Good day/evening (depending on your time-zone) from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, where I (Steve) am on site to provide you with coverage of the Mazda Road To Indy finale.  Each of the three series had fifty minutes of testing time available today.  Check below for those reports.

Normally you’d have seen series-by-series previews from us by-now, but we wanted to spend today chatting with drivers, engineers and series officials to see if we were forgetting anything.  Expect to see some very in-depth previews hit your in-box overnight.

This is my first visit to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and to say I’m excited to be here would be an understatement.  I’ll have more on the circuit tomorrow, but my first impression is that television doesn’t begin to do the elevation changes justice.

I arrived in San Francisco around 10am yesterday and took the time to drive down Highway 1 from Half-Moon Bay to Monterey.  All I have to say is… WOW!  Can I say that louder… WOW!

One of the views along Highway 1.  (photo by Steve Wittich)

One of the views along Highway 1. (photo by Steve Wittich)

It would really take a number of days to explore the sixty or so miles of coastline properly, but I was able to take the time to stop and check out a number of the spectacular vistas.

I also made a four hour stop at Año Nuevo State Park.   The park is situated on a point jutting into the Pacific ocean and features coastal terrace prairie, wetland marshes, dune fields and coastal scrub, all of which I encounter on a 2.5 mile hike to “North Point.”

A view of the path I took to get to the coast at Ano Nuevo State Park (photo by Steve Wittich)

A view of the path I took to get to the coast at Ano Nuevo State Park (photo by Steve Wittich)

Why the hike?  The beaches of Año Nuevo are home to a large colony of Elephant Seals.

I was told that this week is likely one of the worst weeks to view the large ocean going mammals.  There were only 20-25 seals present, but the strenuous trudge through the deep stand was still worth it to watch a few pairs of adolescent males play fight in the surf.   I spent close to an hour sitting on a bench enjoying the the sights and sounds (Elephant seals make very unique sounds that sounds a lot like an early 80’s VW diesel engine on a freezing cold morning).

A few adolescent male Elephant Seals laze around on the beach (photo by Steve Wittich)

A few adolescent male Elephant Seals laze around on the beach (photo by Steve Wittich)

Apparently the best time to visit is in late December and January when the mature males fight over harems of females.  During that time you must be accompanied by a docent on a tour.  The docents are still present during the “down” time and are super friendly and happy to share information about the seals.

The rest of the drive included many more spectacular vistas, and surprisingly many miles through agricultural land.  I was not aware of this part of California was known for farming but apparently the foggy mornings and sunny but cool afternoons are perfect to grow lettuce, artichokes, strawberries, avocados, cabbage and brussels sprouts (which you can smell while driving by).

I arrived at my hotel in Monterey just after 7pm and was quite tired so I hit up the local grocery store for a quick dinner, so no exciting tales of food.  A group of us are headed to Cannery Row in Monterrey tonight, so I will make sure to have a full report.

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An interesting note about the weather.

The weather in Monterey seems perfect to me.  I came from Indiana, where it’s been 90F plus with high humidity.  At the track it’s around 80F with almost no humidity, but the “heat” is all the locals can talk about.  I guess it very rarely gets this warm here.  The forecast calls for the same “heat” tomorrow before it cools down for the weekend.

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What’s at stake

It’s not just championships, pride and bragging rights on the line this weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Mazda Motorsports will be dolng out over $2.3 million in season ending awards, including three advancement scholarships at the season ending banquet held in Monterey on Monday night.

Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire championship contenders Jack Harvey, Spencer Pigot, Ed Jones or RC Enerson are chasing a $1 million dollar advancement that assures the winner three races in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2016, including a chance to qualifying for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Making the move up the ladder to Indy Lights courtesy of a Mazda Motorsports advancement scholarship will Santiago Urrutia or Neil Alberico, the two drivers with a chance to take home the Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire title.

A fully funded Pro Mazda ride is on the line for Nico Jamin and Jake Eidson, the two drivers in contention for the Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda championship.

“We can’t wait to see the doubleheaders for all three series, but especially the very tight points battle for the Indy Lights title,” said John Doonan, director of Mazda Motorsports in North America. “The Mazda scholarship to the Indy Lights winner will assure them of three Verizon IndyCar Series races in 2016, including the historic 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. It’s the pinnacle of our efforts to support the superstars of tomorrow. Our scholarships in open-wheel and sports cars help drivers move up the ladder to the top levels of racing in North America. And to have the finale at our home track of Mazda Raceway is a great bonus.”

