaiser by 36 points.

USF2000: ASKEW’S DOMINATION RETURNS

Oliver Askew won from the pole at Iowa Speedway. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

After having a tough outing at Road America, where he finished 17th and third, Oliver Askew regained his dominant form from earlier in the season to claim his sixth victory of the year at Iowa Speedway. In his first oval start, Askew started from pole and led all 60 laps on his way to victory.

Having never run on ovals before, Askew wasn’t entirely sure how things would go. “I had no experience on an oval at all coming into this year, so I don’t think anyone knew what to expect. The team told me it was halfway and I thought that should have been the race distance!” Askew quipped.

Askew credited his dominant run down to setup changes made by Cape Motorsports overnight. “We struggled a bit yesterday but we made a really good change last night and were quick today,” he explained. “It’s hard to pass here but we knew that if we got the pole and through the first couple of corners, we’d be set. It was awesome to be able to pull away.”

Title rival Rinus van Kalmthout came home second, nearly four seconds back of Askew, while Calvin Ming rounded out the podium in third.

With his win, Askew increases his championship lead over van Kalmthout to 32 points. Kaylen Frederick, who finished sixth, remains in third, but at a deficit of 89 points to Askew.

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

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.”