With the Verizon IndyCar Series holding its inaugural Indy Grand Prix on a revised road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Mazda Road to Indy Series came along for the ride for a pair of races each. A new track that none of the drivers had seen before meant plenty of first-time winners.
A thrilling fifth round of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda fell the way of rookie driver Will Owen, from Castle Rock, Colo., who took advantage of an inspired strategic call by his team, Pabst Racing, to score a historic and unexpected victory. Jake Eidson led the most laps on his way to a second-place finish for defending champion team Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, while another rookie, Aaron Telitz, completed the podium for ArmsUp Motorsports.
The track was wet for the start, so all 22 starters began on rain tires. Polesitter Florian Latorre and Eidson hooked up to lead the pack on the long drag race toward Turn 1. Frenchman Latorre turned into the corner in the lead, only to slide wide at the exit and lose a handful of positions, while a couple of other incidents farther back in the field brought out the caution flags. As the field slowed down behind the pace car, Pabst Racing strategist and accomplished former driver Tonis Kasemets realized the track was drying rapidly and made the decision to call Owen into the pits for a change to slick Cooper tires.
Eidson led the field at the restart, only to make a mistake and slip behind Brazilian Victor Franzoni (Afterburner Autosport). Eidson piled the pressure on Franzoni, who staunchly defended the inside line into Turn 1 until Lap 11, when Eidson hung on bravely around the outside, then edged ahead as they battled into Turn 2. Eidson quickly pulled out a handy margin over his rivals, especially when Franzoni opted to pit for slick tires after 13 laps, but he was far from in the clear. Instead, Owen quickly loomed large in his mirrors, taking full advantage of the additional grip on an almost completely dry race track.
Owen moved into second on Lap 13, at which point he still trailed Eidson by 2.7 seconds. By the following lap, Owen was in the lead, scoring an accomplished victory held on for second – his third podium finish of the season – ahead of Telitz and Latorre.
For the second straight day at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, a rookie driver claimed his first victory in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda. This time it was 19-year-old Californian Adrian Starrantino (No. 91 Autoworld Collision Center/PPG Van Diemen-Mazda) who made the breakthrough, overtaking Brazilian Victor Franzoni on Lap 11 and holding off a determined challenge from Frenchman Florian Latorre to claim what was also the first USF2000 win for Jay Green’s JAY Motorsports team.
Despite starting in the fourth position, it was Franzoni who headed the field into Turn 1. Starrantino, who started from the pole by virtue of posting the fastest lap of the weekend during the previous day’s wet/dry race, slotted into second place with fellow front row starter Clarke Toppe (JDC MotorSports) in third.
Starrantino, who moved to Indianapolis last year to pursue his racing career by working part-time for the Bryan Herta Autosport Verizon IndyCar Series team, stayed glued to Franzoni’s rear wing until, on Lap 11, he poked his car’s nose inside his rival to take over the lead. The Brazilian tried to regain the place later in the lap at Turn 10, only to slide wide and allow Latorre to move into second.
In the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, Canadian Scott Hargrove finally broke through into Victory Lane following an action-packed race and an impressive performance for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing in the first of two races that constitute the Allied Building Products Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Shelby Blackstock (Andretti Autosport) finished second to earn his best finish of the season so far, while Hargrove’s teammate, Neil Alberico, finished third after leading for much of the race.
Polesitter and championship leader Spencer Pigot found himself in sixth as the field swept into Turn One. He briefly made up a couple of positions in the ensuing melee, only to be clipped from the rear as he sped toward Turn Two. The caution flags waved right away, with Hargrove, who had started second, in the lead ahead of teammate Alberico, who had somehow made up six positions on the chaotic opening few turns.
An intense battle ensued, with Alberico taking a turn at the front before the two teammates banged wheels at Turn 2, with Hargrove taking back the lead and Blackstock also finding a way through into second place.
Hargrove repeated the feat in the second race. He grabbed the lead on the drag race to Turn 1 and was never seriously threatened. Alberico was second and Mexican teenager Jose Gutierrez completed the podium for Juncos Racing.
The Brabham family finally has a victory to its credit at the hallowed Indianapolis Motor Speedway after third-generation racer Matthew Brabham made light of treacherous conditions to lead throughout the fifth round of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires. Brabham, who had qualified Andretti Autosport’s No. 83 United Fiber & Data/MAZDASPEED entry on the pole earlier in the day, held off a race-long challenge on a rapidly drying track from Brazilian GP2 graduate Luiz Razia to score his first Indy Lights race win in the first of two races.
After taking a little time to get to grips with his new surroundings, Brazilian Razia (Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports with Curb/Agajanian No. 7 Lucas Oil) drove an exemplary race under constant pressure in the second race for Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires. Fellow Indy Lights rookie Jack Harvey never allowed his teammate to relax, shadowing his every move throughout the 40-lap race to finish just 0.6414 seconds back in second place. Alex Baron narrowly prevailed over yesterday’s first-time winner Brabham for the final podium place.
All three series have their next rounds in Indianapolis as well, and all on ovals. Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires will race at Lucas Oil Raceway on May 24 as part of the Night Before the 500 festivities. Indy Lights will race on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval on May 23 on Carb Day for the 500.