MRTI Friday notebook: Mid-Ohio

Askew (center) won Mid-Ohio but got docked points post-race. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
0 Comments

LEXINGTON, Ohio – The first two of seven races for the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires are in the books on Friday afternoon, one race apiece for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires

There were several other sessions: USF2000 first qualifying, Indy Lights practice, Pro Mazda first qualifying, and Indy Lights first qualifying. All told, a busy day of action for the MRTI.

USF2000: ASKEW WINS, BUT PENALIZED POST-RACE

After a tough Toronto weekend where he didn’t win either race on the streets, and got collected in the Alex Baron/David Malukas Turn 3 crash as they battled for the lead, Oliver Askew rebounded with his seventh win of the season, after winning pole in the morning, and closed in on the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season championship.

The win also extended Cape Motorsports’ Mid-Ohio win streak to nine in a row, after Anthony Martin (all three 2016), Nico Jamin (all three 2015), Florian Latorre (Race 3, 2014) and Jake Eidson (Race 2, 2014). RC Enerson for Team E Racing was the last non-Cape winner in USF2000 here at Mid-Ohio.

However, Askew’s would-have-been 29-point lead after winning was reduced to 19 over Rinus VeeKay after confirmation of the official results. Askew was assessed a 10-point penalty for jumping the start.

The 10-point penalty for jumping the start on Lap 1 was different from one assessed to three other drivers post-race – Jacob Abel, Robert Megennis and Phillippe Denes – a 17-second time penalty on Lap 21 following the restart. Had a similar time penalty been assessed, no doubt Askew would have finished lower and had the win taken away.

Further information about the penalty assessment process will no doubt come later.

Askew got off to a sizable lead over Lucas Kohl and Parker Thompson earlier in the race, VeeKay having been hamstrung by a two-spot grid penalty for blowing the checkered flag earlier in the morning.

Askew built his lead several seconds for the rest of the 30-minute race, looking like he’d never be headed, while by Lap 3 Thompson got Kohl for second, and a few laps later VeeKay was by for third.

The only thing that looked set to knock Askew off his perch was a caution with just over seven minutes remaining when Moises de la Vara ran off course in his DE Force Racing entry.

That set up a final restart with just under four minutes remaining but as he has most of the year, Askew excelled and pulled away to a final margin of victory of 1.3282 seconds.

Thompson was second with VeeKay third.

Askew entered with only an 18-point lead, 283-265, but provisionally built that gap to 29 points following the race.

The potential exists he could clinch the championship tomorrow if he builds the gap to 34 points or more, as there are only two races remaining and the maximum one can score in a race is 33 points.

For Askew, the mindset is surreal as this weekend is the site of the annual Team USA Scholarship competition, where the 10 candidates are named. Last year he said he didn’t know anyone and thought racing here was a long shot; now, he stands on the precipice of winning a championship nearly one year to the day.

“There was a ton of pressure going into this weekend and that pressure is still there,” Askew said afterward. “Cape Motorsports has dominated here the past few years, winning every race, so I know I’ll have a fast car again tomorrow and can go for the pole and the win again.”

Thompson, now eliminated from title contention in his third year in the series, ran old tires today so it leaves him a fresh set of sticker Cooper Tires tomorrow. That may aid him in qualifying.

PRO MAZDA: MARTIN EDGES FRANZONI IN FIRST RACE OF TRIPLEHEADER

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

It seems weird that while USF2000 only has two races left in its season after Friday’s racing, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires opened Friday with still half its season – six of 12 races – remaining. But with three of them taking place at Mid-Ohio this weekend, this was and is a most critical weekend for the title tilt.

Anthony Martin took the first step towards the title with a launch into the lead off the start in his Cape Motorsports entry, after getting usurped in qualifying by Carlos Cunha, who’d scored the pole for Team Pelfrey.

Martin then held off a sustained challenge from his title combatant Victor Franzoni of Juncos Racing to win the race, continuing both Martin’s and Cape’s respective win streaks at Mid-Ohio. This also sees Martin close several points on Franzoni in the championship battle.

“It was a perfect day – we just have to do that two more times this weekend!” quipped an elated Martin. “It’s a “one down” type feeling today, since we’re only halfway through our season. I have to focus forward and get as many points as I can.”

