MRTI: It’s time to decide next round of champs at Watkins Glen

Martin (left) and Franzoni (center) duel for Pro Mazda title. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires concludes its 2017 campaign this weekend at Watkins Glen International with four total races, two for the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and one apiece for Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

While Indy Lights is set to avoid any controversial ending thanks to Kyle Kaiser all but mathematically clinching last time out at Gateway Motorsports Park, it’s Pro Mazda and USF2000 where the drama will take center stage, as more than $2 million Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarships will be doled out.

PRO MAZDA: The final Franzoni vs. Martin bout

Martin vs. Franzoni for Pro Mazda title. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Two is the magic number heading into the final weekend for the Mazda Renesis rotary engine and existing chassis before the new Tatuus PM-18 arrives next year.

With two races and the two title rivals separated by just two points, and with one of the two drivers looking for his second straight MRTI title, there’s two chances for glory – and heartbreak – in the pursuit of $790,000 (out of an overall fund of $1.1 million) toward a season in the Indy Lights class in a Soul Red race car.

Victor Franzoni leads the standings by two points over Anthony Martin, Franzoni having seized the momentum following a dramatic pass for the lead – and win – last time out at Gateway.

On permanent road courses this year, Franzoni swept at Indianapolis, and the two split weekends at Road America and Mid-Ohio. Both of the latter two weekends featured drama. Franzoni felt he was blocked at Road America to lose a win there, while Martin felt Franzoni’s teammate, Jeff Green, had inadvertently compromised his lead at Mid-Ohio as he spun out trying to get out of the way.

The gloves are off between these two and it’s a shame, really, one of them has to lose. Juncos has won past Pro Mazda titles with Spencer Pigot (2014) and Conor Daly (2010) while Cape, surprisingly, never has despite frequently running a car adorned in Soul Red livery for the previous year’s USF2000 champion stepping up.

“It’s been an incredible battle to watch, not just for side-by-side action, but watching the two elevate each other during the course of the season,” said Anders Krohn, who serves as NBCSN’s Indy Lights analyst and has been an IndyCar pit reporter several races this year.

“It’s actually very similar to Spencer Pigot and Scott Hargrove in 2014, and we all know that final weekend ended up being rather wild. They are both fully deserving of the championship and it’ll be tough to see one of them lose it. I firmly believe both of them can get the job done in Indy Lights, so I hope to see both of them there next year, regardless of outcome this weekend. One thing is for sure, I’ll be watching both races closely.”

For the other drivers entered, it’s a chance to make one final statement in a pair of races. Team Pelfrey will look for its first win of the year in a year where Martin and Franzoni have swept the first 10 races between them, winning five times each. Robert Megennis also makes his Pro Mazda debut, while also running in USF2000 for Team Pelfrey.

USF2000: Askew vs. VeeKay to step up

VeeKay vs. Askew for USF2000 title. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

A whirlwind year-plus will come to an end for Oliver Askew, with the Floridian and last year’s Team USA Scholarship recipient seeking another Mazda scholarship, valued at nearly $400,000. Rinus VeeKay has been the consistent surprise of the season, the Dutch teenager having finished between first and fourth in all but one of the 13 races thus far.

Askew can deliver Cape Motorsports its seventh straight USF2000 title, following Martin (2016), Nico Jamin (2015), Florian Latorre (2014), Scott Hargrove (2013), Matthew Brabham (2012) and Petri Suvanto (2011). VeeKay will look to secure a title for Augie Pabst and his Pabst Racing team.

The Floridian enters with a 13-point lead and can seal the title with a podium finish in the lone USF2000 race on the schedule. It’d take some trouble for Askew for VeeKay to overcome the deficit, but he’ll press on regardless.

“Having heard input from the U.S. karting community, they all knew Askew would be a superstar and boy has he delivered,” Krohn said. “Speed in karts don’t always translate to open-wheel cars, but in this case, it certainly has. Askew really took advantage of polished performances early in the season when everyone else were finding their feet. Where VeeKay shines, is in progression. He’s just got better every single weekend and he seems to be the stronger of the two, mentally, despite being the younger one.

