The unique and highly acclaimed three-step Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel driver development program, which offers annual scholarships and awards worth over $3.6M to assist drivers to progress from the grassroots to the pinnacle of the sport in North America, will run alongside the Verizon IndyCar Series on all race weekends in 2017.
A few highlights include the return of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires competition to Gateway Motorsports Park, in Madison, Ill., just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Mo. (Indy Lights returns to the 1.25-mile oval for the first time since 2003 while the Pro Mazda series will be making its debut); the addition of Iowa Speedway to the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, which most recently hosted the first rung on the ladder in 2010; and a highly anticipated season finale for all three levels at the Watkins Glen International road course in upstate New York.
Indy Lights will be featured on 10 weekends alongside the Verizon IndyCar Series headline event, marking a total of 16 races with doubleheader rounds on the streets of St. Petersburg, at Barber Motorsports Park, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (road course), Road America, on the streets of Toronto and at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Indy Lights will contest single rounds at Iowa Speedway, Gateway and Watkins Glen. The crown jewel in the series’ schedule remains the Freedom 100 on Carb Day of the Indianapolis 500.
After some aggressive passes on the opening lap by Zach Veach, there was little doubt about who would win today’s Mazda Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Presented by Cooper Tires. But the outcome of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and a Mazda Scholarship valued at $1M to ensure entry in a minimum of three races in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series was rather less straightforward.
Veach, indeed, sped home to a controlled victory, his third of the season and series-high sixth for Belardi Auto Racing by a comfortable margin of 2.8798 seconds. Behind, with one lap remaining around the 2.238-mile Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca road course, Santiago “Santi” Urrutia (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian), the winner of last year’s Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, was in position to emulate Spencer Pigot’s feat in 2014 and 2015 by claiming consecutive Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires championships by the narrowest of margins over season-long rival Ed Jones (Carlin) – a tie-breaker based on Urrutia’s four wins this season to the two of Jones.
Jones held a seven-point edge over Urrutia following yesterday’s second-place finish and gained another point for having earned the pole for today’s season finale. After the first start was waved off by Race Control, Jones led the field away at the second time of asking, with Urrutia, who started immediately behind in third, virtually glued to the Englishman’s gearbox as the leaders accelerated through the gears.
The top four positions remained unchanged for the remainder of the 38-lap race, with Veach controlling his pace and extending his advantage to over five seconds before cruising home to the finish.
Urrutia held off the attentions of Kaiser for second, but ultimately it wasn’t enough as Jones moved past Serralles to pick up the points he needed for the championship crown and crucial Mazda scholarship.
Team owner Trevor Carlin’s day was made complete by clinching the coveted Teams Championship by a 29-point margin, 413-384, over Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian.
The Racerviews Info
By Jim Fonseca September 2016
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