Following a break of nearly a month, all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy return to action this weekend with doubleheader races on the iconic Road America permanent road course in east central Wisconsin as the undercard for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ KOHLER Grand Prix.
The hectic weekend kicks off the second half of the season for all three MRTI series. Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires will contest a race each on Saturday and Sunday, while the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda both have scheduled a grueling doubleheader on Saturday.
Indy Lights hasn’t competed at Road America since 1990, when Paul Tracy was victorious on his way to the championship and before he went on to collect 31 Indy car wins and one title.
Carlin’s Ed Jones is the current Indy Lights championship leader on the strength of two wins in the first eight races. He holds a 29-point lead over Andretti Autosport’s Dean Stoneman, who also boasts two victories.
Jones, a native of Dubai in his second Indy Lights season following four years in European developmental open-wheel series, likens the 4.048-mile Road America circuit to Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. He was one of numerous Indy Lights drivers to test at Road America in May.
“It’s very challenging and I really enjoy that,” Jones said. “It’s one of my favorites here. With the flowing, high-speed corners and heavy braking zones, it has a good mixture of everything. I think the racing will be very good, especially since the long straights should create more opportunities for passing.”
Two drivers will be making their Indy Lights debuts at Road America. Garett Grist moves up from Pro Mazda with Team Pelfrey and James French of nearby Sheboygan, Wis., debuts with Belardi Auto Racing.
O’Ward looking to keep rolling in Pro Mazda
The last time Pro Mazda raced at Road America was in 2010. The winner that day was Conor Daly, who now drives for Dale Coyne Racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Pato O’Ward has taken an impressive stranglehold on the 2016 championship. The 17-year-old native of Monterrey, Mexico, has won six of the first seven races and is looking to equal Matt Brabham’s record of seven wins in the first eight races in 2013.
O’Ward’s biggest threat remains his Team Pelfrey teammate, Aaron Telitz, who has been the only other driver to win this season. Telitz has the “home-field advantage” this weekend since he was born in Rice Lake, Wis., and lives in Birchwood, Wis.
“Road America really is a special place for me,” Telitz said. “This was where I had my first experience in a race car, at the three-day Skip Barber Racing School, my first race and my first race win.
“I’ve never had a ‘home’ race on the Mazda Road to Indy before, so this is going to be exciting. Pretty much my entire extended family will be there, plus friends from Birchwood. I have a lot of friends from college in Eau Claire coming down and camping out, so it will be a huge event for me.”
TJ Fischer moves up from USF2000 this weekend to make his Pro Mazda debut as a third Team Pelfrey entry.
Cape Motorsports takes five-race win streak to Road America
USF2000 conducted a tripleheader weekend at Road America in 2012, with Brabham winning two races and Scott Anderson the third. Brabham made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut in May at the two Indianapolis races.
Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing teammates Parker Thompson and Anthony Martin have won the last five USF2000 races this season and are poised to lead the Cape to its fifth consecutive team championship and sixth consecutive driver’s title.
Thompson, of Red Deer, Alberta, has been a mark of consistency, starting on the front row in all seven rounds, winning three races and only once finishing outside the top four. Martin, from Kalgoorlie, Australia, has six top-five finishes and two wins.
There are some local Wisconsin connections this weekend. Pabst Racing (from Oconomowoc) teammates Jordan Lloyd and Yufeng Luo are the only other drivers to score victories to date this season. ArmsUp Motorsports (Sheboygan Falls) fields Max Hanratty, who was born in Hartland, Wis., and resides in Milwaukee. He is also a shareholder and season-ticket holder for the Green Bay Packers.
All MRTI sessions will stream live this weekend on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. Sunday’s Indy Lights race will also air on a delay basis at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.