“With Watkins Glen only being a single-header, the odds are in Askew’s favor, but he needs to execute a solid weekend without being on the defense. For VeeKay, it’s win or nothing, which is almost a better position to be in because he doesn’t need to worry about looking in his rear view mirrors.”

Parker Thompson has secured third in the championship for Exclusive Autosport and will look to continue with his second half of the year flourish, with nothing but pride to race for this weekend. Kaylen Frederick has secured fourth for Team Pelfrey, with Calvin Ming all but assured fifth for Pabst unless Robert Megennis (Pelfrey) can spring a miracle and book-end his year with wins. Sixth through ninth could change hands with Devin Wojcik, a Buffalo native, looking to impress in his home race for ArmsUp Motorsports.

The rest of the field features some intriguing battles elsewhere and some new or returning drivers. Niall Murray (Newman Wachs Racing) and Zach Holden (BN Racing) make their debuts, with Callan O’Keefe back with Team BENIK for the first time since the Indianapolis road course weekend.

INDY LIGHTS: Kaiser’s coronation but plenty to fight for

Kyle Kaiser in an interview after a victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Unlike last year where the final lap dictated the Indy Lights championship under controversial circumstances – Ed Jones emerging ahead of Santiago Urrutia only after Felix Serralles let Jones through for fourth place – Kyle Kaiser has no such concerns this weekend and will need only to start Sunday’s Indy Lights race to win the title and the $1 million Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarship that comes with it. He enters with a 31-point lead and the maximum one driver can gain in a race is 27 from first to 14th.

“The history actually goes back further than his first Lights year. I watched Kyle Kaiser in his first Pro Mazda race in 2013 at Circuit of the Americas. He would fly through the esses on one lap, and go about a nautical mile off the racing surface on the next,” Krohn reflected.

“And I really think that’s been the story for Kyle’s development. He’s gone from being a driver that could put a lap or a corner together, to now a much more complete product, one that has the ability to push hard when he needs to or take a step back when he’s not in position to challenge for a win. On outright pace you could argue there are two or three drivers on the grid that are quicker than Kyle, but his consistency this year has been truly impressive.”

Two key battles for other spots are for second and fourth. Santiago Urrutia holds that down by eight points over Colton Herta; if Urrutia does end second, he’d mirror Jack Harvey in coming second, two straight years. Herta has rallied in the final quarter of the year after a tough midseason stretch.

Similarly, eight points separate Matheus Leist, Zachary Claman De Melo and Nico Jamin for fourth place. Leist and Jamin have won in their rookie seasons while Claman De Melo has been quite likely the most improved driver of the season, and could have a year-on-year jump from ninth to fourth in points.

Aaron Telitz and Neil Alberico are more or less assured seventh and eighth in points after the young Americans started strong but have had tough rest of seasons. Finally there’s nine points separating the next four drivers, with Shelby Blackstock, Juan Piedrahita, Dalton Kellett and Ryan Norman all fighting over the final two places in the top-10.

NOTES

  • The Pro Mazda Watkins Glen Grand Prix Presented by Cooper Tires will take the green flag Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at Sunday at 7:55 a.m. EDT.
  • The Mazda USF2000 Watkins Glen Grand Prix Presented by Cooper Tires will take the green flag at 1:15 p.m. ET on Saturday.
  • The Mazda Indy Lights Watkins Glen Grand Prix Presented by Cooper Tires will take the green flag Sunday at 10:50 a.m. ET. The NBCSN broadcast is scheduled for Wednesday, September 6 at 6:00 p.m. ET.

