Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI: Toronto Saturday recap

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Saturday was a bit of a carnage-filled day for all three series of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, as all three series were affected by multiple caution periods for incidents on track.

The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires saw one championship contender take his fifth win of the year, while the other saw his day end early against the wall.

Similarly, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires saw one title rival gain ground by taking a dominant victory, while the other was one of several drivers to be involved in a crash – and one incident saw a driver get airborne in one of the scarier looking accidents Pro Mazda has seen in a while.

And in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, the runaway championship leader took his fifth win in a row to increase his already enormous points lead.

Reports on all three races are below.

Indy Lights: O’Ward Takes Victory as Herta Crashes

Pato O’Ward celebrates winning Indy Lights Race 1 on the streets of Toronto. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Pato O’Ward came out on top in Indy Lights Race 1, while title rival Colton Herta crashed for only the second time this year.

O’Ward took the lead on the start after the pole sitting Herta struggled to get away – Herta detailed that Santi Urrutia, who started third, had gotten under the back of Herta’s car and just slightly lifted it off the ground, which bogged Herta down when the green flag waved.

It allowed O’Ward to surge into the lead ahead of Aaron Telitz and Ryan Norman, while Herta fell to fourth and Urrutia fell to seventh – Urrutia eventually came into the pits to allow his No. 5 Belardi Auto Racing team to assess the damage, as he suffered a hole in the nose cone.

Herta began charging forward, passing both Norman and Telitz to run second behind O’Ward, and he even got within a couple car lengths of him. However, Herta’s charge came to an abrupt end on Lap 23 when he impacted the Turn 5 wall on exit, damaging the right side of his Dallara IL-15.

Racing resumed in Lap 26, with O’Ward maintaining a lead over the Belardi teammates of Telitz and Urrutia, who used an earlier yellow for Dalton Kellett – Kellett gently nosed his car into the tire barriers before continuing – to catch up to the field.

Urrutia and Telitz battled for second, and Urrutia came out on top after an outside pass in Turn 3, but he cut across the nose of his teammate entering the corner, causing a broken wing for Telitz.

Urrutia then set his sights on O’Ward, but with a light rain starting to fall, Urrutia spun exiting Turn 8. Victor Franzoni then crashed in Turn 5, bringing out a final caution. And with the series unable to clean things up in time get back going, the race ended under yellow.

O’Ward was left to take the win, followed by Urrutia and Ryan Norman, who survived the chaos to take his first podium finish of the year. Telitz ended up fourth with Kellett and fifth. Franzoni and Herta were credited with sixth and seventh.

O’Ward that, despite leading every lap, the race was from easy, due tricky conditions, highlighting a light rain that hit the track during the race.

“That was one of the hardest races of the season, mentally and physically,” O’Ward revealed. I had to be very careful. I saw the rain getting harder and harder, and you never know what to expect. Some corners here are a real risk in the rain. I tried to keep it clean and do everything in my power to keep the car on the track and not make any mistakes

Race 2 rolls off at 12:25 p.m. on Sunday. O’Ward now leads Herta by eight points.

Pro Mazda: VeeKay Wins Crash-Filled Race 1 as Thompson Falters

Rinus VeeKay celebrates winning Race 1 on the streets of Toronto. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Rinus VeeKay dominated Race 1 in Toronto to take his third victory of the year, but his run to an unchallenged victory felt like somewhat of an afterthought in a race heavily affected by crashes.

The carnage began with a frightening incident on Lap 1, in which RP Motorsport driver Harrison Scott launched over Sting Ray Robb entering Turn 3. Scott had tried to pass Antonio Serravalle on inside but accidentally clipped the Exclusive Autosport driver, damaging Scott’s car and causing him to hit the back of Sting Ray Robb.

Scott was subsequently launched up and over Robb and landed upside down in the Turn 3 runoff area. Serravalle, Robb, and Andres Gutierrez were also involved, while Robert Megennis went off in Turn 1 in a separate incident – the combination of everything resulted in a full course caution.

Racing resumed on Lap 8, with Rinus VeeKay leading Parker Thompson and David Malukas, but their battle for second ended in tears one lap later when they made contact in Turn 1. Malukas tried diving inside of Thompson, but the two got together, sending Malukas into the wall and damaging the rear suspension of Thompson. Both dropped out, and the incident opened the door for VeeKay to gain significant ground on points leader Thompson.

