Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI: Former Pro Mazda racer Jeff Green dies at 61

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Jeff Green, 61, a former competitor in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, passed away on Saturday as a result of injuries sustained in a crash while competing in a vintage race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

Per a report from TSO Ladder, Green, competing in the Vintage Automobile Racing Association of Canada (VARAC) Vintage Grand Prix, had started on the pole in his Lola T300, but crashed entering Turn 8 after the back straight away.

Green, a native of Peoria, Illinois, where he also owned a pair of car dealerships, was extracted from the car and tended to by the on-site medical staff before being transported to a local hospital, but he was unable to survive his injuries.

“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Jeffrey Green,” said Myles Brandt, President and General Manager of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, in a statement on the track’s website. “We offer our deepest condolences and prayers to his family, friends and fellow competitors.”

Green demonstrated steady progress in the 2017 Pro Mazda season, finishing fifth on two occasions (Race 2 at Road America and at Gateway Motorsports Park, where he also recorded the third fastest lap of the race).

Jeff Green’s most impressive performance of 2017 came at Gateway Motorsports Park, where finished fifth and turned in the third fastest race lap. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

However, his impact on that year’s championship came outside of his own driver’s seat.

As described in the aforementioned TSO Ladder report, when Juncos Racing expanded last year to include a two-car Indianapolis 500 effort, team owner Ricardo Juncos dropped his Pro Mazda program, and Green ultimately purchased the equipment with the intention of racing it himself.

However, he later elected to work with an established team, and Juncos’ Pro Mazda program was reborn, but they needed a second driver in the mix to run for the championship.

Enter Victor Franzoni, a standout in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, but he lacked sufficient funding to continue his racing career, so he entered 2017 thinking he’d be on the sidelines.

Franzoni was added as a full-time teammate to Green, and the rest as they say is history – Franzoni won seven races on his way to the Pro Mazda crown.

A heartbroken Franzoni posted the below message on his Instagram page:

“Devasted!! Yesterday this awesome guy Jeff Green had a racing accident and left us. Jeff was one of the most amazing person I met, always extremely happy and helping everyone!! I learned a lot with you Jeff!! You were an inspiration and You’ll be always remembered. Prayers for his family and friends. R.I.P Jeff Green.”

Juncos Racing also expressed their grief on their twitter page.

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Sebastien Ogier in driver’s seat for sixth straight World Rally Championship title

Sebastien Ogier leads the way in the WRC title chase. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) — Thierry Neuville finished the sixth stage of Rally Australia on Friday without a rear left tire, damaging his chances of catching five-time defending champion Sebastien Ogier for the World Rally Championship title.

The Belgian driver entered the rally just three points behind Ogier in the closest title fight in 15 years.

He held the upper hand on his French rival, building a near-10 second gap through the first five stages at Coffs Harbour before hitting a chicane and finishing the stage with only three tires on his Hyundai.

Neuville was fortunate the puncture occurred late enough in the day to finish all six forestry stages and avoid a retirement. But the mistake cost him 40 seconds and gave Ogier, who is 33 seconds ahead of him, a clear run at his sixth straight championship.

In his last start with Ford before a move to Citroen next year, Ogier struggled as the first to drive the dusty, slippery forest routes.

“I pushed like crazy, I was on the limit over the jump and everywhere, I can’t do (any) more,” Ogier said. “I was on the limit.”

With Ogier on sweeping duties the back markers flourished, and Mads Ostberg took the lead in his return to the series.

Ostberg was forced to miss the previous round in Spain to make way for rally winner and nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb, who was making the last of his three guest appearances for Citroen.

Now back in the seat, Ostberg leads Jari-Matti Latvala by 6.8 seconds in the Australian rally, with sixth-stage winner Craig Breen in third.

Ogier was seventh, 38.2 seconds off the pace, but only needs to finish ahead of Neuville to claim the championship title. Neuville is in 10th place after six stages.

Roles will reverse on Saturday, with Ogier to start further back in the field and do his best on cleaner roads to make up the day-one deficit before Sunday’s final stages.

Andreas Mikkelsen, the 2016 Rally Australia champion, was an early dropout after rolling into a ditch in his Hyundai. Mikkelsen had only just avoided a tractor that had found its way onto the course.

Former winner Molly Taylor and co-driver Malcolm Read were also forced out of their event when their Subaru hit a hay bale at high speed on the morning’s second stage. Both reported soreness but suffered no serious injuries.

The 24-stage rally totals 319 kilometers (197 miles). Ten stages are scheduled Saturday with the final six on Sunday, most of them through forests on the New South Wales state’s north coast about 530 kilometers (325 miles) north of Sydney.