Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI: IMS road course Saturday recap

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While the first day of racing at the Royal Purple Synthetic Motor Oil Grand Prix of Indianapolis supporting the Lupus Foundation of America was somewhat routine, Day 2 was the exact opposite, as chaos was the name of the game for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires.

The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires saw a thrilling, if not somewhat controversial, duel for the win between a pair of series veterans that culminated in contact between the two, with the race winner completing a weekend sweep.

The Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda both saw the championship leaders entering the weekend survive all the carnage and attrition to take victories.

Reports on the events from all three series are below.

Indy Lights: Herta Outlasts Aggressive Urrutia to Win Race 2 and Complete a Weekend Sweep

Colton Herta at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Andretti Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta and Belardi Auto Racing’s Santi Urrutia staged a duel for the ages in Indy Lights Race 2 on Saturday, and it ended up being Herta who came out on top while Urrutia was left seething in defeat.

Urrutia led most of the race after passing Andretti Autosport’s Pato O’Ward, who started on the pole, on Lap 2, while Herta ran slightly deeper in the field, and actually made contact with Urrutia’s teammate Aaron Teltiz as they battled for third in the opening laps – Herta tried diving inside of Telitz in Turn 1 on Lap 2, but both tried to take the racing line into the corner and ran wide after slight contact.

Still, both continued, with Urrutia leading O’Ward and Herta, while Telitz quickly regrouped to run in fourth for much of the race.

Lap 20 was when things started to get interesting at the front, as Herta got around O’Ward for second and set his sights on Urrutia, while O’Ward eventually limped into the pits in the final laps with a tire that was going down.

Up front, Herta and Urrutia pressed each other very hard, with Urrutia aggressively taking the inside line into Turn 1 and pushing Herta out wide on corner exit whenever he tried a pass.

Their battle hit its peak as they approached the 3-lap-to-go mark, with Herta trying a pass through Turns 8,9, and 10, while Urrutia desperately tried to defend. As they approached Turn 1 with three laps left, Urrutia again dove inside to take the line away, with Herta again trying an outside move.

This time, Herta hung on around the outside to stay wheel to wheel with Urrutia, and when the Belardi driver tried to pinch Herta off track entering Turn 2, they made contact that sent Urrutia into a spin.

Herta’s car suffered no damage and he cruised home to take the win and complete the weekend sweep, while Telitz ended up in second due to the troubles of Urrutia and O’Ward. Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni rounded out the podium, while a frustrated Urrutia ended up fourth.

An elated Herta could  barely contain himself in Victory Lane.

“I can’t believe it. I have not swept a weekend on the Mazda Road to Indy, and we needed it to get back into the championship,” he revealed. “To get two wins at Indy is just spectacular – now I want to win the Freedom 100 and sweep the month!”

Andretti’s Ryan Norman and Dalton Kellett finished fifth and sixth, while O’Ward languished in seventh at the checkered flag.

Full results are below. O’Ward remains in the championship lead, but only by one point over Herta. Urrutia is not far behind either, sitting six points out of the lead in third.

Pro Mazda: Thompson Outduels Cunha for Win in Attrition-Filled Race 2

Parker Thompson made a late pass on Carlos Cunhas to take the win in Race 2. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Pro Mazda Race 2 was chaotic from the outset, as Juncos Racing teammates Robert Meggenis and Rinus VeeKay, who started fourth and fifth, got together on the front straightaway as they took the green flag. Both suffered damage, but while Meggenis was able to continue, VeeKay – the points leader entering Race 2 after finishing second in Race 1 – dropped out after his Tatuus PM-18 suffered too much damage.

The VeeKay/Megennis contact resulted in a full-course caution, and a Lap 5 restart saw Juncos driver Carlos Cunha pounce on Cape Motorsports’ Oliver Askew, who led from the pole in the early laps.

Cunha got around Askew on the outside entering Turn 1, with Exclusive Autosport’s Parker Thompson following suit in Turn 7. Askew’s day took a dramatic turn in the next few laps, as he began dropping back somewhat and defended his position aggressively, resulting in a drive-through penalty when he made contact with a another car.