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Yes, you can watch.

If you are already missing open wheel racing, don’t fret. RoadToIndy.TV will have live streaming of all six Mazda Road To Indy races from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this weekend.

You can bookmark this post and watch all of the races here…

or you can watch on the RoadToIndy.TV app – available via Android  or Apple iOS.

Broadcast schedule (all times eastern):

Saturday, September 12
1:30pm – USF2000 race #1
5:45pm – Pro Mazda race #1
6:45pm – Indy Lights sprint race

Sunday, September 13
2:40pm – Pro Mazda race #2
5:40pm – Indy Lights feature race
7:00pm – USF2000 race #2

The Indy Lights finale will also air on NBC Sports Network on September 24 at 11pm (eastern).

Adding another car 

The No. 21 Mazda powered Dallara that Heamin Choi will be driving for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian is being leased by the team for the weekend.  The chassis was Dallara’s test car and has previously been driven by Matthew Brabham at St. Petersburg and Long Beach.

The No. 21 of Heamin Choi looks a lot like the No. 83 that Matthew Brabham drove for Andretti Autosport at St. Pete and Long Beach (photo by Steve Wittich)

The No. 21 of Heamin Choi looks a lot like the No. 83 that Matthew Brabham drove for Andretti Autosport at St. Pete and Long Beach (photo by Steve Wittich)

The No. 5 and No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports IndyCar teams are providing the crew for Choi.

You will find more on Choi as a driver in tomorrow’s Indy Lights preview.

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A familiar name returns

Making a return to ArmsUp Motorsports for the USF2000 twin-bill finale will be Peter Portante.   The 19 year-old finished sixth in the 2014 USF2000 championship while driving for the Gregg Borland owned, Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin based team.

Portante has been contesting the Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich championship this season and currently holds down fourth in the standings with one event remaining.  The Plainville, Connecticut native does have previous experience at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, contesting two MX-5 cup rounds this year and two USF2000 rounds in 2013.

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Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire testing

Jack Harvey gets sideways in front of Sean Rayhall during Indy Lights testing at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Jack Harvey gets sideways in front of Sean Rayhall during Indy Lights testing at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

The 13 entries for the Indy Lights Grand Prix Presented by Cooper Tires and Powered by Mazda spent 50 minutes turning laps on the hilly Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca road course.

The top five in the morning session were: Kyle Kaiser, Max Chilton, Sean Rayhall, Ed Jones and Felix Serralles.

Of note in the morning session was the placement of the five Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian drivers in eighth, ninth, 11th, 12th and 13th positions. TSO was able to confirm that the team was running on full tanks and also with carry-over used tires.

The lone “on the hook” moment of the six Mazda Road To Indy sessions came when the No. 5 Juan Piedrahita had an off in the Corkscrew. That ended the second Indy Lights session five minutes early with Kyle Kaiser, Spencer Pigot, Sean Rayhall, Ed Jones, and RC Enerson as the top five.

The combined session results are as follows:

RANK — DRIVER — BEST LAP TIME — TOTAL LAPS TURNED
1 Kyle Kaiser 1:15.706 23
2 Spencer Pigot 1:15.805 25
3 Sean Rayhall 1:16.260 18
4 Ed Jones 1:16.471 24
5 RC Enerson 1:16.602 24
6 Jack Harvey 1:16.608 21
7 Max Chilton 1:17.014 20
8 Shelby Blackstock 1:17.047 21
9 Felix Serralles 1:17.304 19
10 Juan Piedrahita 1:17.685 20
11 Ethan Ringel 1:18.693 19
12 Scott Anderson 1:19.140 19
13 Heamin Choi 1:20.530 15

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Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire testing

Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire championship leader Santiago Urrutia chats with his manger Eliseo Salazar (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire championship leader Santiago Urrutia chats with his manger Eliseo Salazar (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

The first of two practice sessions for the 19 drivers entered in the Allied Building Products Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Monterey began promptly at 9:20am.

The top 10 in the morning session were: Santiago Urrutia, Neil Alberico, Jose Gutierrez, Weiron Tan, Pato O’Ward, Raoul Owens, Will Owen, Timothe Buret, Garett Grist, and Alessandro Latif.

