Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI: Kaiser introspective, focused to rebound after Mid-Ohio

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LEXINGTON, Ohio – Kyle Kaiser and consistency have been best friends in 2017. But neither the driver nor his hallmark of his excellent 2017 season could topple the buzz saw known as the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship leader.

Whether it was Ed Jones last year, the combination of Jones and Jack Harvey the year before, Gabby Chaves with the old car in 2014, or Sage Karam in 2013, the leader in Indy Lights points has had a way of coming back to the field after what seems to be the most chaotic weekend of the season for the top rung of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires.

Kaiser’s 2017 Mid-Ohio weekend was no different, and was especially frustrating coming after his important, determined sweep in Toronto. But all things considered, despite back-to-back 12th place finishes – his first two outside the top-10 in 14 races this season – things could have gone a lot worse.

After fighting an ill-handling car on Saturday and never looking a top-10 finisher, Kaiser then looked back to his usual, solid, steady self on Sunday – before things went awry when a potential passing opportunity arose.

Kaiser attempted to follow his Juncos Racing teammate Nicolas Dapero through Turns 4 and 5, and get past Juan Piedrahita’s Team Pelfrey Dallara IL-15 Mazda for sixth place.

But Kaiser misjudged the move through the uphill, banked left-hander and contacted Piedrahita. Both drivers spun and fell to the rear of the field.

Such is the maturation, growth and development of the Californian now living in Indianapolis that this was the first real notable mistake Kaiser has made behind the wheel all year, and he didn’t hide or run from it post-race.

“I thought I saw an opportunity more than was actually available,” Kaiser told NBC Sports. “I thought I’d follow my teammate on the inside of Turn 5, but I had too much understeer in middle of corner, and he ran the outside line. It was a bad move for that point of the race to be honest. But I’ll learn from it, and grow from it.”

While Kaiser’s 12th-place finishes indeed brought the No. 18 car back to the pack, it wasn’t by much. He entered the weekend with a 52-point lead but left it with a 42-point lead, as each of his title rivals had their own problems.

Carlin’s Matheus Leist, his closest rival entering the weekend, never looked a contender with nondescript 11th and 10th place finishes. Colton Herta made up ground Saturday with a hard-earned second for Andretti/Steinbrenner Racing but then threw away a potential win on Sunday with a spin at Turn 9. He recovered from 13th to sixth but it was a lost opportunity.

Santiago Urrutia (Belardi Auto Racing with SPM) and Nico Jamin (Andretti Autosport) promptly split the two wins but since both have had their own erratic, inconsistent campaigns, they may be too far back to make much headway – especially with only two races to go.

“Everyone’s had a bad weekend this year and this is our bad weekend,” Kaiser reflected. “But if you were to tell me though we’d have this bad a weekend and still come out leading by 42 points, I’d be pretty happy with that.

“Obviously I’m disappointed. I had a bad lapse of judgment making a move we shouldn’t have. I made a mistake, I’m living on it, but I’m ready to move forward. Let’s go back to our consistent finishes, and we can win this thing.”

Kaiser feels things should be better at Gateway Motorsports Park. It’s a track he thinks will be similar to Phoenix International Raceway, as a repaved short oval, and where he scored his first series win and pole last year.

The title battle for Indy Lights indeed presented an opening this weekend but despite Kaiser’s struggles, he’s still in an excellent position for the final two races of the year.

MRTI: Road America Sunday notebook

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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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

Victory Franzoni took an emotional first career victory Sunday at Road America. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

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

Kyle Kirkwood survived a lot of chaos to win Race 2 at Road America and complete the weekend sweep. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

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.

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