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Kanaan, Leist look to bring Foyt team back to Indy victory lane

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It has been five years since A.J. Foyt Racing was last in the winner’s circle – with Takuma Sato at the 2013 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

And their last win before that? You have to go all the way back to 2002 with Airton Dare at Kansas Speedway.

Those two races remain the Foyt team’s only wins in the 21st century. In short, the last 15+ years have been very hard on A.J. Foyt’s operation, this despite solid funding and resources from sponsor ABC Supply.

As such, sweeping changes were made ahead of last year’s Verizon IndyCar Series season. New team personnel, new mechanics and engineers, and new drivers in Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly highlighted such changes.

While a handful of decent results came their way – Munoz had six top 10s while Daly scored the team’s lone Top 5, a fifth at Gateway Motorsports Park – the team still languished at the bottom of the IndyCar field.

Munoz was 16th in the standings at the end of the year, with Daly down in 18th – they scored the least amount of points of any team that ran full-time last year.

As a result, more sweeping changes were made, most notably on the driver front. Out were Munoz and Daly, and in were Tony Kanaan and Matheus Leist, fourth-place finisher in last year’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship.

Results have still been hard to come by – a pair of eighth-place efforts from Kanaan at ISM Raceway and Long Beach are the team’s only Top 10s this year – but the pace has improved.

And that improved pace was perfectly on display during qualifying for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500. Although neither made the Fast Nine Pole Shootout, both actually were faster than ninth-place qualifier Scott Dixon during Pole Day qualifying.

Kanaan ended up tenth, the best of the non-Fast Nine group, with a four-lap average of 227.664 mph. Leist ended up 11th with an average of 227.571 mph – for reference, Dixon’s average was 227.262.

Tony Kanaan and Matheus Leist celebrate strong qualifying efforts for the Indy 500. Photo: IndyCar

Kanaan was especially enthusiastic about the result, and highlighted the efforts of the entire team for their success.

“What a great effort. As a team. (Team owner A.J. Foyt) and (team president Larry Foyt) put so much effort into this over the winter. They gave us everything I asked and they stepped up. I have a brand new car for this race, Matheus has a brand new car. They spent every single dime to give us a good car. We’re a little team, but we’re having a lot of fun. This is for them. I told them today our pole is going to be 10th. This is pole in my books,” Kanaan asserted afterward.

Leist was equally as elated, similarly spotlighting the effort of the team in the process.

“Since our first day here, the car has been quick,” Leist echoed. “We knew that we could have a fast car (on Sunday). I’m so happy for the team and for Tony (Kanaan). Both crews did an awesome job preparing us for qualifying. We were just fast. I think that if qualifying was yesterday and we had this car, we would probably be in the Fast Nine. I’m just so happy for this team. Everyone deserves it. I’m looking forward to the race now.”

Both drivers enter Sunday’s “500” as darkhorses at the minimum, if not outright contenders. Kanaan, of course, is a former Indy 500 winner (2013), and is one of the best modern drivers at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with seven Top 5 finishes to his name. And his 2013 triumph came after he started 12th on the grid, so he can easily win Sunday’s race from tenth.

Leist, meanwhile, dominated last year’s Freedom 100, leading all 40 laps after starting on the pole, so he has had his own success at IMS.

In some ways, especially given the team’s recent history, an A.J. Foyt Racing victory would be something of an upset. But, don’t be surprised if Kanaan and Leist are major factors on Sunday.

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MRTI: Road America Saturday notebook

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Saturday at Road America saw all three series of the Mazda Road to Indy complete in action again, with the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires concluding its weekend with Race 2, while the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda completing their opening races of the weekend.

Indy Lights saw its two main title combatants duel for the win, while Pro Mazda saw its Race 1 winner complete a weekend sweep. And in USF2000, the points leader continued a run of dominance on the way to victory.

Reports on all three series are below.

Indy Lights: Herta Outlasts O’Ward, Franzoni for Race 1 Win

Colton Herta celebrates winning Race 1 at Road America.

Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta took his fourth win in a row on Saturday at Road America, winning Race 1 after dueling with his Andretti Autosport stablemate Pato O’Ward and Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni.

