Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI: IMS road course Friday recap

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A busy Friday kicked off the weekend for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, and things culminated in the opening races of the weekend for what is dubbed the Royal Purple Synthetic Oil Grand Prix of Indianapolis supporting the Lupus Foundation of America, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course.

The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires saw a new race winner in its 2018 season on Friday, while the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda saw drivers score their seconds wins of 2018 on Friday.

Recaps of all three races are below.

Indy Lights: Herta Gets His First Win of 2018

Colton Herta stood atop the podium in Indy Lights Race 1. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta took his first victory of the 2018 Indy Lights season on Friday in Race 1 on the IMS Road Course.

Herta, who started second, was shuffled back to sixth on the start – polesitter Pato O’Ward ran wide after a bump from VIctor Franzoni, which pushed Herta out wide in the process – but quickly started working his way back forward. He had moved up to second near the halfway point of the 30-lap race and was right on the gearbox of Belardi Auto Racing’s Santi Urrutia, who had been leading from the drop of the green flag.

Herta was able to slipstream Urrutia down the front straightaway, and made an outside pass entering Turn 1 right at the halfway point. Herta pulled away from there to win by over five seconds.

Afterward, Herta explained the challenge of rebounding after falling to sixth on the start.

“It was pretty crazy at the start when Victor got into Pato and knocked us both wide and I wasn’t happy about that. I knew I had a good race car and that I could carve my way back up the field and get a podium but honestly, I didn’t think a win was possible,” Herta revealed.

He added, “Santi (Urrutia) and Aaron (Telitz) are good at defending and we were so far behind. I locked up a few times getting around Pato – we have respect for each other and we give each other room, so it’s fun to race close like that. It would have been a good battle for the win. I actually thought I touched Santi but I was glad to get around.”

Urrutia held on for second, while teammate Aaron Telitz rounded out the podium in third. Andretti Autosport’s Pato O’Ward, who started on the pole, ran wide in the first corner after a slight bump from Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni.

O’Ward couldn’t regain the lead from that point, but did hang on to finish fourth.

Andretti’s Ryan Norman finished fifth, with the aforementioned Franzoni sixth, and Andretti’s Ryan Norman in seventh.

Full race 1 results are below. Race 2 rolls off at 1:15 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Pro Mazda: Scott Holds Off Askew for Second Win of 2018

Harrison Scott on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

A wild Pro Mazda Race 1 saw several lead changes as a number of different drivers battled at the front of the field throughout the race.

In the end, it was RP Motorsport’s Harrison Scott taking his second win of the 2018 season, as he held off challenges from Juncos Racing’s Rinus VeeKay and Cape Motorsports’ Oliver Askew, who started on the pole.

VeeKay found himself in the lead in the second half of the race, but a train of cars were stalking him, with all of them looking to get by. BN Racing’s David Malukas had been running second and tried an aggressive move on VeeKay to take the lead, but ran wide of the racing surface on Hulman Boulevard – the back straightaway – and was given a drive-through penalty for exceeding the track limits.

Only a few laps later, Harrison Scott, who was elevated to second after Malukas’ penalty, moved into position to challenge VeeKay for the lead, and made an outside pass entering Turn 1 just as a caution was flown for Team Pelfrey’s Andres Gutierrez, who stopped on the front straightaway with a mechanical problem.

Scott held serve on the restart with a few minutes remaining, while Askew got by VeeKay for second. Carlos Cunha, VeeKay’s Juncos teammate, also moved up, passing Exclusive Autosport’s Parker Thompson for fourth, with Thompson losing the engine cover off his Taatus PM-18.

Up front, though, Scott held off Askew to the win, with VeeKay rounding out the podium ahead of Cunha and Thompson, who hung on for fifth despite the engine cover issue. Malukas, meanwhile, rebounded to finish seventh.

An emotional Scott relayed how important this win was to him afterward.

“It’s amazing – I was going crazy on the radio and the team was just screaming,” he revealed. “They have worked so hard, because we’re so far behind the other teams, in knowledge and everything. Every time we’ve gotten on track we’ve improved. To get back-to-back wins is incredible, especially this early in the season. It shows the hard work we’re doing. I got the benefit of the slipstream on the front straight and even though we were on the limit, we made the corner and made the pass stick. I focused on not making any mistakes so Askew couldn’t get by me.”

Race 1 results are below. Race 2 rolls off 10:10 a.m. on Saturday, with Askew again on the pole.

USF2000: Baron Outduels Kirkwood to Take the Win

Alex Baron took his second win of the 2018 USF2000 season on Friday at the IMS Road Course. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

While Cape Motorsports’ Kyle Kirkwood captured the pole and led early, it was Swan-RJB Motorsports’ Alex Baron who ended the day in Victory Lane for USF2000 in Race 1 on the IMS Road Course.

After an intense battle that involved multiple lead changes between the two, Baron was eventually able to clear Kirkwood, hanging on to win by less than a second. The victory is Baron’s second of 2018 – he won Race 2 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida back in March.

“Winning over here is quite a privilege, and it’s an honor to win at such a legendary racetrack,” Baron explained afterward. When I started racing here four years ago, I realized pretty quickly how important this whole month is. Everyone knows about Indianapolis, so to succeed here is quite an accomplishment. It was an adventurous race. I made a good move to get around Rasmus and Kyle in Turn One and then had an intense battle with Kyle all race long. I’m glad to get the win, and the points. We all want to win the championship and it’s up to us – the whole Swan-RJB team – to figure out how to make that happen.”

Kirkwood, the USF2000 points leader, ended up second, with DEForce Racing’s Jose Sierra rounding out the podium. BN’s Jamie Caroline finished fourth, with DEForce’s Kory Enders completing the Top 5.

Race 1 results are below. Race 2 goes green at 9:15 a.m. to kick off Saturday on the IMS Road Course.

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IndyCar: Which drivers need to start or continue comebacks in 2019?

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With the 2018 IndyCar Series season already far back in our rearview mirror, it’s not too soon to start looking ahead to the 2019 campaign, which begins on March 10 at St. Petersburg, Florida.

When you look at how 2018 ended up, several drivers either didn’t have the season they had hoped for and are looking to make big comebacks in 2019, or perhaps began comebacks in 2018 after prior difficult seasons.

Let’s take a look at who is due – or in some cases, overdue – for an even stronger season in 2019:

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: RHR isn’t overdue by any stretch, having started his “comeback” of sorts in 2018. His fourth-place season finish was his best in the series since winning the championship in 2012.

He also earned two wins – Belle Isle II and the season finale at Sonoma – his first visits to victory lane since winning twice in 2015.

Had it not been for three DNFs in the second half of the season, Hunter-Reay likely could have finished in the top 3 at season’s end.

It was good to see him come back into prominence after frustration the last two seasons (12th in 2016 and 9th in 2017).

Hunter-Reay still has several more good years in him and it would not be surprising to see him finish even higher in 2019 – and potentially once again being a championship contender.

SIMON PAGENAUD: After winning the championship in 2016 and finishing second in 2017, Pagenaud definitely had an off-season by his usual standards in 2018, finishing sixth in the IndyCar standings.

The French-born driver failed to win a race for the first time since 2015 and had just two podium finishes (also the most since 2015).

One of the most telling stats from what was a frustrating campaign is Pagenaud and the No. 22 led a total of just 31 laps across the 17-race 2018 season, the fewest laps led in a single season in his entire IndyCar career.

He also had the second-worst average per-race finish of his career (8.6), after having average finishes of 6.1 in his championship season and 5.3 in 2017.

Of course, looking at things from a glass half-full viewpoint, Pagenaud went from a winless and disappointing 11th place finish in 2015 to become champion in 2016. Could history repeat itself in 2019?

By all measures, 2018 was definitely an off season for Pagenaud. Look for him to make a significant comeback in 2019.

Or, to borrow a line Pagenaud said to teammate Josef Newgarden during their early 2018 season “autograph battle,” it’s your move, bro, for 2019.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: The French driver had perhaps the best comeback season of any driver in 2018.

When former CART champ Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan joined forces with Dale Coyne Racing just prior to the start of the 2018 season, Bourdais was the hand-picked driver to carry the DCR with Vasser-Sullivan banner.

