By Tony DiZinno
Andretti Autosport’s Weiron Tan took a flag-to-flag victory in the first of three Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in an incident-filled race that still came down to the wire.
Thursday’s race served as a makeup race from what had been the second race at NOLA Motorsports Park, original Round 4.
As such, the grid for the revised Round 6 featured what would have been the starting order for the second NOLA race.
Six drivers of the 21 did not participate with their current team at NOLA and were ordered according to best practice time at Indianapolis. Raoul Owens, who drove for JDC Motorsports at NOLA, has switched to Team Pelfrey and did not retain what would have been a seventh place grid spot achieved with JDC at NOLA.
The race didn’t get more than a lap in before the first yellow flag flew, for a rollover accident involving Florian Latorre of Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing at Turn 2. Despite the accident, he emerged OK after getting out of the car.
Tan led from Timothe Buret, Pato O’Ward, Neil Alberico and Daniel Burkett. Burkett gained six positions in the first lap, with Alessandro Latif gaining five (up to seventh) and Scott Hargrove gaining seven (up to ninth).
The green flew on Lap 4 with Buret chasing Tan, trying both the outside then inside of the Malaysian at Turn 2. He was unable to pass. Alberico briefly got ahead of Buret for second but wasn’t able to hold the position.
A second yellow flew on Lap 6 for contact between Dalton Kellett and Kyle Connery at Turn 7, which pitched Connery into a spin and out of the race. The top three remained the same under yellow with Burkett up to fourth ahead of the Team Pelfrey teammates, Pato O’Ward and Santiago Urrutia.
The next green came at Lap 9 with just over 13 minutes remaining. O’Ward got around Burkett, as did Urrutia, Garett Grist, Latif and Hargrove. The Canadian fell to ninth.
Buret was able to close on Tan in the intervening laps down to 0.6065 of a second, but his charge was halted for the third full-course yellow on Lap 13, caused when Parker Nicklin was stopped on course at Turn 9.
The race resumed with a single last-lap green-and-white flag dash to the finish. Tan held off Buret by 0.5689 of a second, with Alberico third.
Urrutia and Grist, who had made a last lap pass of O’Ward for fifth, completed the top five finishers.
After the race, Tan said restarts were critical. He wanted to build a gap as much as possible knowing the longest straight on the track was ahead. He said IndyCar rubber helped for the afternoon race, but overall track conditions were better in the morning. While he doesn’t feel he has the outright pace compared to the Juncos team this weekend, he felt he maximized points today and learned for the rest of the weekend.
Buret said after his third podium of the season that it was fun to fight with Tan, but with so much yellow, it was difficult to make a move for the win.
Alberico, who started eighth and scored his fourth podium of the year, felt it vital to maximize points and expressed thanks at the NOLA race being made up here. He said the team’s pace is better here, and qualifying better later this weekend will avoid him needing to carve through the field in Rounds 7 and 8.
The full race #1 results are as follows:
Pro Mazda is on track next from 12 to 12:45 p.m. Friday afternoon for qualifying, which will set the grid for Round 7.
That will wrap the day’s activities here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Mazda Road to Indy. Thanks for reading, and more to come tomorrow.