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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Don’t know the Rolex 24? You should. Here’s why.

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Hello, America. It’s time to go racing again.

Yes, Supercross is now three weeks into its season, and the Chili Bowl Nationals is now effectively the Christopher Bell Invitational after the young NASCAR star won his 3rd consecutive Golden Driller last weekend.

But the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway is the first marquee event on the American racing calendar – an event that just happens to have international prestige.

It’s also the start of Daytona Speedweeks, which culminates with NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. But this is no mere opening act just warming up the crowd for the headliner.

In case you’re new to this event, here are a few reasons why it stands out:

Twice around the clock: Are you the kind of person that appreciates a challenge? Well, challenges don’t get much bigger in motorsports than a 24-hour endurance race where drivers, crews, machines, and strategies must work together flawlessly. For those behind the wheel in the Rolex 24, the obstacles are numerous: Punishing G-forces, extreme mental focus, lack of sleep, and staying on top of hydration and nutrition.

Star power: Speaking of those behind the wheel, the Rolex 24 traditionally draws top drivers from other disciplines such as IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR to join sports car regulars from North America and around the world. As a result, the winners’ list is a Who’s Who of Motorsports.

This year’s field includes a clutch of NTT IndyCar Series drivers, highlighted by 5-time series champion and past Rolex 24 winner Scott Dixon. But pre-race buzz has centered on two particular interlopers: Alex Zanardi, the former CART champion making his first North American start since losing his legs in a 2001 crash, and Fernando Alonso, the two-time F1 champion looking to add another endurance triumph alongside his win with Toyota in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Cool cars: If you’re a gearhead, the Rolex 24 is a 200-mile-per-hour candy store. Across the four separate classes of competition, 13 of the world’s premier car manufacturers are represented.

The majority of those manufacturers are found in the Grand Touring classes that feature vehicles based on road-going production models. Chevy and Ford’s eternal rivalry rages on in the factory-backed GT Le Mans, but the class also boasts efforts from BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari. It’s even more diverse in the pro-am GT Daytona, where Porsche is joined by Audi, Lamborghini, Lexus and Mercedes.

As for the exotic, purpose-built Daytona Prototypes, they are powered by engines from Cadillac, Acura, Mazda and Nissan.

Nifty fifty: This year’s Rolex 24 begins the 50th anniversary season for IMSA, the sanctioning body for North American sports car racing. A select group of teams will mark the occasion at the Rolex 24 by running historic IMSA paint schemes on their machines. You may not be familiar with these looks, but it’s worth discovering the history behind them.

Here’s an example. The Starworks Motorsports team (GT Daytona) will carry a scheme based on Audi of America’s 90 Quattro from the 1989 IMSA GTO season. Boasting sports car legends Hurley Haywood and Hans-Joachim Stuck in the driver lineup, the 90 Quattro captured 7 GTO wins that season.

Audi’s performance led one competitor to create a “no passing” sticker with Stuck’s face on it. Stuck’s response: A doll fixed to his car’s rear window that dropped its pants to moon anyone Stuck put behind him.

Status symbol: Last but not least, the Rolex 24 has a unique prize – a trophy you can wear.

Winners get a standard cup, but what they’re really after are the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches, which include a special engraving to commemorate their victory. A standard version of this watch retails for tens of thousands of dollars, but you can’t put a price on the ones awarded at the Rolex 24.

This year’s grand marshal, 5-time Rolex 24 winner Scott Pruett, sums it up as “the ultimate reward.”

“To be presented a watch engraved with the word ‘Winner’ after 24 hours of intense racing is a moment that lives with you forever,” he added. “Your Rolex is a constant reminder of the perseverance and hard work that goes into succeeding at the highest level.”