‘Baby Borgs’ bring special Indy 500 bonds, memories for Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi

Ganassi Ericsson Indy
Mike Levitt/LAT Images/BorgWarner
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THERMAL, Calif. – Winning the Indy 500 is a crowning achievement for driver and car owner, but for Chip Ganassi, last May’s victory by Marcus Ericsson had meaning even beyond just capturing one of the world’s greatest sporting events.

When Ganassi was 5 years old and growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, his father, Floyd, attended a convention in Indianapolis in 1963. Floyd went to Indianapolis Motor Speedway to tour the track and visit the former museum that used to stand next to the main gate on 16th and Georgetown.

Ganassi’s father brought young Chip a souvenir from the gift shop. It was an 8-millimeter film of the 1963 Indy 500, a race won by the legendary Parnelli Jones.

“I must have watched it about 1,000 times,” Ganassi recalled. “More importantly than that, something you did when you were 5 years old is still with you today.

“I was 50 years old when I celebrated my Thanksgiving with Parnelli. It dawned on me that something I did when I was 5 years old took me to when I was 50 years old. That’s pretty special.”

Ericsson and Ganassi were presented with their “Baby Borgs,” the mini-replicas of the Borg-Warner Trophy, in a ceremony Feb. 2 at The Thermal Club (which played host to NTT IndyCar Series preseason testing). The win in the 106th Indy 500 marked the sixth time a Ganassi driver won the biggest race in the world.

Ganassi will turn 65 on May 24, just four days before the 107th Indianapolis 500 on May 28. The 2023 race will mark the 60th anniversary of the victory by Jones, who is now the oldest living winner of the Indianapolis 500 at 89.

Jones wanted to do something special for Ericsson and Ganassi, so each was given framed photos personally inscribed by Jones.

Parnelli Jones (Steve Shunck Photo For BorgWarner)

“Congratulations Marcus Ericsson and my good friend Chip Ganassi on winning the 2022 Indianapolis 500,” Jones said in remarks conveyed by BorgWarner publicist Steve Shunck. “There is no greater race in the whole world and winning it in 1963 was by far the biggest thrill in my life.”

Ganassi’s relationship with his racing hero began 60 years ago, but the two have shared some important moments since then.

It was Jones that signed off on Ganassi’s first Indianapolis 500 license in 1982. Jones was one of the veteran observers who worked with Ganassi and other rookie drivers that year to ensure they were capable of competing in the high-speed, high-risk Indianapolis 500.

When Ganassi turned 50, he got to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner with Jones.

“We’ve been friends over the years,” Ganassi told NBC Sports. “He wrote me a personal note and sent me some personal photographs. It really says what this race is all about and how important it is to win the biggest auto race in the world.”

Michelle Collins, the director of global communications and marketing for BorgWarner, presented the “Baby Borgs,” first to Ganassi and then to Ericsson.

“More special is winning the Indianapolis 500,” Ganassi said during the presentation. “It’s been a big part of my life. I want to call out my buddy, Roger Penske, and thank him for the stewardship of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and what it means to us. It’s about the history, the tradition and, to me, it’s about the people that have meant so much in my life.

“Thanks for the trophy, Marcus.”

Marcus Ericsson and Chip Ganassi hold their Baby Borgs while posing with the Borg-Warner Trophy (Bruce Martin).

The Baby Borg presentation also came on the birthday of sculptor William Behrends, who has crafted the Bas-relief sterling silver face of each winner on the Borg-Warner Trophy since 1990. The “Baby Borg” presents each winner with a miniature of one of the most famous trophies in sports.

“I have to thank BorgWarner for everything that has happened since winning the Indianapolis 500, including the trip to Sweden,” said Ericsson, who took a November victory lap in his native country. “I’m very thankful for that because it’s memories that are going to be with me for the rest of my life.

“To bring the Borg-Warner Trophy to my hometown, seeing all the people there on the city square on a dark day in the middle of November. It was filled with people and that was very special.

“I’m very proud and honored to be part of Chip Ganassi Racing. To win the Indianapolis 500 with that team is quite an honor. It’s a team effort and a lot of people worked very hard to make this happen.

