MRTI: Friday St. Petersburg notebook

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Friday saw all three series of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires hit the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida for practice and qualifying ahead of Race 1 on a double-header weekend for all three series as they kick off their 2018 seasons.

Some familiar faces rose to the occasion in qualifying for Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, while a new face ended up taking pole in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Below are reports on happenings from all three series.

Indy Lights: Aaron Telitz Edges Pato O’Ward for Race 1 Pole

Belardi Auto Racing’s Aaron Telitz, who scored a victory in Race 1 at St. Petersburg last year, put himself in prime position to do the same in 2018, scoring pole for Race 1 with a lap of 1:05.128, about one-and-a-half tenths quicker than Andretti Autosport’s Pato O’Ward, who qualified second.

Colton Herta, who won Race 2 on the streets of St. Petersburg last year, qualified in third for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, while Santiago Urrutia, Telitz’s teammate at Belardi, qualified fourth. Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni, last year’s Pro Mazda champion, qualified fifth in his Indy Lights debut.

Results are below. Race 1 for Indy Lights rolls off at 1:05 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Pro Mazda: Askew Survives Frantic Final Minutes to Grab Race 1 Pole

Oliver Askew will lead the Pro Mazda field to green in Race 1. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

The final minutes of Pro Mazda qualifying were about as frantic as they get, with a number of drivers taking the top spot, only to be overtaken by the next car on the track, and then again by the next car on the car, and so on.

All told, at least five different teams had drivers at or near the top of the time charts as qualifying drew to a close. In the end, it was Oliver Askew and Cape Motorsports, last year’s USF2000 champions, surviving the last-minute chaos to take pole for Race 1 with a lap of 1:08.103, almost two tenths of a second ahead of the second-place run from Exclusive Autosport’s Parker Thompson.

RP Motorsport Racing rookie Harrison Scott impressed on his debut, qualifying a strong third after leading the session at various points, with the Juncos Racing duo of Carlos Cunha and Robert Megennis rounding out the top five.

Qualifying results are below. Pro Mazda Race 1 rolls off at 12:10 p.m. ET on Saturday.

USF2000: Jose Sierra Knocks Off Kyle Kirkwood to Take Surprise Race 1 Pole

Jose Sierra surprised many by qualifying first for Race 1 of the USF2000 weekend. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Cape Motorsports’s Kyle Kirkwood and DEForce Racing’s Jose Sierra found themselves in a duel for the pole at the end qualifying. Sierra actually led the way, but Kirkwood managed to take the top spot from him on his final lap.

Sierra, however, had one more trick up his sleeve and retook the top spot as the session came to end, and the 18-year-old native of Mexico will lead the USF2000 field to the green for Race 1.

Kirkwood managed to qualify in second, followed by Pabst Racing’s Kaylen Frederick in third. Newcomer Igor Fraga was fourth for Exclusive Autosport while Zach Holden, one of Sierra’s teammates at DEForce, qualified fifth.

Results are below. Race 1 for USF2000 rolls off at 10:15 a.m. ET.

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Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.