By Road to Indy
PALMETTO, Fla. – All three levels of the highly effective Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder will venture north of the border this week for their annual visit to the streets surrounding Exhibition Place – just minutes away from downtown Toronto – in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series. The 1.786-mile, 11-turn temporary circuit always provides a stiff challenge for the drivers with its omnipresent concrete walls ready to punish any mistakes.
Two races each will be held for Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda. All three series are now reaching into the crucial second half of the season with more than $3.5 million on offer in scholarships and awards to assist drivers in their progression from the grassroots of the sport to IndyCar.
Herta, O’Ward Continue their Rivalry
The battle for this year’s Indy Lights championship – and the quest for a scholarship valued at $1 million to guarantee entry into three Verizon IndyCar Series events in 2019, including the 103rd Indianapolis 500 – seems to be distilling into a head-to-head duel between Colton Herta and Patricio O’Ward.
Both teenagers are run from under the same Andretti Autosport awning, albeit with Herta’s car carrying allegiance to Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing as a joint enterprise with George Michael Steinbrenner IV, the racing aficionado grandson of legendary former New York Yankees Major League Baseball owner George Steinbrenner.
Each has won four times this season. O’Ward, 19, from Monterrey, Mexico, started impressively by winning three of the first four rounds. He also dominated the most recent event – last weekend on the Iowa Speedway oval – by qualifying on pole and then leading all 100 laps to close to within eight points of Herta, 19, from Valencia, Calif., who went on a tear of four straight wins in May and June.
Herta will be seeking redemption after clipping a wall and retiring from the lead in one of the Toronto races last year. O’Ward, who snagged a second-place result in Pro Mazda in 2016, held an appreciable edge in the only other visit to a street circuit this year – in St. Petersburg, Fla.
After finishing runner-up in the standings in each of the past two years, Uruguay’s Santiago “Santi” Urrutia hasn’t given up on his dream and is sure to be a contender for Belardi Auto Racing. He currently trails Herta by 49 points with seven races remaining.
Belardi teammate Aaron Telitz, from Birchwood, Wis., has tasted the fruits of success before in Toronto, winning twice on his way to the Pro Mazda Championship in 2016.
Last year’s Pro Mazda champion, Brazilian Victor Franzoni, has shown good form of late for Juncos Racing, claiming a well-deserved first Indy Lights victory last month at Road America.
Dalton Kellett, who hails from nearby Stouffville, Ont., has never had much luck in his hometown race but has high hopes of setting that record straight this week. Kellett finished on the podium at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May. Andretti Autosport teammate and former Atlantic Championship winner Ryan Norman, from Aurora, Ohio, scored his best result to date of third on the streets of St. Petersburg and will also be one to watch.
The Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix of Toronto Presented by Allied Building Products will commence with official practice slated for 1:30 p.m. on Friday, July 13, followed on Saturday by qualifying at 8:35 a.m. and the green flag for Round 11 at 12:40 p.m. A separate qualifying session at 9:05 a.m. on Sunday, July 15, will set the grid for Round 12 which will start at 12:25 p.m.. All times are EDT.
Maple Leaf Well-Represented in Pro Mazda
This weekend’s Cooper Tires Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Toronto Presented by Allied Building Products will have a distinct Canadian flavor as Parker Thompson, from Red Deer, Alb., seeks to extend his championship lead with Michael Duncalfe’s Canadian-based Exclusive Autosport team.
Thompson, 20, has become a popular fixture on the Mazda Road to Indy over the last few years, twice finishing among the top three in the USF2000 title-chase before stepping up to Pro Mazda this season. He has lost no time in making his presence felt. Thompson led much of the season-opening race on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., before having to settle for second. In the next event at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, Thompson romped to victory in Race One before adding a second-place finish in Race Two to take over the points lead in the chase for a Mazda Scholarship worth $790,300 to move up to Indy Lights in 2019.
Subsequent wins on the Indianapolis Grand Prix circuit and a dominant performance on the Lucas Oil Raceway oval have taken him to a commanding 46-point lead with seven races remaining on the schedule. Thompson has history on his side, too, after winning three times in Toronto over the past two years, including claiming the Exclusive team’s maiden Mazda Road to Indy triumph in 2017.
“Sweeping the weekend last year in Toronto in front of my fellow countrymen was probably the most memorable racing weekend of my career,” says Thompson. “The best part is we have the chance to relive some of the same emotions again this year, (and) I will do absolutely everything in my power to defend our win streak on the streets of Toronto.”