Racing resumed again on Lap 13, but another caution flew one lap later when Kris Wright ended up in the Turn 8 tire barriers.

A final restart on lap 19 saw VeeKay take off away from the field and he cruised home in the final laps to take the win. His Juncos Racing teammate Carlos Cunha took advantage of the carnage to finish second after starting 11th, while Raul Guzman survived an intense battle with Oliver Askew and Nikita Lastochkin to finish third – Askew and Lastochkin ended up fourth and fifth.

VeeKay described afterward that, while he feels sympathy for championship rivals Thompson and Malukas, winning on a when when the struggled is a big help to his title chances.

“I feel badly for them, but to have Parker and David not finish is a boost for me in the championship,” VeeKay revealed. “It was hard with all the yellows as well, since there was so much time spent not completely focused on the race. I knew the guys that were close to me in lap times were out, so I just had to do a good restart and set the quickest race lap. I focused on that and not hitting any walls, just being very clean.”

Results are below. Race 2 rolls off Sunday at 10:40 a.m. ET, with VeeKay again starting on the pole, while Thompson will start 14th. VeeKay now sits 26 points behind Thompson in the championship.

USF2000: Kirkwood Takes Fifth Win in a Row

Kyle Kirkwood took his fifth USF2000 win in a row by winning Race 1 on the streets of Toronto. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Kyle Kirkwood continued to bully the USF2000 field on Saturday, taking the lead right off the start – he started third, but passed pole sitter Dakota Dickerson and Kaylen Frederick in Turn 1 – and led every lap from there, with a late caution sealing the victory for him as the race ended under yellow.

The victory is Kirkwood’s fifth in a row, and sixth of the 2018 season.

“We started third but I timed the start perfectly and I was on Dakota’s gearbox the entire way into Turn 1. He left the door open just a little bit and I was able to take it,” Kirkwood of his opening lap pass. “We had one caution but I kept that gap and honestly, it couldn’t have gone any better. Now that we have a big lead I can charge after wins as hard as I can.”

Behind Kirkwood, Dickerson came home in second for his first podium of 2018, while Frederick finished third, his fourth podium finish in a row. Rasmus Lindh and Keith Donegan completed the top five.

Results are below. Race rolls off Sunday morning at 9:45 a.m.

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IMSA Prototype Season in Review

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IMSA Wire Service

It was a year of change for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda. The longtime sprint series evolved in 2018 to six one-hour, 45-minute endurance races that allowed teams to run single or two-driver combinations with a required minimum-time pit stop. The result: record-high car counts in the LMP3 class with Kris Wright ultimately winning the series championship for Extreme Speed Motorsports, while Cameron Cassels took home the LMP3 Masters title. In the MPC class, meanwhile, series veteran Jon Brownson won his first championship in the final season for the class with a breakthrough win one week ago in the season finale at Road Atlanta.

This season-in-review takes a look back at the path each of the three champions took on their way to history.

1. Daytona International Speedway, January 6

Winners
LMP3: Roman De Angelis, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Gary Gibson, No. 44 Ave Motorsports Ave-Riley AR2
MPC: Robert Masson, No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Not only was the season-opener during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 weekend the first endurance race for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda, it also was the first race for the series at the iconic Daytona International Speedway. Wright, driving the No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3 scored his first podium of the season alongside co-driver Daniel Morad with a third-place finish behind Porsche GT3 Challenge driver and winner Roman De Angelis and co-drivers Austin McCusker and David Droux, finishing second for the upstart Forty7 Motorsports team. Masson scored the MPC win, lapping all but one car, while Brownson came home fifth.

2. Sebring International Raceway, March 16

Winners
LMP3: Leo Lamelas / Pato O’Ward, No. 7 Charles Wicht Racing Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: James McGuire Jr., No. 26 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Dave House, No. 86 ONE Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The round at Sebring featured a late-race restart that saw eventual 2018 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge champion O’Ward drive from fourth to first in the closing laps to secure the win for full-time driver Lamelas. Wright, meanwhile, finished third for the second consecutive time to start the season with a new co-driver, Michael Whelden. The No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry again finished second with McCusker now joined by TJ Fischer, who would go on to run the full season with the team. Coming out of Sebring, McCusker would lead Wright by four points, 64-60. Between Sebring and the next round at Barber Motorsports Park, Wright would decide to contest the full season for Extreme Speed Motorsports.

