Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI: Lucas Oil Raceway Recap

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Friday marked Carb Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, but there was also plenty of activity over in Brownsburg, Indiana at Lucas Oil Raceway.

Friday night’s Carb Night Classic featured the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda in their first oval events of the year: the Freedom 75 (USF2000) and the Freedom 90 (Pro Mazda).

Both races saw the points leaders in their respective series dominate, further asserting their championship prowess, and taking their first oval victories in the process.

Recaps of both races are below.

Pro Mazda: Thompson Holds Off Cunha for First Oval Win

The Freedom 90 saw Parker Thompson appear to be almost on cruise control for much of the race, as the Exclusive Autosport driver immediately jumped into the lead off the initial start and he began rocketing away from the field.

Behind him, a pair of Juncos Racing cars emerged in second and third, with Carlos Cunha ahead of Robert Megennis in that battle.

However, Thompson’s initial lead was wiped out following a Lap 46 crash involving David Malukas and Harrison Scott. The pair had been engaged in an intense battle for fourth, but came together in Turn 4, sending Scott spinning into the outside wall while Malukas eventually came to a stop alongside the front straightaway wall.

Thompson again pulled away when racing resumed on Lap 55, while Cunha immediately gave chase, passing the lapped car of Lodovico Laurini as he tried to keep Thompson in his sights.

Lapped traffic continued to play a key role in the closing stages, with Thompson getting briefly held up behind Nikita Lastochkin and Oliver Askew, allowing Cunha to close onto his gearbox in the final laps.

However, Thompson kept Cunha at bay to take the win, his third of the Pro Mazda season. Megennis drove a solid race to finish third, while Rinus VeeKay put three Juncos cars in the top five by finishing fourth. Team Pelfrey’s Sting Ray Robb finished fifth.

Thompson’s win sees him extend his points lead over VeeKay to 36, with Cunha only two points further back in third.

USF2000: Kirkwood Rolls to Victory in Oval Debut

Kyle Kirkwood was untouchable at Lucas Oil Raceway. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

If his first career oval proved a challenge for Cape Motorsports’ Kyle Kirkwood, he certainly did not show it. Starting on the pole, Kirkwood rocketed away into the lead and was never challenged.

Behind him, however, his closest title rival faltered. Alex Baron, who charged from eighth to third on Lap 1, crashed out while working his way around the lapped car of Russ McDonough. Baron was visibly upset and frustrated while walking along the pit lane after climbing out of the No. 29 Swan-RJB Motorsports Tatuus USF-17.

Racing only briefly returned to green on Lap 40 before Zach Holden rode up and over the back of Julian van der Watt, with both cars coming to a stop on the back straightaway.

A restart on Lap 50 again saw Kirkwood pull away, while Kaylen Frederick worked his way up to second around Rasmus Lindh and Lucas Kohl.

The race came to a close only eight laps later – the cautions brought a 30-minute time limit into play, preventing them from completing the originally planned 75-lap race.

In the end, no one got close to Kirkwood, who took a win on his oval debut, his third win of the 2018 season. Frederick came home second for his first podium of the year, and his first with Pabst Racing Services, while Rasmus Lindh rounded out the podium in third. Kohl and Jose Sierra completed the top five in fourth and fifth.

Kirkwood’s win combined with Baron’s crash to give Kirkwood a championship lead of 44 points. Sierra remains third, one point ahead of Igor Fraga.

Both series are back in action for double-headers at Road America on June 23-24.

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Formula One: Haas fighting for ‘best of the rest’ in Year 3

Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The third season for Haas F1 has been its best, even if it’s been a bit bizarre.

Formula One’s only U.S.-based team has scored the most points in its young history and overcome some serious bumbles early to compete with – and beat – some of the legacy team names in F1.

Haas heads into this week’s U.S. Grand Prix in a tough season-ending fight with Renault for the “best of the rest” title among the teams outside of the Big Three of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.

“It’s the best battle of the field. It’s very tight. It’s going to go to the last lap of the race in Abu Dhabi, while I think the world championship is probably going to go this weekend,” said Haas’ French driver Romain Grosjean, who signed with the team before their first season.

“To rise as quickly as we’ve done hasn’t been seen in Formula One, I don’t think,” said his Danish teammate Kevin Magnussen.

Haas launched with a surprise in 2016 and has been rising ever since.

Haas scored points in its first race in 2016, and in 2017 had both cars finish in the top 10 for the first time at Monte Carlo, the biggest race on the annual calendar. A strong run over the last 10 races of this season has Haas just eight points behind Renault in the race for fourth place with four races left.

The 2018 season looks to finish better than it started.

After Haas scored the team’s best-ever qualifying at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, neither car finished the race. Magnussen and Grosjean both left pit stops on consecutive laps with unsecured wheels and had to stop. The team was fined for sending the cars out in unsafe conditions.

“That was extremely, extremely disappointing” Magnussen said “We are still showing signs of immaturity at certain moments.”

Other problems followed. A month later in Azerbaijan, Grosjean fought his way from the back row into sixth before he drove straight into the wall while following a safety car. Grosjean felt horrible, but blamed one of the season’s most bizarre incidents on an errant flip of a steering wheel switch that he said upset the car’s brake balance and sent him spinning into the barrier.

More valuable points were lost in Italy when the floor of Grosjean’s car was deemed illegal and he was disqualified from sixth place. Haas appealed and is awaiting a decision on points that would close the gap with Renault with a stroke of a pen. Despite the gaffes, Grosjean has finished in the top 10 four times in the last seven races.

“I got eight points stolen in Monza,” Grosjean said. “The results are coming with the kind of performance Haas signed me for in the first place.”

After the problems, Grosjean admitted it was a relief to extend his contract with Haas for 2019. He and Magnussen will be teammates again.

“When I joined, I didn’t know what Haas was going to be. I think they gave me some credit for that when I had a tough time earlier this year and turned things around, Grosjean said.

Haas Team Principal Guenther Steiner said he and team owner Gene Haas saw value in staying with drivers who knew the Haas cars.

“Just to change a driver for the same level of skill, you go backward,” Steiner said. “There’s not a lot of better drivers out there, so why should we change them? Stay the same and mature quicker.”

The question now is how high can Haas go?

The Haas business model – which has drawn complaints from its middle-of-the-pack rivals – has it buying parts and engines, most notably from Ferrari. It keeps costs down but creates a performance ceiling that Haas is unlikely to break through.

“We are not developing parts for our car,” Grosjean said. “So far it hasn’t been a problem. If one day we start to beat Ferrari, it’s not going to work.”

Steiner said a top three finish isn’t realistic, not against teams with much bigger budgets, development and staff.

“The first year we didn’t finish last, the second year we didn’t finish last and now we are fighting for fourth. We must be doing something right,” Steiner said. “How do we get to that next step? Where do we go from here? Right now, there is no answer.”

That can be the frustrating part of an otherwise very good season.

A taste of success begs for more. For the 26-year-old Magnussen, he can be good with Haas, maybe even the “best of the rest.” But that’s a career definition no driver wants.

“It’s been six years since I won a race in motorsport,” Magnussen said. “I miss winning. Badly.”