Up front, Cunha held the lead, while RP Motorsport Racing’s Harrison Scott – the Race 1 winner – got around Thompson for second, with the Top 3 all running nose to tail.

Scott’s day, however, came to an abrupt end only a few laps later, when his car slowed on the front straightaway with a mechanical problem. Simultaneously, teammate Lodovico Laurini stopped on track, causing another full-course caution in a disastrous day for the RP Motorsport team.

Cunha continued to lead on the Lap 12 restart, but Thompson was now all over his gearbox, and Thompson was able to slipstream Cunha on the run up to Turn 1 at the beginning of Lap 17 and dove inside entering Turn 1.

Thompson pulled away from there to take the win, with Cunha hanging on for second.

Thompson revealed that the win was an emotional one, with he and team battling back from engine issues at the beginning of the weekend to win a place he loves.

“I was tearing up at the checkered flag and my engineer, Tim Lewis, was just screaming on the radio. It was so awesome to get a win here – it doesn’t get much better than winning at the Racing Capital of the World!” Thompson detailed “It was tough out there today. We made a gamble on a low-downforce setup and it played out. I avoided the melees at the start and kept everything intact. We set fastest lap after fastest lap and that makes weekends like this so special, starting from back in sixth and taking the victory.”

Team Pelfrey’s Sting Ray Robb rounded out the podium following a tense battle with teammate Andres Gutierrez and the aforementioned Askew, who got back into the Top 5 after his penalty. Robb emerged in third, with Askew finishing fourth. Gutierrez completed the Top 5.

FUll race results are below. Thompson now leads VeeKay by 22 points in the Pro Mazda championship, with Cunha in third, 30 points out of the lead.

USF2000: Kirkwood Survives Late Cautions and Restarts to Take the Win

Kyle Kirkwood survived several late cautions to led every lap in Race 2 on the way to victory. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

The facts and figures of USF2000 Race 2 may lead you to believe that Kyle Kirkwood had it somewhat easy, as he led every lap from the pole to score the win.

But, the numbers only tell a small portion of the story. While Kirkwood led from the pole, chaos reigned behind him. Swan-RJB Motorsports’ Alex Baron and BN Racing’s Jamie Caroline made contact on the opening lap, knocking Baron to back of the field.

Later, a hard-fought battle for second ended in tears for Caroline and Pabst Racing Services’ Kaylen Frederick, who made contact in Turn 4. Frederick spun into the gravel trap, but did continue after getting restarted, while Caroline retired due to damage.

Their incident created a full-course caution, putting drivers like Pabst’s Rasmus Lindh and Newman Wachs Racing’s Darren Keane right behind Kirkwood. Baron, meanwhile, had charged all the way back up to seventh, and was in position to challenge for a podium, and maybe even a win.

Racing resumed on Lap 14, with Kirkwood holding the lead from Lindh, while Baron continued his charge and found himself in third on Lap 17 when Newman Wachs’ David Osborne spun off course, resulting in another full-course caution.

Racing resumed on Lap 19, giving the field one green-flag lap before the finish. Baron got around Lindh for second, but was unable to challenge Kirkwood for the win as Pelfrey’s Bruna Tomaselli spun and made contact with another car in Turn 11 while approaching the restart.

That incident created another caution, sealing the win for Kirkwood, with Baron, Lindh, Keane, and James Roe Jr., on his debut with Swan-RJB, rounding out the Top 5.

“To come here and win in the USF2000 series is unbelievable,” Kirkwood said afterward. Oliver (Askew) swept the weekend last year, so I’m disappointed I didn’t do that, but it’s amazing to win here.”

Baron, too, was pleased at race’s end.

“I can’t be totally disappointed with what happened today because only a few days ago, I wasn’t sure I’d even make it here,” he revealed. “The victory yesterday was a great reward for all the hard work to get me here, and the second-place today is a bit bittersweet because I thought it could be better. I had an unfortunate incident at the start, but I took advantage of the two safety car periods to show what I’m made of, and what the team is made of.”

Full race results are below. Kirkwood now leads Baron by 13 points in the championship. DEForce Racing’s Jose Sierra, who suffered mechanical problems right after the race started, sits third, 42 points behind Kirkwood.

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Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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