Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI: Toronto Sunday recap

Leave a comment

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.

Follow@KyleMLavigne

Ryan Hunter-Reay is all-in in bid to win second IndyCar championship

Photos: IndyCar
Leave a comment

The third time has truly been the charm for Ryan Hunter-Reay.

After back-to-back mediocre seasons in 2016 and 2017, the Fort Lauderdale, Florida resident is back where he belongs in 2018: in the hunt for what he hopes is his second Verizon IndyCar Series championship.

Hunter-Reay won the title in 2012. But he suffered through a 12th place finish in 2016 (the second-worst in his 12-year IndyCar career) and a ninth-place showing in 2017.

While he earned three podium finishes in both 2016 and 2017, he hadn’t reached victory lane since 2015.

That all changed just over two months ago when he and his Andretti Autosport team came through to take the checkered flag at Belle Isle.

Hunter-Reay celebrates after his win at Belle Isle in June.

Now, in addition to that win, Hunter-Reay has four podium finishes, his most since six each in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

And now, with four races left on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule – starting with this Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway – Hunter-Reay is enjoying the fruits of his success.

And he hopes there’s even more success to come in those four races, including – with the fortuitous opportunity to earn double points in the season finale at Sonoma Raceway – the potential to win his second championship.

The 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner heads to Pocono ranked fifth in the points standings, 95 points behind series leader Scott Dixon.

“I think overall we’ve been pretty strong, competitive everywhere we’ve gone,” Hunter-Reay said on Tuesday’s IndyCar media teleconference. “We’re back up at the front regularly fighting for podiums, and that’s important.

“No doubt, the past couple races have been missed opportunities (after finishing runner-up at Road America, he’s scored finishes of 19th at Iowa, 16th at Toronto seventh two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio).

“More often than not we show up at a racetrack and we’re contending. It’s been a strong season in many ways. There’s been some missed opportunities in there, no doubt. Hopefully we can close out the season.”

But Hunter-Reay also admits he’ll need some help.

Being 95 points down to Scott, what needs to happen now is we need to go on a run and he needs to start having some bad luck, some difficult races, some circumstances going against him, things like that, which it can do,” Hunter-Reay said. “You just have to keep your head down.

“In this series, it’s the same way in a race, you could be starting mid pack, back of the pack. If you go into it with the right mindset, keep your head down, be tenacious, persistent, you can win races, any of them, and you can win championships.

“Just have to keep focused and make the most of it. Number one thing we have to do is go on the offensive and make a run for it.”

Even with Dixon’s sizable lead, Hunter-Reay isn’t giving up his pursuit of the championship. In a sense, his battle this season is similar to what occurred in 2012. There were those who counted him out, and yet when the dust had settled, he emerged with the title.

“I learned a lot in my racing career, especially through the 2012 season, fighting for the championship with Helio (Castroneves) and Will Power,” Hunter-Reay said. “Once you thought somebody really had an upper hand, thought they were running away with it, everything turned around. There’s still a lot of racing to go (this season).

“Absolutely, we’re going for it, no doubt. We have to focus on every session, make the most of it, race wins. That’s what’s going to get you there.

“Going to Fontana (the 2012 season finale), nobody really had us at a shot of winning it. I forget what the points deficit was. At the end of the night we ended up winning by three points. It’s not over till the last lap, especially with double points on the line, could be a huge swing race.”

This weekend’s venue, Pocono Raceway, has been good to Hunter-Reay the last three years, winning in 2015, finishing third in 2016 and eighth in last year’s race.

“I think we have a great chance (for success at Pocono),” Hunter-Reay said. “I mean, the Pocono race is different than Indy. It is its own beast. It’s very particular in that in turn three with banking, it’s a true handling corner. Feels almost like a Milwaukee type of corner, but going twice the speed.

“You have to set your car up for that. You have to set your car up for turn one, which is a massively banked, tight radius corner. It comes more down to a handling aspect to balance, trying to get the setup right.

“I think we’re going to see a different type of race. I don’t think it’s just going to come down to top end speed, although that will help at Pocono. I think it’s going to be more of a handling race.”

However, with limited practice at Pocono – just two sessions on Saturday – his team will have to scramble to get things right as soon as they unload off the hauler.

“Yeah, it’s a major time crunch,” Hunter-Reay said. “(It’ll be) really hard to get all that done in a short amount of time. It’s really the compromise between turns three and one. That are polar opposites. One corner feels like it’s got no banking, no support to it, the other one is massive banking and a tight radius. It’s very difficult to get those two corners right and get the compromise right with the car when you’re along.

“Once you get into traffic, things change a lot. There will be a qualifying setup, a race setup. We have to do all this with two hours total track time. It will be very difficult, no doubt.”

Hunter-Reay points to the new-style IndyCar this year for his and his team’s uptick in performance in 2018 over the last two years.

“I think as a team we kind of struggled during the aero kit years,” he said. “Now that we’re back on a universal aero kit like we were when we had some success in 2012, ’13 and ’14.

“You show up on a race weekend, you know you have a chance. You’re going in there and the team is going to be able to give you the car that you potentially need to win.

“That makes all the difference really for a driver, just knowing week in and week out that you’ve got a shot at winning and making that run for the championship. I think that’s what we showed this year. It does a lot for your confidence and it really keeps you motivated, no doubt.”

While most race car drivers deny they worry about the standings or points race, Hunter-Reay refreshingly said he’s well aware of where he’s at in the IndyCar rankings – and will be looking forward to the end of Sunday’s race to see where he’ll be heading into the final three races.

“You can’t help but notice where you are (in the standings),” he said. “You really have to be focused on yourself and just winning. You can’t worry about who is where at what time in the weekend. You got to absolutely focus on putting yourself up front.

“After the race, first thing I ask is, ‘where are the guys that we’re fighting in the championship, where did they finish?’ It’s just a curiosity standpoint. You just have to stay focused on yourself.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski