Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI: Toronto Sunday recap

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Sunday for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires completed their weekend on the streets of Toronto, and the “concrete canyon” north of the border more than made its mark on the title fights in all three series.

The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires saw a fringe title contender keep his hopes alive with a win, while one of the main combatants finished second as the other DNF’ed due to an injury.

And the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires saw a once sizeable gap between the top two in title chase almost completely erased after a weekend sweep for the driver in second and a second tough outing for the points leader.

Meanwhile, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda saw its points leader essentially put one hand on the championship trophy after completing a weekend sweep of his own.

Reports on all three races are below.

Indy Lights: Urrutia Wins Race 2; O’Ward Finishes Second While an Injured Herta DNFs

Santi Urrutia dominated Race 2 for his second victory of the 2018 season. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Santi Urrutia led from the pole and led every lap on his way to a dominant victory in Indy Lights Race 2 on the streets of Toronto.

It is the second victory of the year for Urrutia – he won Race 2 on the streets of St. Petersburg – and sees him gain a little ground on points leader Pato O’Ward in the championship. O’Ward finished second, followed by Aaron Teltiz.

However, Colton Herta, who suffered a thumb fracture in a crash just after taking pole in Race 1 qualifying and crashed again during Race 1 to further complicate the injury, pulled off after only doing a couple of laps. A disappointed Herta was following guidance of the Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing team, as contesting Race 2 on the bumpy Toronto street circuit could have ultimately caused further problems for Herta and made the injury worse.

Victor Franzoni also pulled off after only a few laps, but his DNF was down to budget concerns. A crash in Race 1 forced him and Juncos Racing to conserve resources and finances in Race 2, and they elected to pull off rather than risk more crash damage.

Results of Race 2 are below. O’Ward now leads Herta by 18 points, with Urrutia closing the gap down to 40 between the top three.

Pro Mazda: VeeKay Completes Weekend Sweep as Thompson Again Struggles in Race 2

Rinus VeeKay completed a weekend sweep on the streets of Toronto and again slashed the gap to points leader Park Thompson. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Rinus VeeKay was once again in perfect form in Pro Mazda Race 2 on Sunday, leading every lap from the pole to take his second win of the weekend, and his fourth of the 2018 season.

Meanwhile, title rival Parker Thompson endured a second consecutive troublesome day – he started 14th and ran as high as seventh before an unscheduled stop after possible contact with Sting Ray Robb.

VeeKay led from the pole off the start, but the battle from second on back was a tightly contested battle royale in the opening laps. Robert Megennis got around David Malukas for second on Lap 1, but the two of them had the rest of the field on their tails as Oliver Askew, Carlos Cunha, Sting Ray Robb, Raul Guzman, Andres Gutierrez, Parker Thompson, and the rest of the field created a train behind them.

Things came to a head at the beginning of Lap 3 when Guzman and Gutierrez got together in the final corner – their contact and crash resulted in a lengthy caution after the back of Guzman’s No. 27 RP Motorsport Tatuus PM-18 came off and dropped a lot of fluid on the track.

VeeKay again shot off into the lead and away from the field when racing resumed, while the previously intense battle for second picked up right where it left off, with Megennis, Malukas, Robb, Cunha, Thompson, and Nikita Lastochkin again continuing their train from P2 on back.

It was here that Thompson’s Race 2 unraveled, as he tried a dive inside of Robb to take sixth in Turn 3, but overshot the corner slightly and ended up making slight contact with Robb. Thompson subsequently pitted, thinking the car suffered damage after he began falling back. He eventually rejoined the fight, but two laps off the lead.

Up front, VeeKay seemed to be on cruise control in the lead, while Askew emerged in second ahead of Megennis. However, the finish was put in doubt due to a late caution when Cunha and Malukas went off in Turn 3 in separate incidents – Cunha slid into the tire barrier, while Malukas slid into the runoff area.

That allowed Askew to get on VeeKay’s gearbox for a final restart, but VeeKay held him off in the final laps to complete the weekend sweep. Askew came home second, his best finish of the season, while Megennis came home third, his third podium of the year.

Thompson ended up finishing eighth.

Race 2 results are below. VeeKay now trails Thompson by only seven points.

USF2000: Kirkwood Outduels Fraga for Race 2 Win

Kyle Kirkwood came out on top in Race 2 after a race-long battle with Igor Fraga. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

USF2000 also saw a driver complete a weekend sweep, as Kyle Kirkwood took his second win of the weekend, but things were not quite as straightforward in this one.

Kirkwood started eighth, and found himself in the lead after a chaotic Lap 1 saw Keith Donegan and pole sitter Kaylen Frederick overshoot Turn 3 – Donegan ended up in the tire barrier while Frederick was blocked by Donegan’s incident. It resulted in a Turn 3 pileup that also collected Dakota Dickerson – he spun in the aftermath – as well Darren Keane, Colin Kaminsky, Russell McDonough, and more.

When racing resumed, Kirkwood was immediately under threat from Igor Fraga, who quickly got by him in Turn 3.

Kirkwood then spent the rest of the race hounding Fraga at every corner, several times trying an outside pass entering Turn 3, but coming up short every time – he even came close to crashing once after locking up the brakes and overshooting the corner entry.

However, in Turn 8 in the final minutes, Kirkwood was finally able to make the winning move and pass Fraga for the lead, which he held from there to take the win.

Rasmus Lindh finished third after a race-long battle with Daniel Frost and Kaylen Frederick, who rebounded to run inside the top five. Frost ended up fourth, in his USF2000 debut, while Frederick went off again in Turn 3 in the final minutes and fell back to eighth. Julian Van der Watt rounded out the top five in fifth.

Results are below. Kirkwood’s championship lead now stands at an astounding 131 points over second-place Frederick.

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Rahal determined to regain winning touch in 2019 IndyCar season

Photo by Shawn Gritzmacher, INDYCAR
INDYCAR
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AUSTIN, Texas – Graham Rahal entered the room with a smile on his face and a chip on his shoulder.

It was IndyCar “Media Day” and Rahal wasn’t happy with the way last season went at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He was less happy with the fact some aren’t considering him a serious threat in 2019. He playfully chided with one media outlet for failing to mention his team as one to watch in 2019.

“We use that as motivation to show everybody how we are viewed,” Rahal said. “We are here to win.”

Rahal just turned 30 in January but is entering his 13thseason in big-time Indy car racing. He entered the 2007 Champ Car Series season when he was just 17. He missed his high school prom because he was racing at Houston.

“That was the luckiest day of my life,” Rahal said. “I didn’t have to go to the prom. It doesn’t get any better than that.

“Plus, I got my second career podium that weekend.”

Rahal drove to victory in his very first race in the combined IndyCar Series in the 2008 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He was hailed as the “Poster Boy of Unification” and a future star. What followed was a seven-year drought before he captured his second-career win in a thrilling race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

He won two races in 2015, one in 2016 and two in 2017. He was expected to contend for victories and possibly the championship last year but struggled through a disappointing season and finished eighth in the standings.

“I’m looking forward for chance this year,” Rahal said. “Last year was a tough one for me and for the team. I’m looking forward to what my new engineer, Allen McDonald, has done so far. He is an accomplished engineer and brings a different mindset to our program this year from what we had last year. He and (fellow engineer) Eddie Jones are very close friends and that will help us from the standpoint they are on the same page.

“We needed a bit of life brought back to the team.”

Rahal believes his challenges are to get everything in order before the season starts. The team has defined the areas where it was lacking in 2019. The team needed to improve in research and development after starting behind last season.

“I’m excited for what I see, and I know in the end it will all pay off,” Rahal said. “It’s just a matter of when.

“There is a lot to be excited about for us. We are in a great position as a team. We have great sponsorship and that will allow us to push forward and do the things we need to do.”

Rahal believes at 30, he has a long time ahead of him to win races and championships and maybe even the Indianapolis 500. In order to reach those goals, however, Rahal’s team needs to regain the competitive level he displayed prior to last year.

“We’ve been fortunate to win six times,” Rahal said. “A lot of people come into this sport and never win. I fully recognize there is no reason we can’t win a lot. I don’t care what anybody writes, what anybody thinks – I really feel that when it comes to race day, we perform better than 99 percent of the other people out there.

“As a team and for myself, we have to qualify better. If we can qualify better, we’ll be a thorn in everybody’s side. We know the rear of our cars just aren’t good enough. When we need to find that extra tenth or two, it’s just not there but absolutely, we want to win.

“I don’t come here year after year to just drive around. Our sponsors don’t invest in us year after year to not see us win. We feel that. But our cars aren’t good enough and we know that.”

Rahal believes the team has identified the problems with the setup of its car. It has a deep engineering staff but hasn’t had a chance to develop the damper program and other important areas that provide a competition setup.

Takuma Sato, the winner of the 101stIndianapolis 500 when he was with Andretti Autosport, scored the team’s only victory in 2018 with a win in the Portland Grand Prix. The two are back this year and have built a respect for each other.

“He’s a good guy,” Rahal said of Sato. “Other than Helio Castroneves, Takuma is probably the happiest man on the planet. He’s a great guy and fits in well with our organization. We pride ourselves on being a family and he fits in extremely well to that.

“We need to do a better job for him as a team. He won a race last year, but we can both do better to win with both cars.

“The Andretti cars are the best right now and the Penske cars will be good. We have a lot of space to close up on those two teams but hopefully, we can do it.”