Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI: Trio of signings announced going into holiday period

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Three more driver signings have occurred for the 2018 Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires season in the last couple days, with a pair in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and one more in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires series.

Team Pelfrey, which won the 2015 and 2016 Pro Mazda titles with Santiago Urrutia and Aaron Telitz, respectively, has signed Sting Ray Robb for his second season. Robb shifts over from World Speed Motorsports, as the teenager occasionally impressed throughout the year. He will drive the No. 82 Trademark Dental, Munk Family Dental, Intervention.com / Team Pelfrey Mazda. Robb tested with Juncos Racing at the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test in October.

Photo: Team Pelfrey

“It’s hugely exciting to welcome Sting Ray back to Team Pelfrey,” commented Team Pelfrey General Manager, Jonny Baker. “I say back, because he tested with us a few years ago in F1600 and we immediately saw how much potential he possessed then. We have had Sting Ray in the new PM-18 for a couple of tests now, and we are convinced he will surprise a lot of people next year. He’s still only 16, and we will work hard together not only to keep developing the car, but also to get the most out of him. We are looking forward to an exciting year!”

Also of note in Pro Mazda was that Milan, Italy-based team RP Motorsport Racing has announced its intentions to race in the championship next season.

“After a successful experience in the World Series Formula V8 3.5, we immediately started looking around to fix our plans for 2018. We found a very interesting context in the Pro Mazda Championship,” said Fabio Pampado, RP Motorsport Racing team principal. “Thanks to its partnership with INDYCAR and to the new Tatuus chassis in 2018, it will receive a new boost. We believe it is the best choice for us to continue to guarantee our team the presence in a championship with international visibility, and the opportunity to compete on tracks full of charm represents a challenge with a unique flavor.”

The Pro Mazda grid includes Juncos Racing with three drivers confirmed (Carlos Cunha, Rinus VeeKay, Robert Megennis), Cape Motorsports with its first (Nikita Lastochkin, over from Pelfrey), BN Racing with David Malukas, and Oliver Askew (USF2000 champ, expected with Cape once Mazda announces). Exclusive Autosport and Pabst Racing are a couple of the other teams expected to race in the series, having tested extensively with the Tatuus PM-18 Mazda.

Photo: Team Pelfrey

In USF2000, Pelfrey has also been busy there. It has signed its first driver in South African Julian van der Watt. Pelfrey had at least one vacancy to fill with Robert Megennis moving up to Pro Mazda with Juncos Racing. The Cape Town native has tested a Tatuus USF-17 Mazda thus far and will move Stateside for his racing next year.

“Julian came over and tested with us in October, his first outing in a USF2000 car, and we immediately saw why he dominated the South African F1600 Championship,” Baker said. “Not only was he fast, but his consistency and work ethic were all on display for us to see.  Julian’s decision to move to the Mazda Road to Indy is fantastic news for Team Pelfrey and the series and we are looking forward to seeing how he gets on throughout the 2018 season.”

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Newman Wachs Racing has added its second driver in the form of Oscar DeLuzuriaga, a UK-born Singapore resident who joined the team for the first time in June, and also ran at the Griffis test in October. He joins Darren Keane in that team’s lineup.

“I’m really excited to add Oscar to our team for the 2018 season,” offered Brian Halahan, NWR Team Manager. “We began a testing program a few months back to see if he would be ready for next year and he has come a very long way in a short time. He has put in a lot of work in, so I feel he deserves a spot on the team.”

Two other drivers you can expect to see in the USF2000 field include Keith Donegan, who won the $200K Mazda Road to Indy Shootout, and will have his team revealed at a later date and Mathias Soler-Obel, a 15-year-old Bogota, Colombia native now living in Atlanta. He’s planning to move over after a year in the Formula 4 United States Championship.

Eli Tomac wins Budds Creek, clinches 2019 championship

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Last week Eli Tomac suffered through his worst race of the season and gave Ken Roczen and Marvin Musquin a glimmer of hope were the championship was concerned.

On Lap 1 of Moto 1, Tomac did his best to dash that hope. Justin Bogle grabbed the hole shot, but Tomac swept past him immediately and surged to victory.

Moto 2 was much the same. Tomac grabbed the early lead and set his sights on earning maximum points for the weekend. By the end of Moto 2, Tomac had a 15 second lead over Jason Anderson to score his third perfect victory of the season. Tomac also scored a 1-1 at Pala and Washougal.

That was not Tomac’s only victory, however.

With two minutes remaining in Moto 2, Anderson and Marvin Musquin passed Ken Roczen.  That dropped Roczen to 54 points behind Tomac at the time and only elevated Musquin to a 50-point differential. Musquin needed one more position to be able to deny Tomac the championship for one more week, but he was 10 second behind Anderson and unable to make up the gap by the end.

“I didn’t know (I had won the championship) until the last lap,” Tomac said after the race. “I thought I needed one more spot on everyone. I’m just in complete shock right now. All we did today was put our head forward (and) put last week in the past. … Gosh what a way to finish it off. 1-1; it was so cool.”

Tomac is the first rider to win three consecutive championships since Ricky Carmichael won six in a row from 2000-2006.

In Moto 1, Tomac narrowly edged his two points’ rivals. Roczen finished second in that race with Musquin in third.

