Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI: Toronto Friday recap

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The Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires kicked off its weekend on the streets of Toronto on Friday. The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires held practice, while the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires held their first qualifying sessions of the weekend (Race 1 qualifying for USF2000, while Pro Mazda held qualifying for Race 1 and Race 2).

Quick recaps of those sessions for all three series are below.

Pro Mazda: VeeKay Sweeps Toronto Poles

Rinus VeeKay entered the weekend 46 points down to Parker Thompson in the championship and in need of a banner outing in order to make up ground. And he got his weekend off to a perfect start by capturing the pole for both Pro Mazda races, taking a pair of crucial championship points in the process.

Race 1 sees David Malukas, the winner of both races at Road America, flank VeeKay on the front row, with Thompson qualifying third ahead of Sting Ray Robb and Robert Megennis.

Race 2 again sees VeeKay and Malukas on the front row, though Thompson will start 14th and last on the grid after not setting a time due to an electrical issue. Megennis, Harrison Scott, and Sting Ray Robb round out the top five starting spots for Race 2.

In all, it means the door could be open for VeeKay to gain significant ground on Thompson in the championship hunt.

USF2000: Dickerson Takes Race 1 Pole, Kirkwood to Start Third

Dakota Dickerson will lead the USF2000 field to the green in Race 1 at Toronto. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Dakota Dickerson claimed the pole for Race 1 of the USF2000 weekend at Toronto in only his second weekend with ArmsUp Motorsports – he joined the team at Road America at the end of June.

However, he was not the driver with the fastest time at the end of the session. That driver was points leader Kyle Kirkwood, but he, Kaylen Frederick, and a host of others were penalized for not slowing down for a yellow flag.

Once everything was sorted out, the reshuffled order resulted in a pole for Dickerson.

Kaylen Frederick, who has three second place finishes in a row entering the weekend, will start Race 1 in second while Kirkwood will start third. Rasmus Lindh and Darren Keane rounded out the top five.

Of note: Alex Baron, currently second in the USF2000 championship, is conspicuous in his absence, as Swan-RJB Motorsports, the team with whom Baron competes, is not entered at Toronto. This means that Kirkwood, whose next closest rival is Frederick, is essentially 115 points up on “second place” Frederick, who is in position to overtake Baron this weekend.

Indy Lights: Franzoni Tops Friday Practice

Victor Franzoni during practice at Toronto. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Friday practice for Indy Lights saw Victor Franzoni go to the top of the board, followed by Santi Urrutia. Championship combatants Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta ended up third and fourth, with Ryan Norman, Aaron Telitz, and Dalton Kellett rounding out the field.

All three series will complete their first races of the weekend on Saturday. Pro Mazda will be the first to do so at 10:50 a.m. ET, followed by USF2000 at 11:45 a.m. ET. Race 1 for Indy Lights rolls off at 12:40 p.m. ET.

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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.