Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI: Mid-Ohio Sunday recap

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The Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires completed their weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Sunday, and all three series saw drivers complete weekend sweeps.

The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires again saw its two title combatants duel late in the race, with the points leader again fending off all challenges, while the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires saw its points leader extend his lead while his title rival struggled.

And in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, the newly crowned champion continued his winning ways.

Early reports on all three series are below.

Indy Lights: O’Ward Bolsters Points Over Herta With Race 2 Victory

Pato O’Ward at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Pato O’Ward took his seventh victory of the 2018 season on Sunday, completing a full weekend sweep at Mid-Ohio – he won the pole for both races, and went on to win both races.

Like Race 1, O’Ward needed to outlast advances from title rival Colton Herta, with a mid-race caution for a spinning Aaron Telitz – he spun after contact with Victor Franzoni, with Franzoni getting a drive-through penalty for his role in the incident – allowing Herta to close in after O’Ward pulled out a lead of over two seconds.

However, like in Race 1, O’Ward kept Herta at bay, eventually winning by over four seconds.

“My plan was to get out to at least a two-second lead so the guys behind me couldn’t use the push-to-pass,” O’Ward said of his race strategy. “But then the yellow came out so once Colton could engage it, he was able to stay behind me.”

“I just had to stay in front and try to make him use all of them early. He got close to me once but I made sure I was fast in Turns One and Two, because that’s really the only place you can pass. At that point, it’s about keeping everything focused and tidy.”

Behind them, Ryan Norman came through to finish third in his home race – Norman is a native of Cleveland – after battling with Santi Urrutia, who finished fourth.

Dalton Kellett, Victor Franzoni, and Aaron Telitz rounded out the order.

O’Ward now leads Herta by 32 points.

Pro Mazda: Race 2 Victory Sees VeeKay Extend Championship Lead

Rinus VeeKay celebrates winning Race 2 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Rinus VeeKay entered the weekend trailing Parker Thompson by seven points after sweeping the weekend on streets of Toronto two weeks ago.

He now leaves Mid-Ohio with a 25-point lead over Thompson after his second consecutive weekend sweep, as he backed up his Race 1 win with a Race 2 triumph, while Thompson again struggled on race day.

VeeKay ran second in the opening laps behind pole sitter David Malukas, but took the lead on Lap 8 after Malukas pulled off in Turn 5 with mechanic troubles.

VeeKay never looked back, surviving a late-race restart – his Juncos Racing teammate Carlos Cunha stalled on track exiting the final corner, necessitating the yellow – to complete the weekend sweep and take his sixth victory of the season.

“I saw (David) pulled off the track – I felt sad for him, to lose a win like that, but I’m happy for myself in the championship,” VeeKay said afterward. “I drove in my mirrors the whole race as (teammate Robert Megennis) was really quick. But the team did a great job to have three great cars on the grid and four podiums this weekend.”

Robert Megennis made it a Juncos 1-2 by finishing second, backing up his third-place effort from Race 1, with Oliver Askew rounding out the podium in third.

Sting Ray Robb charged from seventh on the grid to finish fourth, followed by Felipe Drugovich, on his debut weekend with RP Motorsport, in fifth.

Parker Thompson, who started fourth, dropped to ninth on the opening lap, and could only get back up to sixth at race’s end.

USF2000: Kirkwood Takes His Winning Streak to Nine in a Row

Kyle Kirkwood took his winning streak to nine in a row by winning Race 3 on Sunday. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Kyle Kirkwood capped a weekend in which he clinched the USF2000 title by extending his win streak to nine in a row and sweeping all three races of the USF2000 weekend.

Starting second, Kirkwood burst into the lead on Lap 1, passing pole sitter James Raven, who debuted with DEForce Racing this weekend.

Kirkwood set sail from there and led the rest of the way to take his ninth win in a row, and tenth of the 2018 USF2000 season.

“I got a little bit of a jump on (James Raven) after the green came out at the start and had the momentum going into Turn One. I had two tires onto the preferred line so I slid a little, but I was able to hang on and keep the lead. We have the sweep and the championship, so this is the best weekend of the year,” Kirkwood detailed afterward.

Raven finished second ahead of Rasmus Lindh, who rounded out the podium in third ahead of Keith Donegan and Igor Fraga.

Of note: Kaylen Frederick, who entered the weekend second in the championship, was on the charge after starting 22nd and ran inside the top five at one point, but ultimately plummeted back down the order after an issue. He finished Race 3 in 19th. When combined with Race 1 and Race 2 finishes of 24th and 23rd, the disastrous weekend saw Frederick fall to sixth in the championship.

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Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).