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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Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).