Josef Newgarden’s victory at the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, his third win of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, was enough to vault him into the championship lead for the first time in his IndyCar career with four races remaining in the season.
Further, as the first driver to win three races this year, a recent trend suggests Newgarden may have the inside track to the championship. In each of the the last two years, the driver who was the first to win three races (Scott Dixon in 2015, Simon Pagenaud in 2016) went on to win the IndyCar championship. (Of note: Dixon was the only driver to win three or more races in 2015, his third win that year coming at the season finale at Sonoma Raceway).
“I think it’s great!” Newgarden quipped in the post-race press conference when asked about leading the championship. “You know, we’ve got to keep building the gap hopefully. And maintaining it is certainly the number one key, but if we can keep building the gap and increase it, that’s going to only help for Sonoma.”
However, Newgarden’s championship lead is a slim one as the already close championship picture became even closer still following Mid-Ohio. Newgarden leads teammate Helio Castroneves by seven points (453-446), with Dixon one further point back in third, his season total standing at 445 at the moment.
Simon Pagenaud sits fourth on 436 points, meaning the top four in the championship are covered by only 17 points with four races remaining.
Will Power and Graham Rahal are still in the thick of things as well. Power sits on 401 points, 52 out of the lead, while Rahal sits on 395 points, 58 markers out.
Sunday at Road America for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires saw two series complete their second races of the weekend, with the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda taking to the track – the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires completed their weekend on Saturday.
Indy Lights saw a driver take an emotional first career win, while a chaotic USF2000 race saw the championship leader complete a weekend sweep.
Reports on both races are below.
Indy Lights: Franzoni Takes Emotional Maiden Win in Indy Lights
Victor Franzoni finished third in Race 1 on Saturday, but did so despite driving what he described as “the worst of my career” to the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
Sunday, however, was the exact opposite for the affable Brazilian driver, who took his maiden Indy Lights win in what has been an emotional weekend for him and his Juncos Racing team as they raced in memory of the late Jeff Green, Franzoni’s Pro Mazda teammate last year.
Pato O’Ward started on the pole, but engaged in an intense duel with Santi Urrutia in the opening laps.
Their battle came to a head on Lap 4, when Urrutia tried diving inside of O’Ward entering Turn 5, but they both ran wide on the exit – O’Ward even took to the outside grass – which opened the door for Franzoni to blitz by both of them entering Turn 6.
O’Ward, Urrutia, and Colton Herta then immediately had a hard fight for second, which saw them go three-wide in Turn 8. Ultimately, Urrutia lost out as he was pushed off the track and suffered front wing damage, forcing a pit stop for repairs – he ultimately finished seven laps off the lead in seventh.
Up front, Franzoni pulled away from everyone to win by nearly seven seconds. Herta emerged in second after battling with O’Ward, while Aaron Telitz passed O’Ward in the final laps to take the final spot on the podium. Ryan Norman rounded out the top five, with Dalton Kellett finishing sixth.
Full results are below.
USF2000: Kirkwood Survives Race 2 Carnage to Complete Weekend Sweep
While Race 1 almost appeared easy for Kyle Kirkwood, who passed pole sitter Jose Sierra for the lead in Turn 1 off the start and then led every lap on the way to victory, Race 2 was a completely different story.
Kirkwood needed to outduel Kaylen Frederick and Lucas Kohl and survive a seemingly endless slew of carnage in Race 2 to grab the win, his fifth of the year, to complete a weekend sweep.
Three times the race was slowed by full-course cautions for on-track incidents.
The first came on the opening lap for separate incidents involving Sabre Cook, Russell McDonough, Jose Sierra, and Max Peichel – Cook and McDonough appeared to go off into the Turn 1 gravel, while Sierra and Peichel got together approaching Turn 5 and ended up against the outside wall.
A second caution was flown only a couple laps after racing resumed when Darren Keane and Kyle Dupell got together in Canada Corner, spinning off the track and stalling as a result.
And a third caution was flown in the waning laps when Lindh, who had been running second, went off into the Turn 3 gravel trap, while Kory Enders and Calvin Ming got together and spun in Turn 6.
Up front, Lucas Kohl had worked his way into the lead, passing Lindh in Turn 1 off the start, while Kirkwood had moved up to second, ahead of third-place runner Kaylen Frederick.
A restart with one lap remaining saw Kirkwood jump to the outside of Kohl entering Turn 1, and he completed the pass before they even got to the corner, Frederick then was able to get around Kohl for second, while Colin Kaminsky and Igor Fraga rounded out the top five. Of note: second-place man in the championship Alex Baron finished seventh, allowing Kirkwood to widen an already immense championship lead.
Results are below. Kirkwood now leads Baron by 94 points. Frederick now sits third, jumping ahead of Fraga and Sierra, who sit fourth and fifth.