The win is Martin’s fourth straight at the track after winning all three for Cape last year in USF2000. Cape, meanwhile, won the last two with Nico Jamin last year in Pro Mazda, and the second race in 2015 with Neil Alberico. It’s been since Santiago Urrutia, who won race one in 2015 with Team Pelfrey, that someone outside of Cape has won in Pro Mazda at Mid-Ohio.

TJ Fischer rebounded to third and his first podium since the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course for Team Pelfrey after Cunha was assessed a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact. Cunha dropped to fourth, and the third member of Pelfrey’s triumvirate, Nikita Lastochkin, was fifth.

Pro Mazda has two more races this weekend ,with race two on Saturday and race three on Sunday.

INDY LIGHTS: URRUTIA ON ANOTHER PLANET FOR POLE

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Santiago Urrutia isn’t in the championship fight, realistically, for this year’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship. But that doesn’t mean the Uruguayan can’t play spoiler.

The driver of the No. 5 Dallara IL-15 Mazda for Belardi Auto Racing with SPM scored his first pole of the season and by a significant margin – a best time of 1:11.3694 was 0.6589 clear of second place.

Urrutia swept last year’s pair of races and enters with what should be a significant advantage in terms of pace this weekend.

SPM won six of the last seven races for Indy Lights at Mid-Ohio dating to 2013, with Gabby Chaves (2013), Jack Harvey (twice in 2014), RC Enerson (2015, Race 1) and Urrutia (twice in 2016). The only exception was Sean Rayhall (2015, Race 2) for 8Star Motorsports.

That presents an interesting scenario heading into Saturday’s first race whereby none of the existing five teams has won at Mid-Ohio with the current Dallara IL-15 Mazda, introduced in 2015. It’s been since Martin Plowman in 2010, with Andretti Autosport, that someone other than SPM or 8Star has won at Mid-Ohio.

Beyond Urrutia, Colton Herta was second in the No. 98 Andretti/Steinbrenner Racing entry and as previously noted, nearly seven tenths behind.

Nico Jamin, who has his own winning streak on the line with five straight wins between three in USF2000 and two in Pro Mazda the last two years, rolls off third ahead of Shelby Blackstock and Zachary Claman De Melo.

Points leader Kyle Kaiser will start only sixth ahead of fellow American Aaron Telitz, while Kaiser’s closest championship contender Matheus Leist will only start 12th in the 14-car field.

Urrutia also led practice at 1:11.9455, with Jamin at 1:12.4462 and Claman De Melo at 1:12.5052.

Rolex 24 at Hour 8: Acuras, Cadillacs look strong in GTP; tough times for Tower in LMP2

Rolex 24 at Daytona
James Gilbert/Getty Images
0 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The premier hybrid prototype era of the Rolex 24 at Daytona began with a relatively smooth start Saturday through the Hour 8 mark.

Though two of the new Grand Touring Prototype cars fell out of contention within the first six hours, seven cars representing four big-money manufacturers were setting the pace (albeit conservatively at times) after eight of 24 hours in the endurance race classic.

The Cadillacs of Alex Lynn (No. 02, Chip Ganassi Racing) and Jack Aitken (No. 31 of Action Express) held the top two spots with a third of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship completed.

RUNNING ORDER: Standings through eight hours l By class

Brendon Hartley was running third in the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Acura, followed by Nick Tandy in the No. 6 Porsche Penske Motorsport 963, Renger van der Zande in the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillac and Tom Blomqvist in the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Acura.

The No. 24 BMW M Team RLL BMW M Hybrid V8 ’s No. 24  was the first GTP car a lap down, but in better shape than its sister. The No. 25 BMW pulled off track for major repairs near the end of the first hour and was classified 133 laps down in 59th in 61 cars.

Misfortune also befell the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsport, which was forced into the garage for a battery change with 18 hours and five minutes remaining. The 963 was 19 laps down in 22nd.

But all things considered, the debut of the GTPs had belied the hand-wringing and doomsayer predictions that had hung over Daytona the past two weeks. Cadillac Racing’s three V-LMDh cars had avoided mechanical problems (needing only typical body repairs for the front end of the No. 01 and rear end of the No. 31 for minor collisions in heavy traffic throughout the 61-car field).

Its stiffest competition seemed to be the Acura ARX-06s, which led more than 100 laps in the first eight hours.

