MRTI: Mid-Ohio Saturday recap

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

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.


Strong rebounds for Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi amid some disappointments in the Indy 500


INDIANAPOLIS – Alex Palou had not turned a wheel wrong the entire Month of May at the Indy 500 until Rinus VeeKay turned a wheel into the Chip Ganassi Racing pole-sitter leaving pit road on Lap 94.

“There is nothing I could have done there,” Palou told NBC Sports. “It’s OK, when it is my fault or the team’s fault because everybody makes mistakes. But when there is nothing, you could have done differently there, it feels bad and feels bad for the team.”

Marcus Ericsson was a master at utilizing the “Tail of the Dragon” move that breaks the draft of the car behind him in the closing laps to win last year’s Indianapolis 500. On Sunday, however, the last of three red flags in the final 16 laps of the race had the popular driver from Sweden breathing fire after Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden beat him at his own game on the final lap to win the Indianapolis 500.

Despite the two disappointments, team owner Chip Ganassi was seen on pit road fist-bumping a member on his four-car team in this year’s Indianapolis 500 after his drivers finished second, fourth, sixth and seventh in the tightly contested race.

Those are pretty good results, but at the Indianapolis 500, there is just one winner and 32 losers.

“There is only one winner, but it was a hell of a show,” three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Chip Ganassi Racing consultant Dario Franchitti told NBC Sports. “Alex was very fast, and he got absolutely caught out in somebody else’s wreck. There was nothing he could have done, but he and the 10 car, great recovery.

“Great recovery by all four cars because at half distance, we were not looking very good.”

After 92 laps, the first caution flew for Sting Ray Robb of Dale Coyne Racing hitting the Turn 1 wall.

During pit stops on Lap 94, Palou had left his stall when the second-place car driven by VeeKay ran into him, putting Palou’s Honda into the wall. The car sustained a damaged front wing, but the Chip Ganassi crew was able to get him back in the race on the lead lap but in 28th position.

Palou ultimately would fight his way to a fourth-place finish in a race the popular Spaniard could have won. His displeasure with VeeKay, whom he sarcastically called “a legend” on his team radio after the incident, was evident.

“The benefit of being on pole is you can drive straight and avoid crashes, and he was able to crash us on the side on pit lane, which is pretty tough to do, but he managed it,” Palou told NBC Sports. “Hopefully next year we are not beside him. Hopefully, next year we have a little better luck.”

Palou started on the pole and led 36 laps, just three fewer than race leader Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren Racing.

“We started really well, was managing the fuel as we wanted, our car was pretty good,” Palou said. “Our car wasn’t great, we dropped to P4 or P5, but we still had some good stuff.

“On the pit stop, the 21 (VeeKay) managed to clip us. Nothing we could have done there. It was not my team’s fault or my fault.

“We had to drop to the end. I’m happy we made it back to P4. We needed 50 more laps to make it happen, but it could have been a lot worse after that contact.

“I learned a lot, running up front at the beginning and in mid-pack and then the back. I learned a lot.

“It feels amazing when you win it and not so good when things go wrong. We were a bit lucky with so many restarts at the end to make it back to P4 so I’m happy with that.”

Palou said the front wing had to be changed and the toe-in was a bit off, but he still had a fast car.

In fact, his Honda was the best car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway all month. His pole-winning four lap average speed of 234.217 miles per hour around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a record for this fabled race.

Palou looked good throughout the race, before he had to scratch and claw and race his way back to the top-five after he restarted 28th.

In the Indianapolis 500, however, the best car doesn’t always win.

“It’s two years in a row that we were leading the race at the beginning and had to drop to last,” Palou said. “Maybe next year, we will start in the middle of the field and go on to win the race.

“I know he didn’t do it on purpose. It’s better to let that pass someday.”

Palou said the wild racing at the end was because the downforce package used in Sunday’s race means the drivers have to be aggressive. The front two cars can battle for the victory, but cars back in fourth or fifth place can’t help determine the outcome of the race.

That is when the “Tail of the Dragon” comes into the play.

Franchitti helped celebrate Ericsson’s win in 2022 with his “Tail of the Dragon” zigzag move – something he never had to do in any of his three Indianapolis 500 victories because they all finished under caution.

In 2023, however, IndyCar Race Control wants to make every attempt to finish the race under green, without going past the scheduled distance like NASCAR’s overtime rule.

Instead of extra laps, they stop the race with a red flag, to create a potential green-flag finish condition.

“You do what you have to do to win within the rules, and it’s within the rules, so you do it,” Franchitti said. “The race is 200 laps and there is a balance.

“Marcus did a great job on that restart and so did Josef. It was just the timing of who was where and that was it.

“If you knew it was going to go red, you would have hung back on the lap before.

“Brilliant job by the whole Ganassi organization because it wasn’t looking very good at half-distance.

“Full marks to Josef Newgarden and Team Penske.”

Franchitti is highly impressed by how well Ericsson works with CGR engineer Brad Goldberg and how close this combination came to winning the Indianapolis 500 two-years-in-a-row.

It would have been the first back-to-back Indy 500 winner since Helio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002.

“Oh, he’s a badass,” Franchitti said Ericsson. “He proved it last year. He is so calm all day. What more do you need? As a driver, he’s fast and so calm.”

Ericsson is typically in good spirits and jovial.

He was stern and direct on pit road after the race.

“I did everything right, I did an awesome restart, caught Josef off-guard and pulled away,” Ericsson said on pit lane. “It’s hard to pull away a full lap and he got me back.

“I’m mostly disappointed with the way he ended. I don’t think it was fair and safe to do that restart straight out of the pits on cold tires for everyone.

“To me, it was not a good way to end that race.

“Congrats to Josef. He didn’t do anything wrong. He is a worthy champion, but it shouldn’t have ended like that.”

Palou also didn’t understand the last restart, which was a one-start showdown.

“I know that we want to finish under green,” Palou said. “Maybe the last restart I did, I didn’t understand. It didn’t benefit the CGR team.

“I’m not very supportive of the last one, but anyway.”

Dixon called the red flags “a bit sketchy.”

“The Red Flags have become a theme to the end of the race, but sometimes they can catch you out,” Dixon said. “I know Marcus is frustrated with it.

“All we ask for is consistency. I think they will do better next time.

“It’s a tough race. People will do anything they can to win it and with how these reds fall, you have to be in the right place at the right time. The problem is when they throw a Red or don’t throw a Red dictates how the race will end.

“It’s a bloody hard race to win. Congrats to Josef Newgarden and to Team Penske.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500