MRTI: St. Petersburg Sunday notebook

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Sunday finished the season-opening double header for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, with the three series book-ending the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires started things off in the morning while the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda finished the day off in the late afternoon and into the early evening.

Indy Lights saw one driver survive a carnage-filled affair to take the win, while Pro Mazda and USF2000 saw a pair of dominant runs to victory.

Reports on all three races are below.

Indy Lights: Urrutia Survives Chaotic Race 2 to Take Victory

Santi Urrutia celebrates his win in Race 2 at St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

A wild Race 2 for Indy Lights was plagued by contact and saw several potential race winners suffer misfortune that dropped them from contention.

The chaos was immediate from the drop of the green flag. Belardi Auto Racing’s Aaron Telitz crashed in Turn 2 off the start while battling with Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni. Franzoni tried to stay inside of Telitz entering Turn 2, but made contact with the left-rear of Telitz and spun him into the outside wall, with Franzoni also suffering a damaged wing.

The incident ended a nightmare weekend for Telitz, as the Belardi team needed to borrow a car from Carlin after Telitz crashed in qualifying for Race 2. The Belardi team did not have a backup chassis with them at St. Petersburg, and the No. 9 IL-15 suffered too much damage to be repaired, forcing Telitz to miss Race 1 after grabbing the pole.

The team had to work overnight to prepare their new car for the race, only to see it end in the opening two laps.

When racing resumed on Lap 5, Andretti Autosport teammates Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta (Herta competing under the Andretti Steinbrenner Racing banner) began battling for the lead. Herta had taken the lead from the polesitting O’Ward on the initial start, but O’Ward got him back on the Lap 5 restart as they approached Turn 4.

A short time later, on Lap 11, Herta drifted wide in Turn 8 and clouted the outside, eliminating him on the spot.

O’Ward continued to lead on the subsequent restart, but his race unraveled with six minutes left. The 18-year-old overshot the entry into Turn 4 and ran into the runoff area. He was able to eventually rejoin, but not until he fell back to seventh.

O’Ward’s error moved Santi Urrutia into the lead, which he held until the end to give the Belardi team something to cheer about after a tough weekend.

“Super big emotions right now. I’m so proud of the team, second yesterday and a win today,” Urrutia said in Victory Lane. “From the time I arrived in the United States and joined the Mazda Road to Indy, this is the best start I’ve had. To win the championship, you have to always be on the podium and in the points, so I think things are going the right way.”

Team Pelfrey’s Shelby Blackstock finished second, while Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Norman finished third following a late battle with Pelfrey’s Neil Alberico. Alberico, who was in third, suffered a cut right-rear tire in the process, and limped home in fifth, behind fourth-place finisher Franzoni.

Dalton Kellett was sixth, followed by O’Ward in seventh. Herta and Telitz were credited with eighth and ninth.

Pro Mazda: VeeKay Takes Race 2 to Sweep the Weekend

Rinus VeeKay swept the Pro Mazda weekend at St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

A bizarre start to Pro Mazda Race 2 saw the green flag fly a little too early, and several drivers were swamped as a result. Among them, polesitter Rinus VeeKay plummeted from first to ninth.

However, race control quickly determined that the race began too early, through a red flag, and got everyone back in their original starting order to restart the race.

The second attempt was much cleaner, allowing VeeKay to rocket off into the lead after starting on the pole. However, the Juncos Racing driver had to deal with BN Racing’s David Malukas, who stalked VeeKay the entire way.

A late-race caution put Malukas right on VeeKay’s gearbox, but VeeKay held him off in the final minutes to take the victory, completing a weekend sweep for the Dutch driver. Malukas hung on for second, while Carlos Cunha finished third, putting two Juncos drivers on the podium.

Sting Ray Robb and Parker Thompson completed the top five, while Harrison Scott, who was running inside the top five before the final restart, dropped like a stone through the field after suffering front wing damage. Scott ended up 12th.

Race 2 results are below.

USF2000: Alex Baron Dominates Race 2 to Win from the Pole

Alex Baron led every lap on his way to winning Race 2 on the streets of St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Swan-RJB Motorsports’ Alex Baron endured a very difficult race 1 on Saturday, incurring a drive-through penalty that he never recovered from, finishing 22nd.

Sunday’s Race 2 was a different story, however, with the Frenchman dominating from the pole to take his first USF2000 victory.

Baron was never headed at any point during the 25-lap race, leading every lap on his way to beating second-place Igor Fraga by two seconds.

Fraga enjoyed a solid Race 2 to finish second for Exclusive Autosport, while Pabst Racing’s Lucas Kohl rebounded from a 13th in Race 1 to finish third in Race 2.

Jaime Caroline finished fourth while Race 1 winner Kyle Kirkwood finished fifth.

Race 2 Results are below.

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Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”