Friday, September 11, 2015

Friday Five: Pirelli World Challenge, Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, U.S. F2000

There will be five season finales this weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca as the Pirelli World Challenge GT and GTS divisions and the three series of the Mazda Road to Indy will wrap up their 2015 seasons in Northern California. Sixteen drivers have a shot at leaving Laguna Seca with a championship.

Pirelli World Challenge GT
Four drivers are mathematically eligible for the Pirelli World Challenge GT championship. The three-times defending champion, Cadillac's Johnny O'Connell enters Laguna Seca with a 26-point lead over R.Ferri Motorsports' Olivier Beretta. One hundred and 35 points behind O'Connell is Nissan's James Davison while EFFORT Racing's Ryan Dalziel is the final driver eligible for the title, 141 points back. 

O'Connell has won four races, sweeping both Mosport and Miller rounds. Beretta has three victories but all three came within the first five races of the season. Davison has two victories, Barber 1 and Road America 3, but Davison did not score any points from his Barber victory after it was found his car failed post-race inspection. What has kept Davison alive was a run of seven consecutive top two finishes from Road America 1 to Miller 2. Ryan Dalziel has missed three races this year but he still has a shot at the title. The Scotsman's only two victories came at Mid-Ohio, where he swept the weekend and he has the most podiums this year with nine. 

This is the first time Pirelli World Challenge has raced at Laguna Seca since 2012. In that race, Randy Pobst won in a Volvo with his teammate Alex Figge finishing second and Andy Pilgrim rounding out the podium. 

O'Connell is looking to tie Pobst for most World Challenge championships at four. O'Connell would become the first driver to win four consecutive titles. Beretta and Dalziel look to become the first European champions since Andy Pilgrim won the title a decade ago. Davison could become the first Australian champion. 

Thirty-nine cars are entered between GT and GT Cup cars. McLaren's Kevin Éstre has four victories this season. Mike Skeen is sixth in the championship but has yet to win a race in 2015. Nicky Catsburg will not return in the Blancpain Racing Lamborghini despite being on the initial entry list. The Dutch driver is in Japan on World Touring Car Championship duty. NGT Motorsport has entered two Ferraris for the season finale for Alessandro Balzan and Alessandro Pier Guidi.

The Pirelli World Challenge GT season finale will be at 4:35 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Pirelli World Challenge GTS
Two drivers enter Laguna Seca with a shot at the Pirelli World Challenge GTS championship. Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet's Michael Cooper leads the standings with 1,475 and is 107 points clear of Phoenix American Motorsports Ford's Andrew Aquilante. Cooper has four victories this year including the most recent race at Sonoma. Aquilante's only victory was Road America 2 but has nine podiums to Cooper's six. 

Blackdog Speed Shop has won the last two GTS titles; Lawson Aschenbach won both. The last time Ford won a PWC title was the 2011 GTS title by Paul Brown. Like the GT division, GTS has not raced at Laguna Seca since 2012. Peter Cunningham won that race driving an Acura. Jack Baldwin finished second and Aaron Povoledo rounded out the podium. 

Twenty-eight cars are entered for the GTS finale. Jack Baldwin and Dean Martin are battling for third in the championship. Kurt Rezzetano, Mark Wilkins, Ben Clucas, Kris Wilson, Andy Lee and Jack Roush, Jr. are all in the top ten and all are on the entry list. Wilson is tied with Cooper for most victories with four but Wilson missed six races this season. Vesko Kozarov returns for his third race of 2015 in the #23 Nissan. The Bulgarian driver finished third and second in the two Miller races. He was entered for St. Petersburg but did not start either of the two races in Florida. 

Five Maserati GranTurismos are entered for the season finale and sons of World Drivers' Champions will drive two of them. Freddie Hunt, son of James Hunt, and Derek Hill, son of Phil Hill, will drive the #26 and #27 Maserati's respectively. Vafa Kordestani will be in the #21 Maserati, Patrick Byrne will be in the #25 Maserati and Jeff Courtney will drive the #66 Maserati. Jon Fogarty will be in the #99 Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing Hyundai.

The Pirelli World Challenge GTS season finale will be at 1:35 p.m. ET on Sunday. 

Indy Lights
Four drivers will battle for the Indy Lights title at the Laguna Seca double header. Jack Harvey leads the championship with 301 points but after a rough weekend at Mid-Ohio the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver holds only a six-point advantage over Juncos Racing's Spencer Pigot. Carlin's Ed Jones is third, 18 points back of Harvey and Harvey's SPM teammate RC Enerson is the final contender, trailing his teammate by 36 points.

Harvey has two victories and both came at Indianapolis as he won IMS road course 1 and the Freedom 100. Pigot has won four races as he swept the weekends at Barber and Toronto. Ed Jones won the first three races of the 2015 season but has only stood on the podium three times in the following 11 races and has yet to return to the top step. Enerson first career Indy Lights victory came in Mid-Ohio 1.

Nine other cars will be on the grid for the Laguna Seca season finale. The most recent winner in Lights, Sean Rayhall returns with 8Star Motorsports. The Georgian has two wins and three podiums in seven starts in 2015. Max Chilton won at Iowa and is fifth, 19 points ahead of Milwaukee winner Félix Serrallés. Kyle Kaiser is three points behind the Puerto Rican. Scott Anderson, Juan Piedrahita and Shelby Blackstock round out the top ten. Ethan Ringel is 11th in the championship. The 13th entry is South Korean Heamin Choi in the #21 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Mazda. Choi has previously competed in Star Mazda and U.S. F2000.

