Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI: Indy Lights Championship Fight Down to O’Ward, Herta

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The 2018 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship has come down to a pair of teammates in Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta – both race under the Andretti Autosport umbrella, with Herta competing under the Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing banner.

O’Ward, with seven wins – it could easily be eight if not for an error in Race 2 on the streets of St. Petersburg – has probably been the faster of the two drivers, though Herta used a streak of four wins in a row to vault himself ahead of O’Ward entering Iowa Speedway.

However, since then, O’Ward has distanced himself from Herta, with four wins in a five-race span (Iowa, Toronto Race 1, and both races on the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course) – he also finished second in the race he didn’t win (Toronto Race 2).

Herta, meanwhile, suffered a broken thumb after a crash in Toronto qualifying, which he aggravated after crashing again in Race 1. He pulled off in Race 2 to prevent further damage, and then was unable to outduel O’Ward at Mid-Ohio, finishing second in both races.

As such, O’Ward leads Herta by 32 points entering Gateway Motorsports Park. And with only three races left in 2018 (Gateway, and two races at Portland International Raceway), it’s imperative for Herta that he gain ground this weekend.

With seven cars entered at Gateway, the maximum points swing is 26 at (ovals award 1.5 races worth of points in comparison to the road and street courses), and the max swing at Portland will be 18 points per race (assuming seven cars are also entered).

So, Herta still has chances to make up the ground, but he will need to finish ahead of O’Ward, and likely win grab a victory, at Gateway to give himself a realistic shot entering Portland.

And if Herta can have drivers like Santi Urrutia and Victor Franzoni, also race winners in 2018, finishing in between them, it would make his Portland effort much more manageable.

For O’Ward, a Gateway victory could put the championship out of reach. And if O’Ward thinks he can take a win this weekend, expect him to go for it.

Pro Mazda

Rinus VeeKay leads the Pro Mazda Championship entering Gateway. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

The Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires also sees the points leader hold a somewhat sizeable advantage over his main adversary – Rinus VeeKay leads Parker Thompson by 25 points entering Gateway.

The last four races, at Toronto and Mid-Ohio, saw Thompson’s strong 2018 come unraveled, with a pair of DNFs at Toronto allowing VeeKay, who swept the weekend, to close gap from 46 points to seven.

And at Mid-Ohio, another weekend sweep from VeeKay combined with a troublesome weekend for Thompson – he finished fifth and sixth in both races – to see VeeKay jump ahead to a 25-point lead.

Thompson, like Herta, must finish ahead of VeeKay to give himself a realistic chance at the championship entering Portland, and a perfect scenario for him would involve other drivers (e.g. David Malukas, Oliver Askew, and Harrison Scott) being in the mix as well and finishing in between him and VeeKay.

There are 48 points up for grabs at Gateway, and if Thompson maxes out that weekend, he would gain at least 10 on VeeKay, but having VeeKay finish fifth or below would bring the gap down to singe digits, giving him a much more realistic chance entering Portland.

For VeeKay, extending his win streak to five in a row would nearly make the Pro Mazda championship “all she wrote.” It wouldn’t be out of reach, and there is a one-race drop to be factored in – each driver will drop their worst finish of 2018 from their results – but it would make Thompson’s task astronomically difficult at Portland.

Rest assured, in both Indy Lights and Pro Mazda, the championship fights are boiling to a head, and Gateway could prove to be the most pivotal point in both championships.

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Will Power nips Jack Harvey at finish to pace Road America practice

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Will Power led the only IndyCar Road America practice of the weekend Saturday, shooting to the top of the chart on his 22nd and final lap of the session at 1 minute, 46.0021 seconds in his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet.

Dixon knocked Jack Harvey’s No. 60 Dallara-Honda from the top spot (which would have marked the first time that a Meyer-Shank Racing car led practice).

Josef Newgarden, Power’s Team Penske teammate, was third, followed by Felix Rosenqvist and Ryan Hunter-Reay (who went off course late in the session but sustained no damage).

Alex Palou, Colton Herta, Graham Rahal, defending race winner Alexander Rossi and Pato O’Ward rounded out the top 10 in the practice that preceded a Saturday-Sunday race weekend doubleheader for IndyCar at Road America.

PRACTICE RESULTS: Click here to see who was fastest in the session

RACE INFORMATION: What you need to know for today’s REV Group Grand Prix

RATED ROOKIE: Rinus VeeKay rebounding well from a tough debut

IndyCar tested some new cooling devices with cars from Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske. Several drivers have said the cockpit heat caused by the new aeroscreen was stifling during last week’s GMR Grand Prix, and IndyCar repositioned drink bottles this weekend to keep liquids cool. The pieces tried by IndyCar during the Road America practice won’t be available during the races Saturday and Sunday at the Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, road course.

Scott Dixon, who is seeking to open the season with his third consecutive IndyCar victory, was 15th fastest in the 75-minute session. Other notables in Road America practice: Marco Andretti (12th), Simon Pagenaud (19th).

Power is aiming for his second consecutive pole position after qualifying first last week on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Qualifying for the REV Group Grand Prix Race #1 will take place at 2:15 p.m. ET (NBCSNNBC Sports Gold).

The broadcast of the IndyCar race at Road America will begin at 5 p.m. on NBCSN.