07-12-2017 – We’ve turned the corner on the 2017 Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires season, so for many, the championship battle looms much larger. The mid-season events have and will present the Indy Lights and USF2000 drivers with the full spectrum of racing facilities, moving from the long, flowing and fast permanent road course layout at Road America to the banked 7/8-mile oval at Iowa Speedway. After a pair of races in rural America, the drivers will head back into the city this weekend for the second temporary street circuit of the year, in Toronto. It’s been a run that has seen an high speed iconic road course, a banked flat-out oval, and now a concrete-lined urban asphalt jungle. This is one of the many reasons why I love the MRTI. It develops versatile drivers.
Toronto will be a battle, although it’s the second time the rookies will get a chance to tackle a street circuit. The track is incredibly challenging, fast and bumpy. At 1.786 miles in length, with 11 unique turns, every corner is crucial and the long run down Lakeshore Boulevard sets up for one of the most exciting braking zones on the schedule. It’s a return to a risk-reward layout, which will push the drivers to make definitive overtakes. There are a few runoff areas, but there’s also numerous narrow areas which will punish mistakes.
With only 13 drivers taking the opportunity to gain valuable experience in the only USF2000 oval event of the year, I expect the grid to increase to between 16-18 in Toronto as a few are holding off until Mid-Ohio for their return.
Point leader Oliver Askew re-fired his momentum with the win in Iowa, bouncing back after a tough weekend in Road America that included his first DNF of the year. The championship lead is now back to 32 points, and I expect Askew to be a challenger for the race wins in Toronto. He won on the street circuit in St. Petersburg, and Cape Motorsports was victorious there last year as well, with Parker Thompson. Indian driver Ricky Donison will be back with Cape for the Toronto round, having skipped Iowa, and he will be gunning to return to the podium, as he did at the Indy GP. Pabst Racing will return in force with Road America double winner Rinus VeeKay, Calvin Ming and Lucas Kohl.
Team Pelfrey will be pared down to a two-driver effort for Toronto, prepping cars for championship top-six drivers Kaylen Frederick (3rd) and Robert Megennis (6th). Ayla Agren was back in action with the team at Iowa Speedway after missing Road America, but will not continue in Toronto.
Canadian Jayson Clunie will be back in his Exclusive Autosport #93, re-uniting with Dev Gore and Parker Thompson, who still sits fourth in the championship standings after a tough run in Iowa. Thompson is a defending race winner, and is expected good things to happen back home on Canadian soil. This is a big weekend for the Canadian team and its lead shoe.
DE Force is adding a third car for Toronto, and the remainder of the season, for Mexican driver Jose Sierra. Iowa was a tough weekend for the new team, but their rookie drivers Kory Enders and Moises de la Vera logged crucial oval experience that provided them with considerable set-up data. It’s exciting to see the addition of Sierra, who was impressive in the Mexican F4 program. Sierra finished second overall in the FOA F4 NACAM series in Mexico, right behind champion Calvin Ming. Sierra won five races in the series.
Arms Up Motorsports gave us writers and announcers a little editorial fuel when they rolled up a car for former USF2000 and Indy Lights race winner Alex Baron for Iowa. The Frenchman starred for Belardi Auto Racing during the first half of the 2014 Indy Lights schedule, winning in Toronto before encountering VISA issues. Baron finished fourth in Iowa and will be back with the team, alongside rookie Devin Wojcik, for the Toronto round as well. I have not been able to confirm if he will run Mid-Ohio and Watkins Glen, although there is a potential that we’ll see Baron back in Indy Lights in 2018.
Newman Wachs Racing is set to return to the USF2000 paddock after skipping the Iowa round, fielding the #36 Tatuus USF-17 or American rookie Darren Keane. The Boca Raton, Florida driver scored his best finish of the year with the team in his first start, a tenth at Road America. I had expected to see John Cummiskey Racing return to the paddock with Colin Kaminsky, who is coming off an extremely strong weekend performance at Road America where he logged a pair of top-10 results, but they are now targeting Mid-Ohio for their return.
Rookie driver David Malukas will be back with his BN Racing team for his third USF2000 event, coming off his extremely impressive outing at Road America that included a pole and a third place finish in Race 1.
I’m still working to get an update from the BENIK operation in regards to Toronto, but I’ve been told by the team principals that they are fully expecting to be back for Mid-Ohio and Watkins Glen, potentially with two drivers.
Finally, I’m hearing that two drivers who skipped Iowa will remain on the sidelines until Mid-Ohio, including RJB Motorsports’ Chandler Horton and Arms Up Motorsports’ Bruna Tomaselli.
As for Indy Lights, I’m not hearing news of any one-off entries nor any of the regulars skipping the action. The Lights races were extremely exciting last year, with Belardi Auto Racing sweeping the main events courtesy of Swedish star Felix Rosenqvist. Carlin will arrive with a ton of momentum, having won the last four races in a row. Brazilian Matheus Leist has the hot hand with three wins in four races, having decreased Kyle Kaiser’s championship points lead down to just 13 markers with seven races to go.