MRTI at Mid-Ohio – USF2000, Pro Mazda, and Indy Lights preview

Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire preview:

Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire championship leader Jack Harvey will be aiming to replicate his dominate form from the 2014 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course weekend and extend his slim lead heading into the series finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

This year’s twin Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio Powered by Mazda races will be the twentieth and twenty-first time that the Indy Lights series will visit the hilly road course outside of Lexington, Ohio.

Notable drivers that have won an Indy Lights race on the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course include: current Bryan Herta Autosport owner Bryan Herta (1993) and driver Gabby Chaves (2013), NBC Sports Network Verizon IndyCar Series analyst Townsend Bell (2000 & 2001), NBC Sports Network pit reporter Jon Beekhuis (1988), and NBC Sports Network analyst Paul Tracy (1990).

Indy Lights championship points leader Jack Harvey will be aiming to repeat his 2014 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course performance that saw him on the top step of the podium twice.  (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)
Indy Lights championship points leader Jack Harvey will be aiming to repeat his 2014 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course performance that saw him on the top step of the podium twice. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

The 22 year-old Harvey won the pole in both races last year and led all seventy laps on the way to a pair of dominating wins on the 2.258-mile, 13-turn road course.   Despite a disappointing fifth place finish at the series last race at the Iowa Speedway, the Lincoln, England native was able to stretch a 15 point lead to an 18 point lead atop the standings.

“I’m very excited to get back to Mid-Ohio,” said second place Spencer Pigot, who drives for Juncos Racing. “It’s one of my favorite tracks and in the new IL-15 I’m sure it will be amazing. We have had a few tough races recently so hopefully we can turn things around and gain some points back in the championship this weekend.”

The 21 year-old Pigot who is looking for his fifth Indy Lights victory of the season has made eight previous Mazda Road To Indy (MRTI) starts at Mid-Ohio.  The Orlando, Florida made his first MRTI start at Mid-Ohio in 2011 and has one victory and six top five finishes.   The “Soul Red’ No. 12 Mazda powered Dallara should be happy to be back on a natural terrain road course after the reigning Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire champion dominated the series only other visit to a hilly, fast and twisty circuit at Barber Motorsports Park in April.

Ed Jones certainly started to get the hang of ovals, placing second at Iowa Speedway and trimming the gap to championship leader Harvey from 29 to 20 points, the speedy Carlin rookie will very likely be happy to be back on a circuit that turns left AND right.  The 20 year-old will need to be a quick study if he wants to close the gap to Harvey.  A June test session at Mid-Ohio was essentially scuppered due to inclement weather, and track time is limited during the busy Verizon IndyCar Series/Mazda Road To Indy /Pirelli World Challenge shared weekend.

Impressive Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian rookie RC Enerson, who has made eight previous starts (one win and four podiums) at Mid-Ohio has solidified his fourth place championship standing with an amazing run of consistent results.  The 18 year-old who jumped straight from Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda series to Indy Lights is coming off two straight podiums to go along with top fives in six of the last seven races.

Despite missing the two rain-soaked races in Toronto while taking part in the twice around the clock classic at Le Mans, Max Chilton is within striking distance of fifth place Felix Serralles.  Chilton, whose Formula 1 teammate Jules Bianchi succumbed to racing injuries only 24 hours earlier, scored an impassioned victory from pole in Iowa.   The 24 year-old Redgate, England native will be making his first appearance at “Mid-O” but should find the rural circuit more similar to the European tracks he is used to.

With only five points separating the drivers that are fifth through ninth in the championship, previous experience and success at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course could play an important role in separating yourself from your foes.

Currently leading the way is Belardi Auto Racing rookie Seralles  (176) who will be making his first visit to Mid-Ohio.

Kyle Kaiser (172), the 19 year-old Juncos Racing rookie has qualified on the front row at Mid-Ohio twice, but only has a best finish of sixth in four races.

Colombian native Juan Piedrahita (171) has made six previous MRTI starts at Mid-Ohio, and his best result was a fifth place in the second Indy Lights race last year.    If the 23 year-old takes the green flag in both races he will have started his 80th MRTI race.

