Mid-Ohio weekend again plays big role in title pictures

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Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course has played an integral role in recent years in determining the direction of the three championships in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires development ladder.

Whether the results of the races at the permanent road course in Lexington, Ohio, last weekend have the same effect remains to be seen, but the title chase in each series is a little tighter following the action. Here’s a look at each of the three MRTI levels and how the Mid-Ohio weekend has shaped the championship picture this season and in years past.

Kyle KaiserIndy Lights presented by Cooper Tires

Kyle Kaiser went to Mid-Ohio with a championship lead that seemed nearly unassailable. Coming off a doubleheader victory sweep in Toronto, the Juncos Racing driver led Matheus Leist of Carlin by 51 points.

However, following a pair of 12th-place finishes for Kaiser at Mid-Ohio, Colton Herta (Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing) and Santiago Urrutia (Belardi Auto Racing) each closed within 42 points with two races remaining (one at Gateway Motorsports Park on Aug. 25-26 and the other at Watkins Glen International from Sept. 1-3).

“Obviously, this wasn’t the weekend we were hoping for,” Kaiser (shown at right) said. “We struggled for pace in the qualifying sessions and races. Fortunately, we’ve built up a big buffer throughout the season in case we had a rough race weekend like this.

“Our next step is to look ahead to Gateway and get back to our strong performances that got us to where we currently are in the championship.”

If he leaves Gateway with a lead of 34 points or more, Kaiser will clinch the title and the nearly $1 million Mazda scholarship to advance to the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2018.

A year ago, Ed Jones led the standings going into Mid-Ohio, but Urrutia swept the weekend to take the points lead. Jones rallied to win the title by two points in the season finale weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Jack Harvey had an 18-point lead over Spencer Pigot before Mid-Ohio in 2015. Pigot cut the deficit to six points at Mid-Ohio before sweep the Laguna Seca doubleheader finale to win the championship by 27 points.

Harvey also suffered heartbreak a year earlier. The Brit swept both Mid-Ohio races in 2014 and earned maximum points, but he would eventually lose the Indy Lights championship to Gabby Chaves on a tiebreaker for most second-place finishes after the pair tied in points and victories.

Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires

Victor Franzoni (Juncos Racing) and Anthony Martin (Cape Motorsports) have been waging a war of wins in 2017 and, between them, swept three races at Mid-Ohio. Martin took two victories and Franzoni one. Martin exited Mid-Ohio with a four-point advantage with three remaining races (one at Gateway and two at Watkins Glen).

“The weekend went OK for us, but Mid-Ohio is just not my track,” said Franzoni. “I haven’t done well here in the past. We earned two second-place finishes and one win, which puts us second in the championship by only a few points.

“I am really excited for the next race on the (Gateway) oval.”

Last year at Mid-Ohio, Aaron Telitz scored second- and third-place finishes to take the Pro Mazda points lead from Team Pelfrey teammate Pato O’Ward, who had dominated the early part of the season. Telitz went on to win the championship, earn the Mazda scholarship and move up to Indy Lights this season.

In 2015, Urrutia turned around a slide of four non-podium finishes with a win and a third to strengthen his points lead while two of his major championship rivals finished off the podium. Urrutia won the Pro Mazda title that year.

Pigot’s Pro Mazda points lead over Scott Hargrove in 2014 shrank to 14 points at Mid-Ohio, but the Floridian rebounded to win the title in a thrilling decider that kept his career moving forward. Pigot now drives for Ed Carpenter Racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Oliver AskewCooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda

Oliver Askew (Cape Motorsports, shown at right) had a dominating start to the 2017 USF2000 season, with five wins in the first six races. Heading to Mid-Ohio, a pair of podiums might have put the championship out of reach. However, a 10-point penalty for a driving infraction in the first race and a fourth-place finish in Race 2 means Rinus VeeKay (Pabst Racing) is but 13 points behind with a single race remaining at Watkins Glen.

“I have less to lose than Oliver, so I’m just going for it like every race,” VeeKay said. “My preparation has to be very good and I’ve just got to give everything (at Watkins Glen) and hopefully have more luck than Oliver there and we can get the USF2000 championship and the (Mazda) scholarship home.”

Cape Motorsports teammates Parker Thompson and Martin were on top of the 2016 USF2000 championship standings heading to Mid-Ohio, with Thompson leading by 20 points. Martin won all three races for a decisive weekend that turned the championship in his favor.

Final 7 For MRTI

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