“It was so special,” Tomac said after he was handed the No. 1 plate that he will affix to his Kawasaki throughout next season. “So many things had to go our way this weekend with having a 1-1 and beating the two guys behind us in second and third (in Moto 1).

Anderson’s pass on Roczen late in Moto 2 was significant for another reason. With a 4-2, he scored a second overall to stand on the podium for the fourth time this season. In doing so, he matched his best finish from RedBud.

“For me, I’m just trying to build my base going into the next Supercross season,” Anderson said afterward. “I feel like I’m getting better.”

Finishing third in both motos was bittersweet equaled a third overall for Musquin. He climbed to second in the points with that finish and if he is able to stay there following next week’s Ironman, it will be the third straight year that he has finished behind Tomac.

Roczen faded to seventh in Moto 2 and with his 2-7 he finished fourth overall. It was a fitting end to his championship hopes because Roczen has faded at the ends of events all season long.

Zach Osborne (5-4) rounded out the top five.

450 Moto 1 Results
450 Moto 2 Results
450 Overall Results
Points Standings

It’s fair to call Shane McElrath’s 1-1 victory a surprise. Perhaps one can even go so far as to call it a shocker. Entering Budds Creek, McElrath had not stood on the podium yet this year. In fact, he has only one top-five finish that came at Spring Creek two weeks ago.

McElrath got off to an early lead in Moto 1, passing then-leader Ty Masterpool on Lap 3 and refusing to look over his shoulder. It was his first moto victory since Washougal last year and there was speculation about whether he could match that performance. If anything, McElrath looked even better in Moto 2 and he cruised to a 7.7 second lead at the checkers.

McElrath may have been the only rider who was not surprised by the performance and he summed up the drastic uptick in his post-race interview.

“One word: just perseverance,” McElrath said. “It’s been a real test of our faith this year. A real test of our strength. It’s been humbling for sure. … My results this year haven’t been what we wanted, but we just kept at it.”

With a 2-5, Adam Cianciarulo finished second overall despite a disappointing second moto.

He was much better in Moto 1, but even that race had drama. Four minutes into Moto 1, Cianciarulo rode off course and high sided on a berm. He dropped from second to fifth. He climbed into third by Lap 6, but it took the entire race before he would reclaim second.

At the end of Moto 1, Cianciarulo was optimistic about his weekend.

“I’m just doing the best I can,” Cianciarulo said on NBC Sports Gold. “I just want a good result on the day and that’s how I’m looking at it, taking it moto by moto. I’m just disappointed in how I rode there at the beginning.

“Masterpool was riding really good and I just got out of my rhythm. The track’s really slick so you can’t override it – and I really was – I just wasn’t riding good. But I’m glad I was able to calm down and take a breath, make some passes back – get to where I needed to be.

“Championship aside, I really want to do the best I can every moto. … If I leave it all out there, whether I win or lose, I can go to bed at night and sleep just fine.”

Justin Cooper ended the day with a 6-2, which was good enough for third overall. It was not good enough to keep his title hopes alive, however. Ending the day 60 points behind Cianciarulo, he has been mathematically eliminated from contention.

Dylan Ferrandis is now the only rider who can challenge Cianciarulo, but he needs to make up six points in Moto 1 at Ironman Raceway next week to keep the pressure on. Like Cianciarulo, Ferrandis’ day was not without incident. In Moto 2, Mitchell Falk got turned around early in the race and knocked Ferrandis down while he was running 11th at the time – one position behind Cianciarulo.

The two points leaders were able to slice through traffic and Ferrandis eventually prevailed over his rival, but he could manage only a fourth-place finish at the checkers. With a 4-4, he finished fourth overall.

RJ Hampshire (3-8) rounded out the top five.

In Moto 1, Masterpool led his first professional laps. He paced the field five times before McElrath overtook him. Masterpool maintained a top-three spot for the next three laps. He finished seventh in that race and 11th in Moto 2 for an eighth overall.

250 Moto 1 Results
250 Moto 2 Results
250 Overall Results
Points Standings

Moto Wins

450MX
[10] Eli Tomac (Hangtown II, Pala I & Pala II, Thunder Valley II, WW Ranch II, RedBud I, Washougal I & II, Budds Creek I & II)
[5] Ken Roczen (Hangtown I, Thunder Valley I, High Point II, Unadilla I & II)
[3] Marvin Musquin (WW Ranch I, The Wick I, RedBud II)
[2] Cooper Webb (Spring Creek I & II)
[1] Blake Baggett (High Point I)
[1] Zach Osborne (The Wick II)

250MX
[7] Adam Cianciarulo (Hangtown II, Pala II, Thunder Valley I, High Point II, The Wick I, Spring Creek II, Unadilla I)
[7] Dylan Ferrandis (WW Ranch II, The Wick II, RedBud I & II, Washougal I & II, Unadilla II)
[3] Justin Cooper (Hangtown I, Pala I, Thunder Valley I)
[2] Hunter Lawrence (High Point I, Spring Creek I)
[2] Shane McElrath (Budds Creek I & II)
[1] Chase Sexton (WW Ranch I)

Next race: Ironman Raceway, Crawfordsville, IN, August 24

Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.

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