Pole-sitter Tom Blomqvist built a sizeable lead in the No. 60 (which won last year’s Rolex 24) while leading the first 60 laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course.

“That was my longest time in the car since we got it,” said Blomqvist, who led the car to the IMSA premier championship last season. “We’re driving it into the unknown now. We’ve done everything we can. We know it’s a strong, fast car, but there are so many things to learn it almost feels like we’re winging it. It’s a constant learning curve, for both me as a driver but for the whole team. We’ve had a good start to the race, but there’s a lot of race to go and anything can happen.”

The No. 60 lost positions when Helio Castroneves spun just short of seven hours remaining but later soldiered back into the lead with Blomqvist.

“That was a wild ride,” Castroneves said. “I just got caught up in the moment and I’m not sure what happened. It locked the rear so unexpectedly. Certainly, the car is fast. There’s a lot of traffic. It was very, very difficult. The Acura has good pace so far, and we are learning a lot in a short time.”

Two days after predicting the race would be an “old-school endurance race” with conservative driving and setups, Simon Pagenaud said his forecast has been realized.

“Totally,” the Meyer Shank Racing said after completing his first turn behind the wheel of the No. 60 shortly before Castroneves’ incident. “It’s been rare that I’ve been saving equipment this much here. In any of my experience in sports car racing, I’ve rarely driven this cool, basically trying to protect everything. It’s what we’ve got to do. And we’ve got the advantage having pace with the Acura.

“So for us, this time of the race, we’ve just got to build the foundation of our race. There’s really no need to dive into the Bus Stop on somebody right now. Six hours to go is a whole different story. If we’re there, there’s no problem. We’ll do it. We have the capacity to do that, which is honestly such a luxury. But at this point to me, we’re just going to save the equipment, get there and see where we are because the car is extremely fast.”

Pagenaud was involved in one when he was warned by IMSA stewards for “incident responsibility” on a spin involving the No. 8 Tower Motorsports LMP2 that is being co-driven by Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin (two of the 10 active IndyCar drivers in the 2023 Rolex 24).

Tower driver-owner John Farano was in the car at the time, but Pagenaud joked he thought it was Newgarden, his former IndyCar teammate at Team Penske.

“I thought the Tower car, that must be Newgarden,” Pagenaud cracked. “Was it him? Don’t tell me. I know it was him. Doesn’t matter. Let me just take it. I’m going to say it’s him. Please tell him I said that when you see him.

The 2019 Indy 500 winner and 2016 IndyCar champion chalked up the run-in with Farano as “a misunderstanding. He hesitated passing the car ahead of him and gave me the left side, so I dove in on the outside, and he basically released the brake and hit my rear. So you could say it’s on me. You could say it’s on him. Honestly, I was confused as to what happened because I just saw him spin in the mirror. I don’t think we had contact.”

It already was a long day for the No. 8 Tower, which had to pull off the track on the first lap. A water bottle fitting leaked onto the ORECA LMP2 07’s electronic control unit, which malfunctioned. The team lost 10 laps while being towed to the pits and repaired as the first yellow flag flew less than five minutes into the race for the incident.

By the time Newgarden handed off the car to McLaughlin, the No. 8 still was nine laps down with eight hours to go.

Last year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona LMP2 winner, which also featured two IndyCar stars in Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward, rallied from five laps down, but Newgarden lamented missing three opportunities to regain a lap under yellow.

“We’re trying to chip away at it; it’s just difficult,” the two-time IndyCar champion said. “I feel solid, and it’s very fun to be in the mix the first time. Very special to be out there in the action. Just wish we were on the lead lap. Our pace was solid. We were strongest on track, but that’s going to change in the later hours with the hot shoes in the car. It’s not going to be easy to pull laps back on this field. It’s a very stacked contingent. They’re all good teams, lot of good drivers. Put ourselves in a hole not a good situation to be in, keep fighting at it. Felt like our pace was good.

“It’s not looking good now. You get toward the end of race, you won’t gain laps back on pace. There are too many good teams and drivers. … We need 8 or 9 yellows to go our way. It just doesn’t look good. But never say never. What if all the GTPs just blow up? I don’t know what’s going to happen. They look really good right now. This is not what everyone predicted. Let’s see. You just never know in racing.”