Even with the much hotter afternoon temperatures, lap times improved significantly during the second session.  It’s pretty clear, that early on Team Pelfrey has found a good set-up for Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

The top 10 in the morning session were: Pato O’Ward, Santiago Urrutia, Raoul Owens, Neil Alberico, Garett Grist, Weiron Tan, Jose Gutierrez, Will Owen, Dalton Kellett, and Kyle Connery.

The combined timesheet for the day ended up as follows.

RANK — DRIVER — BEST LAP TIME — TOTAL LAPS TURNED

1 Pato O’Ward 1:23.382 23

2 Santiago Urrutia 1:23.555 25

3 Raoul Owens 1:23.560 24

4 Neil Alberico 1:23.883 21

5 Garett Grist 1:23.924 23

6 Weiron Tan 1:24.160 24

7 Jose Gutierrez 1:24.182 23

8 Will Owen 1:24.286 24

9 Dalton Kellett 1:24.347 13

10 Kyle Connery 1:24.921 21

11 Timothe Buret 1:24.989 11

12 Florian Latorre 1:25.099 13

13 Michael Johnson 1:25.555 23

14 Alessandro Latif 1:25.713 19

15 Daniel Burkett 1:25.736 20

16 Victor Franzoni 1:26.091 21

17 Parker Nicklin 1:26.989 16

18 Bobby Eberle(E) 1:28.493 22

19 Jay Horak(E) 1:30.152 19

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Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda testing

The drivers of the Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda took part in two test sessions on the 2.238-mile, 11-turn Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca road course in preparation for this weekend’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix Powered by Mazda finale.

It’s not uncommon for USF2000 drivers to have to play the part of “dew-sweepers” as the first cars on track during an event, and that held true again this morning as the first session started promptly at 8am.

The top 10 in the morning session were: Jake Eidson, Aaron Telitz, Nico Jamin, Nikita Lastochkin, Parker Thompson, Yufeng Luo, Luke Gabin, Ayla Agren, Anthony Martin, and Keyvan Andres Soori.

The second session began under bright California sunshine at 1pm and with more rubber on the track, the times dropped significantly.

The top 10 in the afternoon session were: Jamin, Telitz, Eidson, Thompson, Martin, Lastochkin, Rickards, Gabin, Portante and Soori.

There were a couple of tow-ins during the two sessions, but no major incidents.

The combined timesheet for the day ended up as follows.

RANK — DRIVER — BEST LAP TIME — TOTAL LAPS TURNED

1 Nico Jamin 1:26.079 20

2 Aaron Telitz 1:26.145 23

3 Jake Eidson 1:26.446 24

4 Parker Thompson 1:27.022 25

5 Anthony Martin 1:27.079 26

6 Nikita Lastochkin 1:27.149 18

7 Garth Rickards 1:27.201 23

8 Luke Gabin 1:27.328 25

9 Peter Portante 1:27.470 10

10 Keyvan Andres Soori 1:28.079 24

11 Ayla Agren 1:28.115 24

12 Yufeng Luo 1:28.645 21

13 James Dayson 1:29.990 24

14 Robert Alon 1:30.179 22

15 Max Hanratty 1:30.531 20

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Schedule for the rest of the weekend

Friday, September 11

  • 8:55am-9:25am —  USF2000 practice #1
  • 9:35am-10:05am — Pro Mazda practice #1
  • 10:15am-10:45am — Indy Lights practice #2
  • 1:20pm-1:50pm — USF2000 practice #2
  • 3:05-3:35pm — Pro Mazda practice #2
  • 3:45pm-4:15pm – Indy Lights practice #2
  • 4:25pm-4:55pm – USF2000 qualifying

Saturday, September 12

  • 8am-8:30am — Pro Mazda qualifying
  • 8:45am-9:15am — Indy Lights qualifying
  • 10:30am-11:10am — USF2000 Race #1
  • 12:45pm-1:15pm — Pro Mazda autograph session
  • 1:25pm-1:55pm — USF2000 autograph session
  • 2:45pm-3:30pm — Pro Mazda Race #1
  • 3:45pm-4:30pm — Indy Lights Race #1

Sunday, September 13

  • 11:40am-12:20pm — Pro Mazda Race #2
  • 12:30pm-1pm — Indy Lights autograph session
  • 2:40pm-3:40pm — Indy Lights Race #2
  • 4pm-4:40pm — USF2000 Race #2