Bourdais did not disappoint. He started the season with a win at St. Petersburg and enjoyed his best overall season finish – seventh – in an Indy car since capturing the fourth of four straight CART/Champ Car World Series championships in 2007.

It was also Bourdais’ best career IndyCar finish, topping his previous best season finishes of 10th in both 2014 and 2015.|

Bourdais, who turns 40 in late February, finished the season strong with two top 5 and two other top 10 finishes in four of the last five races. That’s a good harbinger of even better things to come in 2019.

GRAHAM RAHAL: It was a tough season at times for Rahal, who turns 30 in early January.

Not only did he have his worst season finish – eighth – since 2014 (19th), he failed to win even one race (also for the first time since 2014) and had just one podium finish (2nd at St. Petersburg).

As if to add insult to injury, Rahal had two of his three season DNFs in his final two races (4th lap crash at Portland and a battery issue at Sonoma).

Rahal is overdue for the kind of season he had in 2015, when he won two races, had six podiums and finished a career-best fourth in the overall standings.

While Rahal has the equipment and personnel to do better, something just didn’t click in 2018. Will things turn around in 2019?

MARCO ANDRETTI: The grandson of Mario and son of Michael Andretti continues to be a work in progress – with emphasis on the word “progress” when it came to his 2018 performance.

Although he remains winless since 2011 and hasn’t had a podium finish since 2015, Marco Andretti still showed overall improvement in 2018, including earning his first pole (Belle Isle I) since 2013.

With a fifth-place finish in the season-ending race at Sonoma, Andretti jumped from 12th in the standings to finish the season tied for eighth place with Graham Rahal, Andretti’s best overall showing since finishing fifth in 2013.

Andretti had a strong second half of the 2018 season, with a top 5 in the season finale at Sonoma, as well as three top 11 finishes in five of the last eight races.

Don’t be surprised if he closes in on a top 5 finish in 2019. Andretti Autosport continues to improve overall as a team, particularly with Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay and now Andretti, as well.

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: It was a strange season for the Mayor of Hinchtown.

He failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, had just one win and two podium finishes, yet ended up with a 10th place overall finish in the standings, his best performance since finishing 8th in both 2012 and 2013.

The Canadian driver went on a hot streak early in the second half of the season, winning at Iowa and finishing fourth in his hometown race in Toronto.

But DNFs at Pocono and Portland, as well as three other finishes of 14th (Mid-Ohio) and 15th (Gateway and Sonoma) likely cost him a chance of potentially finishing as high as eighth.

There was also the emotional, gut-wrenching crash involving Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate and longtime best friend, Robert Wickens, at Pocono. While Hinchcliffe tried to put on a happy face and showed support to his fallen mate, it wouldn’t be surprising if Wickens’ injury constantly dwelled on Hinchcliffe’s mind.

With the Indianapolis 500 heartbreak, the firing of engineer Lena Gade (who lasted just five races before her ouster), the injury to Wickens, and the overall second-half season struggles, Hinchcliffe is to be commended for finishing as high as he did in the final standings given the overall circumstances he had to endure.

At the same time, it’s likely a season he wants to wipe away from his memory bank and turn a forgettable season in 2018 into what Hinchcliffe and his team hope is an unforgettable season in 2019.

TONY KANAAN: A new team, new outlook and racing for legendary A.J. Foyt offered a great deal of promise for Tony Kanaan in 2018.

Unfortunately, the Brazilian native suffered through the worst season ever in his IndyCar career, finishing 16th in the overall standings.

Prior to 2018, Kanaan had experienced just one other season outside the top 10 (11th in 2013, the same year he won the Indianapolis 500).

Admittedly, TK, who turns 44 on December 31, is the oldest full-time driver on the circuit. But it doesn’t look like he’s lost much with age.

Rather, three DNFs and a career single-season low of having led just 20 laps over 17 races took its toll on Kanaan.

He will return for 2019, driving a second season for Foyt. But things need to dramatically improve for Kanaan, who hasn’t won a race since 2014.

Follow @JerryBonkowski