“Our focus now is to go back-to-back at the Indy 500.”


If Ericsson is successful in becoming the first driver to win back-to-back Indy since Helio Castroneves in 2001-02, he can collect an additional $420,000 in the Borg-Warner Rollover Bonus. With Castroneves the last driver to collect, the bonus has grown to an astronomical amount over 21 years.

Ericsson is from Kumla, Sweden, so the $420,000 would have an exchange rate of $4,447,641.67 Swedish Kronor.

“It’s a nice thing to know I could get that if I do win it again,” Ericsson told NBC Sports. “But the Indianapolis 500 with its history as the biggest and greatest race in the world, it doesn’t matter with the money, with the points, with anything. Everyone is going to go out there and do everything to win that race.

“It’s great to know that, but I will race just as hard.”

Marcus Ericsson points at the newest face on the Borg-Warner Trophy (Mike Levitt/LAT Images/BorgWarner).

A popular slogan in racing is “Chip Likes Winners.” After winning the 106th Indy 500, Ganassi must really love Ericsson.

“It doesn’t get much bigger than that, does it? I’m very thankful to be driving for Chip,” Ericsson said. “He likes winners and winning the Indianapolis 500, it doesn’t get better than that.”

When Ericsson was presented with his Baby Borg, he stood off to the side and admired it the way a child looks at a special gift on Christmas morning. The wide-eyed amazement of his career-defining moment was easy to read and met with delight by executives of BorgWarner (an automotive and technology company that has sponsored the Borg-Warner Trophy since its 1935 debut).

“I noticed that immediately and I was watching him look at it wishing I had a camera to capture that,” Collins told NBC Sports. “But maybe not because we always have our phones in front of us and it’s nice to take in that moment as it is. That is what makes the moment well worth it.”

Marcus Ericsson (Bruce Martin)

Said BorgWarner executive vice president and chief strategic officer Paul Farrell: “It’s very special to have the big trophy that has been around since 1935 and to have a piece of that. Hopefully it’s something that (Ericsson) cherishes. We think it’s special, and clearly, Marcus Ericsson thinks it is very special.”

The trophy process begins shortly after the race as the winner has the famed Borg-Warner Wreath placed around his neck, and the Borg-Warner Trophy is put on the engine cover. The next morning, the winner meets with Behrends, who has been sculpting the faces on the trophy since Arie Luyendyk’s first victory in 1990. Later in the year, the winner visits Behrends’ studio in Tryon, North Carolina, for a “Live Study.”

The process takes several more steps before the face is reduced to the size of an egg and casted in sterling silver. It is attached to the permanent Borg-Warner Trophy and unveiled at a ceremony later in the year. Ericsson’s face was unveiled last October during a ceremony in Indianapolis.

That’s when it hit Ericsson, a three-time winner in IndyCar after going winless in Formula One over 97 starts from 2014-18.

“Until then, it was strange because you are so busy with your season right after the Indy 500 you don’t really get much time to sit back and think about what you had accomplished,” Ericsson said. “It was the offseason before I really realized what I had done.”

The permanent trophy remains on display at Indianapolis Motor Speedway but has been known to travel with the winning driver on special tours, such as the Nov. 3-7 trip to Sweden.

“It’s been incredible to see the amount of interest in me and the IndyCar Series and the Indy 500,” Ericsson said. “The trophy tour with the Borg-Warner Trophy we did in November really made a huge impact in Sweden. I was on every TV show, morning TV, magazines, newspapers, everywhere. People are talking about IndyCar racing. People are talking about Marcus Ericsson. It’s been huge.

“I was back in Sweden last month for the Swedish Sports Awards and I finished third in the Sports Performance of the Year. Motorsports is usually not even nominated there, and I finished third. That says a lot about the interest and support I’ve gotten back home in Sweden.”


