Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Road to Indy Championship Weekend Preview

While IndyCar has a week off before the champion will be decided, the three Road to Indy series conclude at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this weekend. All three championships are on the line to be decided over seven races this weekend. Thirteen drivers could leave with silverware this weekend.

Indy Lights
After Santiago Urrutia had a tire failure at Watkins Glen, dropping him to a last-place finish, his championship lead is one-point over Ed Jones entering Laguna Seca. The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver had entered Watkins Glen with six consecutive top five finishes including three victories. Last year, Urrutia clinched the Pro Mazda title with a pair of second-place finishes at Laguna Seca. Jones finished third last year in Indy Lights after a third-place and fourth-place finish at Laguna Seca. Urrutia leads all drivers with four victories while Carlin's Jones has two victories but has not won since the first race of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis weekend.

Thirty points behind Urrutia is Andretti Autosport driver Dean Stoneman, who has two victories this season but hasn't won since the Freedom 100. Stoneman is coming off a tenth-place finish at Watkins Glen after having tire degradation force him to stop late in the race but he did pick up a point for fastest lap. Zach Veach's victory at Watkins Glen vaulted the Belardi Auto Racing driver to fourth in the championship, 31 points back. Veach's best championship finish was third in 2014. Félix Serrallés has two victories but has had one top ten finish in the last three rounds. The Carlin driver trails by 39 points. Last year, Serrallés finished 13th and eighth at Laguna Seca. Kyle Kaiser is the final contender in Indy Lights. He is hoping to get Juncos Racing its second consecutive championship. Kaiser has 16 top ten finishes from 18 races.

Since joining Indy Lights when it was Indy Pro Series in 2002, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has never gone more than two years between titles. Jack Harvey finished second in the championship the last two years for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Carlin is going for its first Indy Lights championship. Andretti Autosport hasn't won an Indy Lights championship since 2009. Belardi Auto Racing could win its second title in three years.

Fifteen cars are entered for the finale. Sean Rayhall returns to the series with Team Pelfrey. The DeltaWing driver won on the IMS road course and Mid-Ohio last season with 8Star Motorsports, whose Indy Lights equipment was purchased by Team Pelfrey over the winter. He finished fourth and second last year at Laguna Seca. Davey Hamilton, Jr. makes his debut with McCormack Racing. He has been racing in USAC's HPD Midget division with races mostly in California. Heamin Choi returns to the #77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry.

The first race of the Indy Lights weekend will be at 6:00 p.m. ET. The final race of the Indy Lights season will be at 4:10 p.m. ET.

Pro Mazda
The last time Pro Mazda competed, Aaron Telitz took the championship lead and pulled away slightly from his Team Pelfrey teammate Pato O'Ward. The Mexican driver O'Ward had won six of the first seven races with a second-place finish in the middle but he has not been on the podium since his victory at Indianapolis Raceway Park while Telitz won four consecutive races and has six consecutive podium finishes. Telitz leads O'Ward by 14 points heading into the triple header finale after the Iowa round was postponed due to a low entry list. Telitz finished fourth and second last year at Laguna Seca in U.S. F2000. O'Ward had finishes of 18th and sixth in last year's Pro Mazda finale.

Cape Motorsports w/ Wayne Taylor Racing's Nico Jamin swept the Mid-Ohio weekend and he has five consecutive podium finishes. Jamin swept the Laguna Seca weekend last year in U.S. F2000 to cap off his championship season with six consecutive victories. He trails Telitz by 74 points. Will Owen racing is alive by a thread. The Juncos Racing driver is 91 points behind Telitz, meaning he would need to sweep the weekend and have Telitz fail to start at least two races to win the championship. Owen has six podium finishes this year and he has two second-place finishes. He finished third and fourth at Laguna Seca last year in Pro Mazda.

Telitz or O'Ward could get Team Pelfrey its second consecutive title. Cape Motorsports is looking for its first Pro Mazda championship. The Pro Mazda grid balloons to 12 entries with additional National class entries for Americans Dan Swanbeck and Kory Enders, Mexican Moises de la Vara and Briton Joseph Burton-Harris.

Race one of the weekend will be 5:05 p.m. ET on Saturday. The second race will be at 11:00 a.m. ET on Sunday with the final race that afternoon at 5:35 p.m. ET.

U.S. F2000
After a disaster first race at Mid-Ohio for Parker Thompson, his Cape Motorsports w/ Wayne Taylor Racing teammate Anthony Martin went on to sweep the weekend and take the championship lead from the Canadian. Martin leads Thompson by 21 points. Martin has seven victories to Thompson's four while Thompson has ten podiums to Martin's nine. However, Martin has 13 top ten finishes to Thompson's 12 top ten finishes. The Australian finished second and fourth last year while Thompson finished fifth and 14th. Martin and Thompson finished fourth and fifth in last year's U.S. F2000 championship. Cape Motorsports is going for its fifth consecutive U.S. F2000 championship.

Victor Franzoni trails Martin by 53 points heading into the final weekend of the season. His only victory was at Toronto and he has nine podium finishes as well as 13 top ten finishes. The ArmsUp Motorsports driver competed at Laguna Seca last year in Pro Mazda but had a finish of 19th and did not start the second race. He finished fifth in the 2014 U.S. F2000 championship.

Eighteen cars are entered for Laguna Seca. Team Pelfrey's Robert Megennis is the top American in the championship, sixth behind Australians Jordan Lloyd (Pabst Racing Services) and Luke Gabin (Jay Motorsports). Pabst's Garth Rickards finished third in the most recent race at Mid-Ohio and Afterburner Autosport's Dakota Dickerson has three top fives in the last five races. An American driver has yet to win a race this season in U.S. F2000. Since U.S. F2000's revival in 2010, at least one American has won a race.

U.S. F2000 rounds out the day on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. ET and will race at 2:20 p.m. ET on Sunday.