Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI: Saturday Barber Notebook

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Both the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires completed their first races of the weekend on Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park.

Indy Lights saw a pair of teammates battle for the win, while a series veteran suffered first lap trouble for the second race in a row.

In Pro Mazda, things were much more straightforward, as a title contender ran away to a dominant win from the pole.

Reports on both series are below.

Indy Lights: O’Ward Withstands Herta Challenge for Race 1 Victory

Pato O’Ward was stop the podium after Indy Lights Race 1 at Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Lap 1 told the tale for Indy Lights Race 1, as Colton Herta led from the pole, but Pato O’Ward was able to sneak by on the inside entering Turn 5.

O’Ward subsequently had to withstand a race-long challenge from Herta, who kept the gap at less than one second between the two Andretti Autosport affiliated drivers – Herta races under the Andretti Steinbrenner Racing banner – for most of the 30-lap race. But, O’Ward kept Herta at bay to take the win by one-and-a-half seconds at the checkered flag.

This is also O’Ward’s second win in three races in the 2018 season, and he revealed afterward that his pass on Herta was somewhat accidental.

“I just wanted to stay clean at the start but I saw Santi right behind me, so I tucked behind Colton. But coming into Turn 5, Santi was right on my gearbox, so I knew I would have to brake deep. My intentions were not to launch and go to first, but I was watching my mirrors and braked really late and it worked,” he explained.

O’Ward added that, despite leading every lap, he was battling the car the entire way. “The car was really a handful through the race, much different than it was in qualifying,” he detailed. “It was one of the hardest races I’ve ever done, going into the grass a few times when I was fighting the car with major oversteer. It took all my knowledge to keep it on the black stuff – I was so relieved to see the checkered flag.”

Belardi Auto Racing’s Santi Urrutia finished third, followed by Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni, and Ryan Norman finished fifth to put three Andretti Autosport affiliated drivers in the Top 5.

Meanwhile, Belardi’s Aaron Telitz endured a second consecutive race in which he failed to complete a lap, after he was collected in a Lap 1, Turn 2 spin with Dalton Kellett. Kellett, who spun on his own, was able to continue despite the contact, but Telitz suffered damage to the right-front suspension, forcing him to retire without completing a lap for the second race in a row.

Results are below. Race 2 rolls off at 1:00 p.m. ET.

 

Pro Mazda: Thompson Roles to Dominant Race 1 Victory

Exclusive Autosport’s Parker Thompson dominated Race 1, leading all 25 laps from the pole on his way to victory. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Race 1 for Pro Mazda was hardly ever in doubt. Polesitter Parker Thompson, who soared to pole with a track record in qualifying, led right from the drop of the green flag to lead all 25 laps on his way to winning Race 1.

Thompson had to withstand a brief challenge from RP Motorsport’s Harrison Scott on a Lap 4 restart – a caution was flown for debris on the front straightaway on Lap 2 – but Thompson immediately began gapping the field again, and the Exclusive Autosport driver won by over five seconds.

Thompson dedicated the victory the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team, which lost 16 members of the team, including 10 players, following a tragic bus accident earlier in April.

The Exclusive Autosport team pay tribute to the Humboldt Bronco after winning Race 1 at Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

“This is huge for us, being Canadian and from Saskatchewan. With the tragedy that happened in Humboldt, in our home province, to come here and dedicate this win to them is so special, especially when I look at the emotions from my team owner,” Thompson revealed.

“Trust me when I say that I felt as though I had 16 angels riding on board with me. There’s something on this team today that wasn’t there in St. Pete. But starting on the pole is key here, but even more so when you have the kind of car I had today. It was on rails. The team told me to slow down, but I was going as slow as I could. It was a really good drive for me today and my hat is off to the entire team.”

Scott came home in second, while BN Racing’s David Malukas, Team Pelfrey’s Andres Gutierrez, and Juncos Racing’s Rinus VeeKay battled for third, with Malukas holding off Gutierrez and VeeKay to take the final spot on the podium.

Results are below. Pro Mazda Race 2 rolls off at 10:50 a.m. ET on Sunday.

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Podcast: James Hinchcliffe might find a silver lining in disguise at Indy after ‘an emotional roller coaster’

Richard W. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway
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INDIANAPOLIS – No one could blame James Hinchcliffe for going incognito at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend, and he might do exactly that on the eve of the Indianapolis 500.

