07.08.2016 – As the Mazda Road to Indy staff and their Indy Lights drivers and teams load into Iowa Speedway for this weekend’s events, I want to take one look back at Road America to complete my picks for the #Insider Stars of the Races. As a venue, an experience and a destination, Road America provided everything we were hoping for and more, adding our seventh different winner of the year and some truly tremendous racing. I’m having fun with this new segment of my blog, highlighting some great performances with my ‘Star’ selections, so let’s get right to it.
For the opening race of the Road America doubleheader, I’m naming Juncos Racing rookie Zach Claman DeMelo as my #Insider Star of the Race. At the beginning of the season, many in the sport asked me about Zach, looking for insight, and many believed that he entered the Indy Lights program just a little light on open wheel experience. I told them that I had faith that ZCD would impress, having watched him develop in national and international level karting over the years. He is very talented and can be aggressive when needed. Ricardo Juncos has tempered Zach’s occasionally wild nature and he is high on this young Canadian, and to Zach’s credit, he is stepping up mid-season. Claman DeMelo turned in impressive runs all weekend, beginning on Saturday, when he raced hard and scored his first career top-five finish. Zach followed up the fifth with a fourth on Sunday in the tough wet-to-dry conditions. This was easily his best weekend of the year and could signal the shift in momentum that we see occur for many first year drivers.
In the second race of the doubleheader, an action-packed battle that saw the top-three in points in the middle of the chaos, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Andre Negrao caught my eye, showing great pace and racecraft in the challenging track conditions. It’s been a tough season for Negrao thus far, but on Sunday, he was in the spotlight all race. He ran hard, but maybe more importantly, he ran clean, and he was rewarded with a great result.
Now, it’s onto Iowa Speedway to see who steps to the forefront as the run the championship begins. Five events and nine races left up for grabs.