It was a special victory in the MPC class with House becoming IMSA’s oldest race winner at the age of 75. Foreshadowing a points race that what would ultimately come down to the season finale at Road Atlanta, the top five in the MPC standings are separated by two points leaving Sebring, with Brownson seventh, 12 points out, after a ninth-place finish.

3. Barber Motorsports Park, April 21

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Yann Clairay, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Rob Hodes, No. 51 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Michal Chlumecky, No. 31 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The only standalone event for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda would prove to be the turning point in the LMP3 class. Leading all but one practice session on the weekend and starting the race from the pole, Wright and co-driver Clairay dominated the event, only losing the lead briefly on a cycle of green flag pit stops. Wright’s biggest competition for the championship, meanwhile, the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports team, seemed poised to score its third consecutive runner-up finish of the season to hold onto the LMP3 points lead, but contact between Fischer and an MPC car with five minutes remaining relegated the team to a 16th-place finish. Entering the weekend down four points in the standings, Wright left Barber up six points, 95-89, over Lamelas.

Chlumecky scored his first MPC class win since 2012, while teammate Brownson, the Sebring pole winner, capped off a Eurosport Racing 1-2 finish placing second in the team’s No. 34 entry. Masson rounded out the podium with a third-place finish in the No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02 to regain the class lead. Brownson left Barber eight points behind Masson, fifth in the standings.

4. Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, July 8

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The long overdue first victory for Forty7 Motorsports finally came at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for McCusker and Fischer, but a second-place finish for Wright meant McCusker could only gain three points on the series leader, with Wright keeping the deficit at 13 points. Dean Baker would score the LMP3 Masters win, the fourth winner in four races following Gibson at Daytona, McGuire Jr. at Sebring and Hodes at Barber. Cassels finished on the LMP3 Masters podium for the first time in 2018 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, finishing the race seventh overall and third in LMP3 Masters.

Leading the MPC standings coming into Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Robert Masson enlisted son and defending series champion Kyle Masson as a co-driver for the remainder of the season. The plan appeared to work with the duo crossing the line first, but upon post-race analysis of drive-time requirements, it was concluded that Kyle Masson did not record the minimum 40 minutes of drive time and the car was moved to the back of the MPC results. That penalty elevated Jacobs and French to the race win in Performance Tech’s No. 77 entry and moved Brownson, who finished second for the consecutive race, to the class championship lead. Coming out of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, the top six in points were separated by just two points with two races remaining.

5. VIRginia International Raceway, August 18

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Stephen Simpson, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Wright enlisted IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship regular Stephen Simpson as co-driver at VIR and delivered a knockout punch in the LMP3 title fight, scoring the win and opening a 23-point lead over McCusker, who finished sixth. Baker would win his second consecutive race in LMP3 Masters with a second-place finish overall alongside Zacharie Robichon. Hodes would lead the LMP3 Masters points by two points over Jim Garrett, eight points over Cassels and nine points over Joel Janco.

Robert Masson seemed poised to take the points lead and win alongside Kyle Masson as the duo drove brilliantly in the rain, building a nearly one-lap lead. A mechanical issue with 17 minutes remaining, however, set up a late-race sprint to the finish with French winning on the last lap for Jacobs.

With only one race remaining, House moved into the class lead by three points, 143-140, over Jacobs. The top seven teams were mathematically eligible for the championship and separated by a mere eight points.

6. Road Atlanta, October 12

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Cameron Cassels, No. 75 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Jon Brownson, No. 34 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The second win of the season for the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry and co-driver McCusker and Fischer was not enough to take the championship away from Wright, who finished second at Road Atlanta to sweep podiums in all six races on the series schedule.

Cassels scored his first LMP3 Masters win of the season, and despite entering the weekend eight points behind in the standings, would also win the LMP3 Masters championship after each of the title contenders ran into various issues on-track.

Brownson called it an “honor” to win the final race for the MPC class. Brownson, who started in the first race for the series in 2006, scored his first win of the season in the No. 34 Eurosport Racing entry to win the final championship for the class.