But it won’t be because the SPM driver is bummed about missing the biggest race of the IndyCar season. Actually, it’s because the crushing disappointment of getting bumped from the field a week ago might have a silver lining.

“I’ve heard all these stories from way back when to the present day of what it’s like just outside the speedway on Saturday night before the race,” Hinchcliffe said during a new episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast that was recorded and released Saturday. “Up Georgetown (Road), in the Coke Lot, you hear all these crazy stories about all these crazy parties and the rest of it.

“And honestly, we’re always isolated in our little bubble inside the speedway in the drivers lot. Part of me is tempted to dress up in disguise and just venture out there and see what it’s all about. I’m very tempted to do that and maybe document some of the exploits out there.”

And if Hinchcliffe lingers well into the night? Well, it’s not as if he has a 500-mile race to worry about Sunday.

“I know the (track’s) cannon is going to go off at 6 a.m. (Sunday) and wake us up, but I have fewer responsibilities tomorrow than most of my colleagues,” the Canadian said with a laugh.

Of course, it still has been one of the longer weeks in the life of a 31-year-old who is ranked fifth in the points standing and seemed on track for a career season. Before Indy, Hinchcliffe’s average finish in the first five races was 5.8, including a third at Barber Motorsports Park.

But the momentum screeched to a halt when his No. 5 Dallara-Honda was knocked out of the field in the closing hour of the opening day of qualifying at the Brickyard last Saturday.

Hinchcliffe gamely accepted the outcome with a series of graceful interviews shortly afterward and has maintained a brave face during a week of promotional appearances

“It’s been an up and down week,” he said. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster. The term good days and bad days doesn’t even apply. You have good hours and bad hours.

“The busier I’m keeping myself, the better I’m feeling. There were times you have that little driver tantrum in your head like, ‘I don’t want to do any of this stuff because I’m in a bad mood! And blah, blah blah.’ But talking about it helps you get over it, and staying busy takes your mind off it a little bit.”

Still, there is no escaping the reality of when the green flag falls on the 102nd running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“Sunday is probably going to suck,” he said. “There’s no way around that. The start of the race is really going to suck. Then when I see how hard it is out there, I might think it sucks a little less.”

It has been easier to swallow because of “fan support that has just been completely overwhelming,” and Hinchcliffe of course has a perspective about Indianapolis that few have after a near-fatal practice crash in 2015 (“(Missing the race) actually wasn’t the worst day I’ve ever had at Indianapolis Motor Speedway”).

His comeback from the brush with death brought his team closer together, and he’s hoping the latest spate of adversity will do the same.

“One of the hardest parts was just being back with the crew right afterward, getting back to the garage and seeing a group of like 10 grown men literally brought to tears over what just happened,” said Hinchcliffe, whose team misjudged the amount of time left in the session after a tire vibration problem quickly ended what would be his final attempt. “It shows you how much this race means. If we had a really bad crash at Detroit on Saturday morning and couldn’t get the car fixed in time for Sunday. We’d all be like, ‘Man that really sucks. We’ll fix the car and come back next week.’

“But not getting to start Indy, man, is just such a gut punch for these guys and for all of us. But at the same time, it brought us closer as a group. There were mistakes made that we’re going to learn from. There’s no doubt that we come back as a stronger unit because of this. Emotionally, from a preparation point of view, from an execution point of view.”

There was a jolt of positivity from a second-place finish in a pit stop competition Friday. Hinchcliffe’s team, which has posted the fastest pit stop in two races this season, fell to Scott Dixon’s team in the final after pulling out a surprise victory over Will Power’s crew from the non-preferred right lane in the semifinals.

“Even if we beat Dixon in the finals, it wouldn’t have felt as good as that win did,” Hinchcliffe said. “It was such an awesome performance. The guys have been killing it in the pits. It’s definitely a point of pride for us.

“It was fun to get back in the car and do something for the fans and do something for the boys. We won a check at the end of the day. Add it to the beer fund and go have a fun Sunday night.”

Other topics discussed in the podcast:

–How and why he became a popular star by learning how to showcase his affable personality early in his career;

–Why the IndyCar Series needs a driver to play the villain role;

–An expanded explanation of why he believes the Indianapolis 500 should be separate from the championship;

To listen to the podcast, click here for Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play or play the Art19 embed below: