MRTI: Mid-Ohio Saturday recap

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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All three series of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires hit the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for races on Saturday – Race 1 for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, and Race 2 for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Indy Lights saw its title combatants lock horns in the final laps as they battled for the win, while Pro Mazda has a new points leader after a driver took his third win in a row. And in USF2000, the newly crowned champion continued his remarkable winning streak.

Reports on all three series are below.

Indy Lights: O’Ward Outlasts Herta Challenge for Race 1 Win

Pato O’Ward take the Race 1 after outlasting challenges from Colton Herta in the final laps. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Championship combatants Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta dueled for the Race 1 win in the final laps, with Herta all over O’Ward’s gearbox during the second half of the race.

However, O’Ward thwarted every challenge to secure the victory and further extend his championship lead before Sunday’s Race 2 – he now leads Herta by 25 points.

“We’ve carried some good momentum since Iowa and I’m trying to make it better and better each weekend,” O’Ward explained afterward. It’s just tough to keep people behind you when they can engage the push-to-pass, so it’s nice to get more than a second-and-a-half gap, then stretch it out from there. It was a good race. I had pressure from behind the whole way, so to get the win means a lot.

Dalton Kellett rounded out the podium in third. He took the third spot following a Lap 21 restart – Aaron Telitz spun into the Turn 9 gravel trap on Lap 18 to bring out the caution – when his Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Norman began to struggle.

Norman, who had been running second, lost that position to Herta, and then lost third to Kellett as he started to drop through the order. He battled hard with Santi Urrutia for fifth – Victor Franzoni had already gotten around him for fourth – with Urrutia trying an outside pass entering Turn 4 on Lap 22.

However, Norman clipped the inside curb, which launched him into Urrutia. The contact sent Urrutia into a spin as both cars went off course, with Urrutia briefly coming to a stop before continuing. Norman was subsequently issued a drive-through penalty for his role in the incident.

That battle left Franzoni in fourth at the end, with Norman ending up fifth. Urrutia and Telitz finished sixth and seventh respectively.

Race 2 rolls off Sunday at 1:05 p.m. ET.

Pro Mazda: VeeKay Retakes Points Lead with Race 1 Victory

Rinus VeeKay is back in the Pro Mazda championship lead after winning Race 1 at Mid-Ohio. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Rinus VeeKay dominated Race 1 from the pole to take his third win in a row, and his fifth of the 2018 season, to retake the series points lead from Parker Thompson.

VeeKay immediately took off into the lead from the pole position and went unchallenged most of the way, winning by nearly three seconds over second-place finisher David Malukas.

“The first half of the race, David (Malukas) got pretty close. I had to adapt a bit because I didn’t want to be quick and hurt the tires and damage my chances in the second race,” VeeKay detailed afterward.

“I got into a good rhythm and was able to push hard at the end of the race to get the quickest race lap as well, so I’m happy with my points from today. Leading the championship doesn’t change anything: every race I try to win and get everything out of the car and myself. I just have to focus as much as possible. But towards the end of the race, my spotter Charles Crews told me to bring it home which just reminded me not to push too hard. I’m really happy to get my third consecutive win.”

Robert Megennis made a Lap 1 charge that saw him jump from his fifth starting spot to run third, a spot he held from there to the end. Carlos Cunha finished fourth, putting all three Juncos Racing entries in the top five, while Parker Thompson finished fifth.

Thompson, who led VeeKay by seven points entering the weekend, now enters Race 2 down nine points to VeeKay.

Results are below. Race 2 rolls off at 11:05 a.m. ET on Sunday.

USF2000: Kirkwood Victorious Again After Frederick Falters

Kyle Kirkwood extended his winning streak to eight in a row on Saturday. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Kyle Kirkwood found himself in an opportune position when a rival faltered in Race 2. Starting second, alongside pole sitter Kaylen Frederick, Kirkwood found himself in the lead when Frederick went wide in Turn 2 just after the green flag waved.

And Kirkwood, who clinched the 2018 USF2000 championship with his Race 1 victory, never looked back from there, leading every lap and going unchallenged to take his eighth win in a row, and ninth of the year.

“Even though I’ve clinched the title, the goal stays the same, to keep winning races and to try to tie for most wins in a season,” Kirkwood asserted afterward. “This point of the season is the most important. We’ve won the championship but we have to prove that we won’t let up. If we relax, that would show that I’m not extremely focused and that’s not the case. This is just the beginning of my career so I’m going to keep charging.”

Lucas Kohl and Igor Fraga came through to finish second and third – Fraga also now enters Sunday’s Race 3 one point behind Rasmus Lindh in the battle for second in the championship.

Lindh and Calvin Ming rounded out the top five. Frederick, in trying to work his way back forward, saw his weekend get worse after he made contact with Sabre Cook, causing both drivers to spin off course. Both retired from the race, and Frederick was credited with 23rd.

Race 2 results are below. Race 3 rolls off at 12:10 p.m. on Sunday.

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Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”