By Tony DiZinno

Weiron Tan (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) and Jake Eidson (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) took the wins in Saturday’s FreedomFest at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, Round 9 of both of these series’ seasons in the Mazda Road to Indy.

===

Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda Race

Jake Eidson took his third win of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season during the Mazda Freedom 75 at Lucas Oil Raceway, primarily thanks to a dynamic drive through traffic.

The first race of the day at the track went green under picture perfect clear skies, sunny with ambient temperatures in the low-70s, with a crowd that filled in leading into the start.

Pabst Racing’s Eidson started second but got the lead off the start ahead of polesitter Nico Jamin, which proved crucial as the 75-lap race at the 0.686-mile oval would run without a yellow for the rest of the day.

That didn’t necessarily tell the story though, as bouts with traffic proved pivotal to success.

The leaders started lapping traffic on Lap 12, and would contend with it the rest of the day.

Eidson made a good move around Ayla Agren and James Dayson by Lap 20, and gained several tenths on Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing teammates Jamin and Aaron Telitz.

Eidson maintained the gap by anywhere from six to nine tenths of a second over Jamin, with Telitz third a little bit further back as he appeared to struggle in traffic.

By Lap 60, Jamin had maintained his tires enough to make a slight charge and begin to threaten Eidson.

On Lap 65, the gap was 0.6598 of a second and by Lap 66, it was 0.4011.

But Jamin would get no closer and Eidson held on for the win after just over 28 caution-free minutes of racing (28 minutes, 11.2166 seconds) by 0.5834 of a second. Telitz was third.

Anthony Martin and Yufeng Luo completed the top five and were the only other drivers on the lead lap.

Of note, despite a struggle to get his car started, Keyvan Andres Soori recovered from the back of the 15-car field to finish seventh. He made it to 10th by the end of the first lap and progressed from there.

After the race, Eidson said it felt like “an endless race” thanks to constant pressure from Jamin. He needed to be good in traffic to win and thanked his crew for a stable, neutral car that was “amazing” all around.

Jamin felt losing the lead on the start was an issue, and despite several runs in traffic to try to close he did not get close enough to make a move past Eidson. He said he gave it everything he had throughout the day.

Telitz, last year’s winner, noted that the low line was roughly two tenths slower in the heat of day this year compared to the cool evening last year. His timing couldn’t have been much worse in traffic, as he seemed to hit it after the two leaders on nearly every occasion.

Full results are below:

P No Name Laps
1 22 Jake Eidson 75
2 2 Nico Jamin 75
3 3 Aaron Telitz 75
4 33 Anthony Martin 75
5 23 Yufeng Luo 75
6 80 Parker Thompson 74
7 5 Keyvan Andres Soori 74
8 82 Luke Gabin 73
9 83 Garth Rickards 73
10 6 Max Hanratty 72
11 81 Ayla Agren 72
12 84 Nikita Lastochkin 71
13 12 Augie Lerch 71
14 51 Bill Abel 68
15 16 James Dayson 44

Jamin led Eidson by 19 points heading into today but Eidson should close several points with today’s result. Telitz will stay in third.

USF2000 will race next on the streets of Toronto, June 13-14, for a doubleheader race.

===

Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tires Race

Weiron Tan won Saturday’s Cooper Tires Freedom 90 at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in his oval debut.

It marks Andretti Autosport’s third straight Pro Mazda win at the track, after Matthew Brabham (2013) and Garett Grist (2014) won the last two years.

For the Houston-based Malaysian, it was a flag-to-flag win from pole, but it was not as easy as that statement would make things seem.

Tan got the jump on the start of the 90-lap race, with Will Owen and Florian Latorre up to second and third by the end of the first lap. Tan’s Andretti Autosport teammate Dalton Kellett fell to seventh by the end of Lap 2 after a near wall scrape and moment exiting Turn 4, after starting second.

The field held station with Tan, Owen, Latorre, Daniel Burkett and Neil Alberico the top five through Lap 10. By Lap 20, Alberico passed Burkett for fourth and further back, in a move with championship implications, Timothe Buret passed Santiago Urrutia for eighth.

What had been a fairly quiet race got spiced up over the next 10 laps.

Urrutia had a moment exiting Turn 4 – it appeared he hit or scraped the wall – and nearly collected Tan, who was coming through to lap him. Tan was lucky to avoid him. Buret, meanwhile, was closing on Kellett.

