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

MRTI Friday notebook: Mid-Ohio

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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.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).