By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
The Mazda Road to Indy heads to Road America for the third year in a row as each of the three championships are coming off of their first oval race weekend of the season supporting the Verizon IndyCar Series. Let’s take a look at each championship heading into Road America after each series tested at the 4.048 mile natural terrain road course.
Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires
Seven cars will greet Road America for rounds eight and nine of the Indy Lights championship. Belardi Auto Racing has Santi Urrutia and Wisconsin native Aaron Telitz hoping to bring home a trophy following his 2016 Pro Mazda sweep at Road America.
Victor Franzoni will be representing Juncos Racing, the team that helped him win the 2017 Pro Mazda championship while Andretti Autosport has their normal quartet of Pato O’Ward, Dalton Kellett, Ryan Norman and series points leader Colton Herta (with Steinbrenner Racing).
Herta has been on a roll, winning the last three Indy Lights races and leading O’Ward by six points in the standings 189 to 183. Urrutia is third on 168 points and with as many entries as Indy Lights has, all bonus points earned are even more critical to a championship.
Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires
The Pro Mazda drivers are coming off of their first of two oval races of the year and the man on a mission is Parker Thompson. The Canadian for Exclusive Autosport has won three races this year and has only finished outside the top two positions twice; both of those finishes were fifths. That explains Thompson’s 40 point lead over Carlos Cunha, 198 to 158.
Harrison Scott and Rinus VeeKay each have a pair of wins on the season but both have had their struggles. VeeKay was a victim of first lap contact at the second Indianapolis road course race while Scott had terminal damage in that race as well as an incident with David Malukas at Lucas Oil Raceway.
There are a couple of changes to the 14 car Pro Mazda field. Toby Sowery is replacing Kris Wright at BN Racing and this is a prime opportunity for Sowery. The Brit finished fifth in his second USF2000 race last year when he competed at Barber Motorsports Park for Team Benik and will be looking to impress. Also changing is Mexican Raul Guzman will replace Lodovico Laurini at RP Motorsport.
Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda
After their only oval race of the season, the USF2000 championship gets back to road racing with Kyle Kirkwood coming into Road America off of a two-win stretch in Indianapolis.
The Cape Motorsports racer has three wins this year from five races with Alexandre Baron winning the other two for RJB Motorsports but Baron currently sits 59 points behind Kirkwood thanks to a pair of DNFs to go along with his three finishes in the top two.
Kirkwood’s season so far has been one of consistency with one fifth place finish and a runner-up finish to go along with his wins while his competitors haven’t had the same kind of results. Behind Baron in points is Jose Sierra who had a DNF at the second Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course race and fourth in points is Igor Fraga who finished 17th in that race. In fact, Kirkwood is the only USF2000 driver to finish in the top ten in every race so far this season.
Three new drivers will join the USF2000 field this weekend. Max Peichel joins ArmsUp Motorsports while Jacob Abel will drive for his family’s team and Danial Frost will join Exclusive Autosport.
The cover photo for this preview is Jeff Green, who scored his first top five finish in Pro Mazda last year at Road America. While racing his F5000 Lola at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Green’s car left the circuit and the Peoria, Ill. auto dealer was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
Green purchased Ricardo Juncos’s equipment after the 2016 Pro Mazda season, intending to race the first few races in the 2017 Pro Mazda season before deciding to race the whole season and wanted a teammate to help him get better.
Enter Victor Franzoni, who came in thanks to Juncos’s recommendation and Franzoni ended up winning the 2017 Pro Mazda title with Green’s partial backing. Green had a second top five finish at Gateway Motorsports Park, racing with car number 60 in deference to his age. Green’s ultimate aim was to be the oldest driver to start the Indianapolis 500 but instead he will be remembered for helping boost the career of one young promising driver that otherwise might still be working on various racing karts.
Race Times (CDT)
Pro Mazda 2:20 p.m
Indy Lights 12:00 p.m.
USF2000 1:10 p.m.
Pro Mazda: 2:05 p.m.
USF2000 8:00 a.m.
Indy Lights 9:50 a.m.