However, the results/experience advantage might fall in favor of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian sophomore Scott Anderson.  The 25 year old from Colorado has one win, two podiums and five top 10’s in his six races at Mid-Ohio.

Ethan Ringel, the 20 year-old pilot of the No. 71 will be visiting a track that he has previously competed on for the first time this season.   The Orlando, Florida native had two second place finishes when the Atlantic Championship Series visited Mid-Ohio in 2014.

Andretti Autosport’s Shelby Blackstock, who has had success at Mid-Ohio in the past will be looking to kick-start what has been a difficult season so far.  The Nashville, Tennessee native has stood on the podium twice and scored four top fives in six previous races in Central Ohio.

Making a return to the series will be 8Star Motorsports with rookie pilot  Sean Rayhall.  We last saw the Georgia based driver in the orange and black 8Star Motorsports No. 8 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May, where the duo scored their maiden win and two podiums on the infield road course.   Rayhall has kept sharp by competing in the the last two TUDOR United SportsCar Championship races.  He drove a BAR1 Prototype Challenge at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Lime Rock Park.

What to watch for:

Leading the first practice. With the washed out test session, and limited practice time the team/drier combo that unloads off the truck the quickest has the best shot to score podiums.

Keeping up with the track.  The 2.258-mile, 13-turn road course is notorious for “gripping-up” dramatically though out a race weekend and the team that can stay ahead of those track changes will have a happy drivers.

Championship pressure.  Which driver (and team) will best handle the crunch of a tight championship grind.  Harvey (Formula 3 & Indy Lights), Pigot (Pro Mazda) and Jones (Formula 3) have all been in championship contention, with all three finding a way to close the deal and end up with the championship trophy.

Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire preview:

The Pro Mazda drivers and teams head to the twin bill Cooper Tires Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio with five drivers within less than 50 points of championship leader Santiago Urrutia.

After standing on the podium in six of the first eight races, Uruguayan native Urrutia has gone four straight races without tasting the champagne (OK, sparkling grape juice).  If recent testing at Mid-Ohio is any indication (“Santi” was only eighth of fifteen drivers), the 18 year-old GP3 alumni will have to scrap for every point to keep his points lead over a charging Weiron Tan intact.

Tan, a Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia native will need to keep his recent form if he wants to catch Urrutia and stay ahead of third place Neil Alberico.  The 19-year old is looking for his fourth win and seventh podium of the season, but also has three DNF’s and a five point penalty to overcome.   The Andretti Autosport rookie, who moved from fourth to second in points after a win in Iowa, will be making his first start at Mid-Ohio and had the sixth quickest time at the most recent test at the Lexington, Ohio track.

Alberico will need to use his experience and results advantage on the 2.258-mile, 13-turn road course if he wants to put a dent in his closest rivals lead.   In seven previous Mid-Ohio starts, the 22 year old Pro Mazda sophomore has won twice and also scored six five top 10’s.   The Rising Star Racing supported pilot of the No. 2 Cape Motorsports with /WTR machine ended up with the fourth best time during the recent Mid-Ohio test and led two of the six sessions.

“Mid-Ohio is a fantastic track that has been good to me in the past,” said Alberico. “We had great pace at the series test last month and we are going to do our best to pick up where we left off. We are heading into the last few races of the season now and you can be sure we are going to be pushing harder than ever.”

The hottest driver in the series not named Tan is Team Pelfrey rookie Pato O’Ward.  The rapid 16 year-old is riding a streak of three straight podiums and has moved into fifth in the championship standings.  O’Ward is visiting another new track, but that hasn’t stopped the Monterrey, Mexico native from being quick at each track the series visits.

The most inspiring storyline of the weekend is most certainly the return of Michael Johnson.  The 22 year-old paralyzed driver will be making his first Pro Mazda race start since he suffered life-threatening injuries in a Turn 3 crash while practicing for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg March.