This is the first second-tier American open-wheel support series race at Laguna Seca since 2009 when the Atlantic Championship season finale took place at the track. John Edwards won the race with Jonathan Summerton finishing second. Edwards would win the tiebreaker over Summerton for the title. Simona de Silvestro finished third in the championship that year, six points back of Edwards with as many victories (4) and runner-up finishes (4) as the champion. Ten cars started that Atlantic race at Laguna Seca.

The last Indy Lights race to take place at Laguna Seca was in 2001. Townsend Bell won the race with Jon Fogarty finishing second and Luis Díaz rounding out the podium after 11 cars started the race. Bell would go on to win the Indy Lights championship that year.

Indy Lights will race on Saturday at 6:45 p.m. ET and Sunday at 5:40 p.m. ET.

Pro Mazda
In Pro Mazda, four drivers have a shot at the title. Uruguayan Santiago Urrutia has 304 points and the Team Pelfrey driver leads Cape Motorsports Neil Alberico by 29 points. Juncos Racing's Timothé Buret trails Urrutia by 47 points with Andretti Autosport's Weiron Tan 51 points back of Urrutia.

Urrutia has three victories this year, NOLA, IMS road course 3 and Mid-Ohio 1. Alberico has won four races, including the most recent race from Mid-Ohio. The Americans other victories came at St. Petersburg, where he swept the weekend, and Barber. Buret's lone victory in 2015 came at IMS road course 2 but the French driver has eight podiums from 14 races. Tan has four victories (Barber 1, IMS road course 1, Indianapolis Raceway Park, Iowa) but he has only finished on the podium on two other occasions (NOLA, Toronto 2) and he was penalized five points for avoidable contact at Barber.

Nineteen cars are entered for the final Pro Mazda weekend. Pato O'Ward rounds out the top five in the championship with Garret Grist three points behind him. O'Ward has yet to win in 2015 while the Canadian Grist took at popular victory at Toronto. Defending U.S. F2000 champion Florian Latorre is seventh and his lone victory was Toronto 1. Will Owen is eighth and he has two runner-up finishes this season. José Gutierrez and Dalton Kellett round out the top ten with Daniel Burkett a point outside the top ten.

Pro Mazda race one will be Saturday at 5:45 p.m. ET. The final Pro Mazda race of 2015 will be at 2:40 p.m. ET on Sunday.

U.S. F2000
The U.S. F2000 championship is Nico Jamin's to lose. The Frenchman holds a 50-point lead over Jake Eidson. Jamin has won eight of 14 races this season, including four consecutive victories, and he has stood on the podium 13 times. Eidson has four victories this season and 12 podiums. Should Jamin hold on to win the title, it would be Cape Motorsports four consecutive U.S. F2000 title while if Eidson were to jump the Frenchman it would be Pabst Racing's first U.S. F2000 championship.

Jamin needs to score 16 points this weekend to win the title. If Eidson wins race one, Jamin needs to finishes in the top five to clinch the title before heading into the final race of 2015.

Aaron Telitz is third in the championship. Telitz lone victory was Barber 1 but the Cape Motorsports driver has 10 podiums this year. Australian Anthony Martin is fourth with four podiums and 12 top five finishes. Parker Thompson rounds out the top five, with six top five finishes this year. Luke Gabin is sixth, 15 points outside the top five. Gabin's best finish was a third in Toronto 2. Yufeng Luo is seventh and has three top fives while Garth Rickards is five points behind Luo with two top fives. Ayla Årgen and Nikita Lastochkin are tied for ninth with 162 points.

Fifteen drivers are entered for Laguna Seca, including Peter Portante, who returns to U.S. F2000 for the first time in 2015. Portante finished sixth in the 2014 championship with two podiums. Portante has spent 2015 driving in Mazda MX-5 Cup Championship, where he has five podiums in 10 races. Portante will be driving for ArmsUp Motorsports.

The penultimate race of the U.S. F2000 season will be at 1:30 p.m. ET on Saturday with the finale being at 7:00 p.m. ET.

1. Over or Under: 2.5 championship contenders finishing in the top four at Laguna Seca.
2. Over or Under: 1.5 Fords on the GTS podium.
3. Over or Under: 1.5 drivers suffering a retirement in one of the two Indy Lights races.
4. Over or Under: 0.5 races at Sonoma with at least two Americans on the podium.
5. Over or Under: 50.5 being Nico Jamin's U.S. F2000 championship winning margin.

Last Week's Over/Unders
1. Under: The only track limits penalty in the Italian Grand Prix was to Carlos Sainz, Jr.
2. Over: There were 18 excruciating cautions in the Southern 500.
3. Under: Stoffel Vandoorne's average finish at Monza was 2.5.
4. Under: There were three Ferraris on the podium between GTE and GTC at Paul Ricard.
5. Under: There were two retirements in the two Blancpain Sprint Series races from Algarve.

1. Johnny O'Connell does not win the Pirelli World Challenge GT championship.
2. There will be three different manufactures represented on the podium in the PWC GTS race.
3. Spencer Pigot wins the Indy Lights title.
4. At least one driver scores their first win of the Pro Mazda season at Laguna Seca.
5. Nico Jamin wins at least one race.

Last Week's Predictions
1. A Ferrari scores fastest lap at Monza (Wrong. Lewis Hamilton scored fastest lap).
2. Someone scores their first victory of the season at the Southern 500 (Wrong. Carl Edwards won).
3. Richie Stanaway scores points this weekend for the first time since his Monaco victory (Correct. He finished fourth in both races).
4. There will be the first repeat overall winner in ELMS this season at Paul Ricard (Correct. Greaves Motorsport won).
5. One of the two BMW Sport Trophy Team Brasil entries get a victory at Algarve (Wrong. Bentley Team HTP and Belgian Audi Club Team WRT won).
Running Tally: 2/5