He will face plenty of stout opposition. Chicago teenager David Malukas claimed the first two wins – both for himself and BN Racing – in the most recent races at Road America. Dutchman Rinus VeeKay (Juncos Racing), who finished second in last year’s USF2000 title-chase, and Englishman Harrison Scott (RP Motorsport Racing), who dominated the Euroformula Open championship in Europe, also have earned a pair of wins during their rookie seasons.
Brazilian Carlos Cunha has been knocking on the door to Victory Circle with four podium results for Juncos Racing, while Florida’s Oliver Askew, who convincingly won the 2017 USF2000 championship, has garnered three poles after stepping up a level with Cape Motorsports.
The Team Pelfrey pair of Andres Gutierrez, from Monterrey, Mexico, and Sting Ray Robb, from Payette, Idaho, have shown well, and Antonio Serravalle, 15, from nearby Markham, Ont., is looking for a breakout weekend as Thompson’s teammate after stepping up directly from the karting ranks.
The weekend will begin with a practice session at 8:00 a.m. on Friday, July 13, followed by a pair of qualifying sessions (at 10:05 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.) which will set the grids for the pair of 40-minute races. Round 10 (of 16 races this year) will see the green flag at 10:50 a.m. on Saturday, with Race Two set for 10:40 a.m. on Sunday. All times are EDT.
Who Can Challenge Kirkwood in USF2000?
A strong field of youngsters will line up for the eighth and ninth rounds of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, all of them with one goal in mind – to end the dominance of Kyle Kirkwood, who has won five of the seven races, including the last four in a row.
Kirkwood, 19, from Jupiter, Fla., has picked up exactly where his friend (and karting rival) since early childhood, Oliver Askew, left off last year, and is intent upon delivering an astonishing eighth consecutive USF2000 championship for the Florida-based Cape Motorsports team.
Nevertheless, the list of talented rivals is extensive. Eight other drivers have shared the victory podium with Kirkwood this year, including recently turned 16-year-old Kaylen Frederick, from Potomac, Md., who has finished second in each of the three most recent races for Pabst Racing. Frederick also notched up five podium finishes during an impressive rookie campaign in 2017. His first win surely must be near.
Swedish rookie Rasmus Lindh and a pair of veterans, Calvin Ming, from Georgetown, Guyana, and Lucas Kohl, from Santa Cruz do Sul, Brazil, also will fly the flag for Pabst Racing. The quartet’s efforts so far mean that Pabst Racing is currently tied on points with Cape Motorsports for the Team Championship at the halfway point in the season.
Other potential front-runners will include Japanese-born Brazilian Igor Fraga, who drives for the Canadian Exclusive Autosport team alongside Singapore native Danial Frost, a proven race winner in the South East Asian Formula 4 series who made his North American debut recently at Road America; the DEForce trio of Jose Sierra, from Mexico, Kory Enders, from Sugarland, Texas, and Colin Kaminsky, from Homer Glen, Ill., all of whom have notched top-five finishes this year; South African F1600 champion Julian Van der Watt, who has shown good speed but so far encountered all manner of misfortunes with Team Pelfrey; Darren Keane, from Parkland, Fla., who also is due a slice of good fortune for Newman-Wachs Racing; Ireland’s Keith Donegan, who claimed a breakthrough podium finish for BN Racing at Road America; and Dakota Dickerson, from San Diego, who has rejoined the USF2000 fray with ArmsUp Motorsports after garnering several wins in F4 this year.
The Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix of Toronto Presented by Allied Building Products contenders will take to the track for the first time for a 25-minute practice session at 8:40 a.m. on Friday, July 13, followed by a pair of 20-minute qualifying periods at 12:55 p.m. and then the following morning at 8:00 a.m. Race One will commence at 11:45 a.m. on Saturday, with Race Two set for Sunday at 9:45 a.m. All times are EDT.
Coverage of on-track action in all three series can be found on a series of platforms including Road to Indy TV, the Road to Indy TV App and dedicated broadcast channels on demand via Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Roku and, most recently, the Xbox One Official App as well as live streaming and live timing on the series’ respective websites and indycar.com. Indy Lights is also featured on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network broadcasts on Sirius 214, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app.
Sunday’s Indy Lights race will be broadcast on NBCSN at 6:00 pm EDT on Monday, July 16.