The pilot of the No. 54 Universal Coating sponsored car for JDC Motorsports has spent the last four months in intensive rehab.  As part of his recovery the Flint, Michigan native completed 88 laps during a series test at Mid-Ohio in June.

“After testing at Mid-Ohio in June, I feel more prepared to get back to racing at this track again,” said Johnson, who has made seven previous starts at the 13-turn road circuit. “Each time I get back in a car, the less and less my nerves are.”

Other drivers to watch:

Juncos Racing sophomore Garett Grist led the June Mid-Ohio test and the 20 year-old Canadian has two wins, one pole and three podiums in five races at Mid-Ohio.

Grist’s Juncos Racing teammate Timothe Buret, who is currently in fourth in the championship has scored one win and five podiums on the six natural terrain road courses so far this season.

Canadian Cape Motorsports with /WTR rookie Daniel Burkett has shown pace at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda.  The 20 year-old who is coming off a podium at Iowa, won an Atlantic Championship Series races at Mid-Ohio in 2014.  He also started all three of his 2014 races at Mid-Ohio in the first three rows.


Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda preview:

After a long mid-summer break, the epic championship battle between sophomore drivers Nico Jamin and Jake Eidson will head to the hills of Central Ohio for an important three race tilt on 2.258-mile, 13-turn road course Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Pabst Racing’s Eidson and Cape Motorsports with /WTR’s Jamin are dead-locked at 10 podiums (in 11 races), but it’s Jamin, the 19 year-old Frenchman who holds a five to four advantage in victories and a slim 16 point championship lead.

The two championship combatants both made three USF2000 races starts at Mid-Ohio in 2014 and this time it’s Eidson, the 20 year-old American who holds the results advantage.   Eidson scored one win and an average finish of 4., while Jamin had an average finish of 8.3 in the three races.

So what about the June test at Mid-Ohio?  It was Jamin who led the 12 drivers with a best lap of 1:21.5912, while Eidson was had the third best lap at 1:21.8861.

Aaron Telitz, a Cape Motorsports with /WTR sophomore, had the second best time during the June test.  The 23 year-old is currently third (56 points back) in the championship and will need some help from his rivals to climb back into the championship.  If you want to find out what the Rice Lake, Wisconsin pilot of the No. 3 did during his break, make sure to check out his latest blog here —> Aaron Telitz: a mid-summers racing story  

The triple-header Allied Building Products USF2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio has eighteen entries, as two teams return and one makes their debut.

RJB Motrosports will make their series debut with drivers Alex Mayer and Clint McMahon.

Family team D2D Motorsports returns with Andrew List at the wheel after making repairs to a their No. 61 that was damaged at NOLA Motorsports Park.

Sennan Fielding and Jack Mitchell will both be making their USF2000 debuts with Afterburner Autosport, who are back in the series after serving a suspension.

TSO will have more on these teams and drivers after we get a chance to chat with them on Thursday.

Mazda Road To Indy weekend schedule: 

Thursday, July 30

8am-8:40am — USF2000 test session #1

8:50am-9:30am — Pro Mazda test session #1

11:20am-noon — USF2000 test session #2

12:10pm-12:50pm — Pro Mazda test session #2

4:20pm-5pm — USF2000 test session #3

5:10pm-5:50pm — Pro Mazda test session #3

6pm-6:30pm — Indy Lights tire test (1 car)

Friday, July 31

8am-8:25am — USF2000 practice

8:40am-9:10am — Indy Lights practice #1

10:05am-10:30am — Pro Mazda practice

12:15pm-12:45pm — USF2000 qualifying

1pm-1:30pm — Indy Lights practice #2

2:30pm-3pm — Pro Mazda qualfiying

4:45pm-5:25pm — USF2000 race #1

Saturday, August 1

8am-8:35am — Indy Lights qualifying

9:50am-10:30am —  USF2000 race #2

1pm-1:40pm — Pro Mazda race #1

1:55pm-2:45pm — Indy Lights race #1

6pm-6:40pm — USF2000 race #3

Sunday, August 2

8:50am-9:40am — Pro Mazda race #2

10:30am-11:35am — Indy Lights race #2