Ericsson continued to reap the rewards of his Indianapolis 500 victory last week at the lavish Thermal Club, about a 45-minute drive from Palm Springs, California.

Earlier in the day before the Baby Borg presentation, Ericsson, and Chip Ganassi were among the 27 car-driver combinations that completed the first day of IndyCar’s “Spring Training” on the 17-turn, 3.067-mile road course. The next day, Ericsson turned the test’s fastest lap.

The 32-year-old still seems to be riding the wave, along with his girlfriend, Iris Tritsaris Jondahl, a Greece native who also lived in Sweden and now lives with Ericsson in Indianapolis.

“Today, receiving my Baby Borg, it was another thing of making it real,” Ericsson said. “It’s not a dream. It’s reality. To get the Baby Borg and bring it home. My girlfriend, Iris, and I are house hunting, looking for a house in Indianapolis. It will definitely have a very special place in our new home.”

Marcus Ericsson and girlfriend Iris Tritsaris Jondahlc share a kiss at the Baby Borg presentation (Mike Levitt/LAT Images/BorgWarner).

Ericsson told NBC Sports his most cherished trophy before getting his Baby Borg was for his first NTT IndyCar Series win in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix in 2021.

“It was such a huge win for me and such a huge breakthrough for me and my career,” he said. “After that, it catapulted me into a top driver in IndyCar.”

The Brickyard win was another level for Ericsson, who moved to Ganassi in 2020.

“Marcus kept himself in the race all day,” Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull told NBC Sports. “Anybody that ran a race like Marcus ran, maybe you deserve the race win, but you don’t always get it. Marcus did everything that it took, and we are really, really proud of him.”

Ericsson also proved last year to be one of the best oval drivers in the series, a much different form of racing than he experienced until he came to the United States.

“Racing in Europe and around the world, I always liked high-speed corners,” he explained. “It was always my favorite. I always had this idea if I go to IndyCar and race on the ovals, it is something that would suit me and my driving style. I was always excited to try that. When I came to IndyCar and started to drive on ovals, I liked it straight away. It worked for me and my style.

“The first few attempts at Indy, I had good speed, but it was always some small mistakes that got me out of contention. I learned from them. I’m very proud I was able to pull it off, but it was a lot of hard work behind that.”

Michelle Collins of BorgWarner presented Baby Borgs to Marcus Ericsson and Chip Ganassi at a ceremony also attended by Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull (Mike Levitt/LAT Images/BorgWarner).

The victory in the Indianapolis 500 is etched in history, as is Ericsson’s face on the trophy.

“It’s such a special thing,” the driver said. “The BorgWarner people and IndyCar and everyone at IMS, I get to experience so many cool things since winning the Indy 500. It’s a win that keeps on giving. It never ends. It still does.

“I can’t wait to get back to Indianapolis, the month of May, as the champion. I still have to pinch myself. It’s a dream, for sure.”

Ganassi doesn’t have to pinch himself — all he needs to do is look at his collection of Baby Borgs.

His first Indy 500 win — as a team co-owner with Pat Patrick — came in 1989 with Emerson Fittipaldi’s thrilling duel against Al Unser Jr.

In 1990, Ganassi formed Chip Ganassi Racing. Juan Pablo Montoya won the Indianapolis 500 in 2000, Scott Dixon in 2008, Dario Franchitti in 2010 and 2012 and Ericsson in 2022.

“It’s a feather in the team’s cap for sure just to have our representation on the Borg-Warner Trophy with five other drivers,” Ganassi said. “It’s a testament to the team, a testament to Mike Hull that runs the team in Indianapolis. I just feel really lucky to be a part of it. It’s great to work with a great team of great people.

“Just to relive that moment again and again never gets old; never goes away. I’m really lucky to be in the position I’m in. It’s an honor to represent the team with the great people that it took to bring Marcus across the finish line. He and I get to celebrate events like this, but it’s really about the people at Chip Ganassi Racing in Indianapolis that pull this all together.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500