A three-car accident occurred in Turn 3 at the one-third mark of the race (Lap 30) involving Kellett, Buret and Raoul Owens. It appeared as though Buret contacted Kellett, and Owens’ car got caught up in the accident.

Kellett and Owens were out on the spot, with Kellett suffering significant left front damage and Owens’ car with right side damage.

Buret limped around to the pits with rear wing damage and while the Juncos Racing team put on a replacement wing, the overall damage was significant enough to retire after losing several laps.

With Urrutia also retiring in the aftermath of his moment, suddenly there were four cars out of the race, including both the points leader (Urrutia) and third-placed driver (Buret).

Under yellow the order was Tan, Owen, Latorre, Alberico and Grist in the top five.

The restart from the first yellow flag of the day in any of the three races occurred on Lap 39.

At half distance, Lap 45, the top five was unchanged, while Victor Franzoni had moved up to sixth ahead of Burkett, whose car appeared to fall off from its early race pace.

From Lap 51, there was some great side-by-side racing. Latorre was on the high side with teammate Alberico on the low side, trying to pass for third. It was a near mirror image of Cape Motorsports teammates Spencer Pigot and Brabham running side-by-side for several laps in the 2012 USF2000 race, a race Pigot eventually won.

The side-by-side battle allowed Juncos Racing teammates Grist and Jose Gutierrez, and M1 Racing’s Victor Franzoni into the fray with a shot at podium or top-five positions.

On Lap 62, Franzoni made it past Grist for fifth. A lap later, Alberico’s seemingly eternal wait to pass Latorre ended when he made a move on the outside exiting a corner.

Latorre’s tires fell off badly and by Lap 69, the USF2000 champion had fallen to seventh at the back of the five-car pack.

On Lap 70, Tan led Owen, Alberico, Grist, Gutierrez, Franzoni and Latorre.

The final act in the race came as Tan gained ground on Grist and Gutierrez, seeking to lap the pair of Juncos drivers all while the third Juncos driver, Owen, attempted to close down a 1.3-second gap to Tan.

The gap held steady between 0.9 and 1.4 seconds from Lap 75 through Lap 80. However in the final three laps, Owen got to within 0.9 and 0.5 of a second.

But the TCU college student ran out of time, and Tan held on for his third win of the season. Tan won thanks to a mix of great defense and good traffic management, by a margin of victory of 0.4261 of a second.

Owen posted his second straight runner-up finish, with Alberico having a good day to end third.

Grist and Gutierrez remained on the lead lap and completed the top five.

Post-race, Tan said driving through the pit lane during the yellow didn’t help because of the debris pickup. He said he didn’t push too hard where he thought he would make a mistake. He said he really enjoyed the race because there’s so much planning, rather than attacking, compared to a street or road course race. He’s not concerned about points, just wins, and the points will take care of themselves.

Owen said his teammates weren’t slow, but he felt he was catching Tan. But with 10 laps to go, he said he ran out of time despite pushing as hard as possible. Owen said it was a tiring race, and thinks he needs to get into better shape. But he’s motivated and confident after back-to-back runner-ups.

Alberico said it was funny how he spent the whole week practicing up high, only to run low most of the race and make passes. He played with tools, called the race a “chess game,” and said his past track experience paid dividends. He said they did the best with what they could this weekend.

Full results are below:

P No Name Laps
1 22 Weiron Tan 90
2 23 Will Owen 90
3 3 Neil Alberico 90
4 5 Garett Grist 90
5 7 Jose Gutierrez 90
6 21 Victor Franzoni 89
7 82 Pato O’Ward 89
8 10 Florian Latorre 89
9 2 Daniel Burkett 89
10 14 Alessandro Latif 88
11 13 Bobby Eberle(E) 82
12 6 Timothe Buret 31
13 28 Dalton Kellett 27
14 80 Raoul Owens 27
15 81 Santiago Urrutia 27

Alberico started the day 24 points behind Urrutia and will have closed that gap significantly, if not taken over the points lead from the Uruguayan, heading to the next race weekend of the year in Toronto in two weeks time. Tan, too, will have made big strides in the championship chase with this result.

That will conclude today’s Mazda Road to Indy coverage from Lucas Oil Raceway. We thank you for subscribing and for reading.