07.19.17 – For the last year, I’ve been trying to convince the readers of this website that the primary goal of my ‘Stars of the Race’ selections is to identify the strong performances that are delivered outside that of the winner. The victors often run away and hide, and while that in itself is ‘star-worthy’, I’m always looking for that story within the story. Well, read on, and be nice, because I’m going against my concept and picking the winners from this weekend for one race each because of the importance of their dominating runs when it comes to their respective situations. I just can’t skip over them that easily this time around.
Toronto was a truly enjoyable weekend and I think that most drivers loved the course, even though the areas of the track that have not been addressed with repairs are getting increasingly bumpy. The braking zone into turn one could only be compared to the whoop section at a Monster Energy SX race, but the re-paved area from turns six to eight was nice and smooth. If they continue with the upgrading of the rough areas, we’re going to end up with a really solid layout very soon. Regardless, the temp circuit in Toronto is truly challenging, and it’s also unique, which is a big plus for the drivers on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires.
So, following huge weekend sweeps for Kyle Kaiser and Parker Thompson, here are my Stars of the Races from TO.
The first Indy Lights race of the Toronto doubleheader was packed full of action, with Carlin’s Matheus Leist ending his run of winning momentum in the tires on the exit of turn eight after being pressured by Belardi’s Santiago Urrutia, collecting Andretti Autosport pilot Nico Jamin in the process. Andretti’s Dalton Kellett had an eventful run as well, needing a front wing change, as did Carlin’s Neil Alberico, after everyone got stacked up coming to the green flag of the restart. While the biggest mover was Belardi Auto Racing’s Aaron Telitz, who powered forward from 11th to fifth, the Star of the Race was undoubtedly Juncos Racing’s Kyle Kaiser. Entering the Toronto weekend with the point lead, the pressure was on for the third-year driver to hold his position or extend the advantage, and he answered with a flawless performance. He was tested and he responded. That always catches my attention. Leist had cut into Kaiser’s championship lead over the last three events, so it was time to step up. The American qualified on pole and dominated the entire 35-lap race, fending off the challenges of Zachary Claman Demelo after Leist’s wreck set up at restart on lap seven. If he indeed wins the title, Kaiser will look back at Toronto as the turning point.
The second race looked as though polesitter Colton Herta was going to assert himself with an important win, but he made contact with the wall on the exit of turn six. This lead to a part failure on lap 26, which handed the win to Kaiser. My Star of the Race began his impressive run in the middle of the opening corner chaos that sidelined Jamin, Alberico and Belardi Auto Racing’s Shelby Blackstock. Team Pelfrey’s Juan Piedrahita ran over the front wing of Blackstock and was forced to pit to replace his own front wing assembly, re-joining the field in 10th. On the ensuing restart, he dropped to 11th and then reset his focus. The Columbian then hit his stride and started following Dalton Kellett back through the field. Driver errors and mechanical failures moved Juan up a few spots, but he also went to work and battled his way by Nico Dapero and Ryan Norman on the first lap after the second restart, which came after Santi Urrutia was stranded on the frontstraight. Piedrahita made up his final two positions when Herta retired in turn eight after his damaged left rear suspension finally gave up, overtaking Kellett with an aggressive move to take fourth. Juan was certainly the driver on the move in Race 2.
Saturday’s USF2000 race provided an emotional high that fueled a raucous ‘Maple Leaf’ themed victory lane as Canadian Parker Thompson repeated his 2016 home country triumph with a wire-to-wire win from pole. The important of the performance was heightened when you consider the rough start to the year that has been endured by Exclusive Autosport. The brand new team has enjoyed some success with Thompson, but not likely what they had aimed for. Parker’s Toronto performance was all the more impressive when you consider that the team was coming off a dismal showing at Iowa Speedway, their first ever race on an oval. Team morale could easily have been low, but Thompson rallied the team, gave them his dedication and told them that they’d be good in Toronto. He was not lying. The USF2000 veteran was masterful all weekend, winning the pole for Race 1 and then managing the race for start to finish to score a crucial win that keeps in in the championship chase, albeit with a long shot mathematical chance at the title. It was a Star of the Race performance that could easily turn the tides for Exclusive Autosport in the final two races of the year.
My Star of the Race for the second USF2000 event in Toronto is Newman Wachs Racing’s Darren Keane. The young American finished 10th in Race 1, running alone on-track after an early race spin, using the remaining laps as another practice session to get a better feel for his set-up. In Race 2, Darren started 11th and was embroiled in an early battle for ninth, but it was his fight with Team Pelfrey’s Robert Megennis and Arms Up’s Devin Wojcik after the mid-race restart that was thrilling. After Alex Baron and David Malukas got together on lap nine, taking Cape’s Oliver Askew with them, the ensuring restart gave Darren the chance to fight for a top-five, as he re-started in sixth. Once the race settled back in, Keane was able to slip past Megennis early when he went wide in turn three, and then hounded Wojcik late in the race, passing him on the run down Lakeshore Boulevard with just two laps to go. It was a breakthrough run for the rookie from Florida, and he delivered for NWR. He posted a pair of top-10s, his first top-five, and the team rolled the car into the trailer at the end of each race day. You can’t ask for much more from your freshman driver when you come to a concrete wall lined track like Toronto.
The temp street courses are now done for the year…it’s time to head back to one of America’s beautiful permanent road courses, Mid-Ohio.