Franzoni held the lead off the initial start, but Herta quickly worked his way up to second after starting third, and immediately mounted a challenge for the lead. After trying to pass Franzoni on the outside entering Turn 5 for two laps in a row, Herta finally was able to get around him on a third attempt, again taking the outside line on corner entry.

O’Ward then quickly moved into second after Franzoni dipped two wheels into the dirt in Turn 7, and O’Ward quickly charged toward Herta to battle for the lead. He, too, tried several times to pass Herta on the outside entering Turn 5, but was ultimately unable to do so and lost ground to Herta after he ran out of push-to-pass.

It left Herta alone up front to cruise to the win, his fourth in a row in 2018. O’Ward and Franzoni finished second and third, with the Belardi Auto Racing teammates Santi Urrutia and Aaron Telitz finishing fourth and fifth, with Ryan Norman and Dalton Kellett rounding out the field for Andretti Autosport.

Results are below. Race 1 will roll off at 10:50 a.m. on Sunday morning and will air at 10:00 p.m. ET on Sunday night. Pato O’Ward will start on the pole.

Pro Mazda: Malukas Completes Road America Sweep

David Malukas was in perfect form again in Race 2 at Road America. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

BN Racing’s David Malukas capped a perfect weekend at Road America by winning Race 2 from the pole.

Malukas did face a brief challenge from Juncos Racing’s Carlos Cunha off the start, with Cunha actually leading briefly into Turn 1. But, Malukas quickly retook the lead entering Turn 3, and was never headed from there.

Behind him, points leader Parker Thompson was involved in contact with Raul Guzman in Turn 5, with Guzman, making his Pro Mazda debut with RP Motorsport Racing, hitting the back of the Exclusive Autosport.

Guzman stalled on course, bringing out a full-course caution, while Thompson fell back as far as 12th when racing resumed on Lap 3. However, he quickly regrouped and put in maybe the best drive of the day, working his way up to fifth in the closing laps – including a pass on title rival Carlos Cunha – and putting him right behind a battle for third involving Rinus VeeKay, Thompson’s other title rival, and Harrison Scott.

Scott eventually passed VeeKay for third, which opened the door for Thompson, who got around VeeKay right after to take fourth.

Thompson was unable to get close enough to challenge Scott for third, but his charge to fourth remained mighty impressive.

Up front, though, no one had anything for Malukas, who led teammate Toby Sowery in a second straight 1-2 for BN Racing – Sowery made a slick three-wide pass to get around VeeKay and Cunha on the Lap 3 restart.

Scott was third, followed by Thompson and VeeKay in fourth and fifth, with Cunha finishing sixth.

Results are below. The race also featured a tribute to the late Jeff Green, a former Pro Mazda driver with Juncos. Peter Dempsey, part of the Juncos effort on the engineering side last year, drove Green’s No. 60 chassis from 2017, while Victory Franzoni piloted his No. 23 Dallara IL-15 alongside.

USF2000: Kirkwood Continues to Roll as He Dominates USF2000 Race 1

Kyle Kirkwood celebrates winning USF2000 Race 1 at Road America. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Cape Motorsports’ Kyle Kirkwood continued his dominant run in USF2000 by winning Race 1 on Saturday.

Starting on the outside of the front row, Kirkwood got around pole sitter Rasmus Lindh, from Pabst Racing Services, on the outside entering Turn 1 and never looked back, leading all 12 laps on his way to victory.

Lindh, meanwhile, was involved in a heated battle for second with his Pabst teammate Kaylen Frederick, along with ArmsUp Motorsports’ Keith Donegan and DEForce Racing’s Kory Enders. Lindh eventually fell back as far as fifth following a bobble, allowing all four to get by, though he did get back around Enders for fourth.

Ultimately, though, Frederick and Donegan emerged to finish second and third – it’s the second straight podium for Frederick, and the first for Donegan – with Lindh and Enders rounding out the top five.

The race was slowed twice for incidents involving Sabre Cook. Cook, running with Team Benik, spun into the gravel trap in the Carousel on Lap 3, but was able to rejoin. Later, on Lap 11, she ran wide exiting Turn 7 and spun back across the track as she entered Hurry Downs, making contact with the wall on the outside just before the entrance of Turn 8.

Cook climbed from the car under her own power, though her race did come to a premature end.

Results are below. Race 2 rolls off at 9:00 a.m. ET (8:00 a.m. local time), with Lindh again starting on the pole.

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