Juan Piedrahita. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI: Piedrahita, Martin win Gateway poles

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MADISON, Ill. – The stage is set for today’s pair of Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires races from Gateway Motorsports Park, with the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires racing a 75-lap race and Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires racing 55 laps around the 1.25-mile oval.

While Anthony Martin’s Pro Mazda pole isn’t a particular surprise – he and title sparring partner Victor Franzoni have been duking it out for the top spot on the grid all season – Juan Piedrahita’s in Indy Lights is.

The Colombian, who has more than 100 career starts over eight years on the Mazda Road to Indy, scored his first career Indy Lights pole in the No. 2 Team Pelfrey Dallara IL-15 Mazda by the slimmest of margins.

Piedrahita ran only a 160.926 mph first lap but improved to 161.354 mph on his second, for a two-lap average speed of 160.823 mph, and a total time of 55.9620 seconds.

That supplanted Uruguayan Santiago Urrutia’s provisional pole speed and time by a microscopic amount. Urrutia’s first lap in the No. 5 Belardi Auto Racing with SPM car was quicker, at 160.600, but didn’t improve as much on the second lap, only at 161.044. That left him with a two-lap average of 160.822 mph, and a total time of 55.9626 seconds – just 0.001 of a mph and just 0.0006 of a second slower over 2.5 total miles.

“In one and two, because you have to lift, I had a bit of push. So I was downshifting to get a better exit; the car should be great. It’s been very hard for us since everyone else is so competitive. There’s tracks we struggle a lot with the setup but today we got it right,” he said.

“We just took wing out and changed springs on the rear. We knew we had a good car and it paid off.”

Championship leader Kyle Kaiser, who is poised to clinch the title today, enters with a 42-point lead and with Urrutia having been denied a critical point for his title hopes. The driver of the No. 18 Juncos Racing entry will roll off fifth after an abnormal run.

Kaiser’s warmup lap of 160.104 mph looked to see the Californian beat Piedrahita for the top spot, but actual qualifying laps of 160.610 and 159.850 mph left his two-lap average at 160.224 mph, inside of row three.

Andretti Autosport teammates Nico Jamin and Ryan Norman will roll off from row two.

Provisional speeds are below. The race goes off at 6 p.m. CT and local time, and will air on NBCSN on Monday, August 28, at noon ET.

In Pro Mazda, Martin topped Franzoni with the first and only 140 mph average in the series’ lone oval race this year. The Australian, who leads the Brazilian by four points entering the weekend, delivered a two-lap average of 140.001 mph, which was clear of Franzoni’s 139.433 mph speed.

“We learned a lot in the test here a few weeks ago, with a qualifying stint done in that,” Martin explained. “We sort of knew and expected what the temperatures would be. We went faster than what we did in testing. We were able to go quicker than normal. The Cape guys got me an awesome car from the moment I got on track.

“Nah, mate! It was on the edge. The second lap into one I went in really fast, I was so close to flat… I was really trying. The car was definitely on the limit.”

The Team Pelfrey trio of TJ Fischer, Carlos Cunha and Nikita Lastochkin complete the top five.

The Pro Mazda race goes off at 4:55 p.m. CT and local time. Qualifying times are below.

Both series also ran a practice session on Friday, with conditions closer to what should be expected for the races. Those times are linked here (Indy Lights, Pro Mazda); Urrutia and Martin topped those sessions.

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).