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Mazda Road to Indy Crowns Three Champions at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca
Mazda Prototype Lites and Global Mazda MX-5 Cup Invitational round out Mazdapalooza field

Photo by TM Hill.

Race fans, officials and competitors alike were met with a thick marine layer at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca each morning of the Mazda Road to Indy. But, once the sun shone through, the all Mazda-powered championship open-wheel and sports car competition hit the track and all were witness to some of the most memorable racing of the year. A total of 82 drivers and 19 countries were represented during 12 races over the weekend in what some referred to as “Mazdapalooza.”

Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires
Sunday – After some aggressive passes on the opening lap by Zach Veach, there was little doubt about who would win today’s Mazda Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires race, but the outcome of the championship was rather less straightforward. Veach sped home to a controlled victory, his third of the season and series-high sixth for Belardi Auto Racing. Behind, with one lap remaining around the 2.238-mile Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca road course, Santiago “Santi” Urrutia 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 over Ed 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. Urrutia held off the attentions of Kaiser for second, but ultimately it wasn’t enough as Jones moved past teammate Felix Serralles to pick up the points he needed for the championship crown and crucial Mazda scholarship.

Saturday – Kyle Kaiser shrugged off any additional pressure from competing at his home track to score a convincing victory in Saturday’s Mazda Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Presented by Cooper Tires. The 20-year-old from Santa Clara, Calif., qualified on pole position then led throughout the 30-lap race to claim his second victory of the season for Juncos Racing. Dubai, UAE-based Englishman Ed Jones finished second for the Carlin team to reclaim the championship points lead from Uruguayan Santiago “Santi” Urrutia, who could manage only fifth for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian. Zach Veach, the winner one week ago at Watkins Glen International in upstate New York, rounded out the podium for Belardi Auto Racing.

Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tires
Sunday – This year’s Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires came to a dramatic conclusion today at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca as Aaron Telitz won the 16th and final round for Team Pelfrey to secure the title and a Mazda scholarship prize to graduate into Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the top tier of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, in 2017. Earlier this morning, Telitz and teammate Patricio “Pato” O’Ward clashed while disputing the lead, which allowed Argentinean rookie Nicolas Dapero through to claim an accomplished maiden victory for Juncos Racing ahead of teammate Will Owen and Nico Jamin (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing). The final encounter was less eventful as Telitz led from start to finish, with Owen and Dapero rounding out the podium. Telitz turned a series of consistently fast laps to clinch the title in the best possible manner, while O’Ward’s already slim hopes evaporated completely when he strayed off-course in the Corkscrew on lap 21, bending his car’s rear suspension. One lap later, a slight slip in Turn Two by Dapero allowed Owen to pounce into third place, which became second shortly thereafter as the hobbled O’Ward slipped down the order.

Saturday – O’Ward did exactly what he needed to do in Race 1 to keep alive his dream of winning this year’s Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. He out-fumbled Team Pelfrey teammate and championship leader Telitz at the start, dominated most of the race, then had to fight tooth and nail to secure victory following a full-course caution which ended with just one lap remaining.

Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda
Sunday – There were two distinct winners in this afternoon’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix of Monterey Powered by Mazda. Brazilian Victor Franzoni repeated his form from yesterday to dominate the final race of the season and ensure a clean sweep of the weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, while Australian Anthony Martin finished second to clinch the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda. Martin’s teammate and title rival Parker Thompson, from Red Deer, Alb., Canada, finished third. No one could hold a candle to Franzoni this weekend. He started on the pole for the second straight day, jumped immediately into the lead at the start and then controlled the race from the front. He posted what was to stand as the fastest lap of the race on his fourth trip around the challenging 2.238-mile road course to ensure a perfect score of 33 points for the second day in a row and cement his third position in the championship. Franzoni took the checkered flag a full 10.1026 seconds clear of Martin after 21 laps of green-flag racing.

Saturday – Victor Franzoni posted a perfect performance, winning the Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Monterey Powered by Mazda for ArmsUp Motorsports, but it wasn’t quite enough to keep alive his dream of winning this year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda. Instead the outcome would need to wait until Sunday’s 16th and final race between Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing teammates Anthony Martin and Parker Thompson.

Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires
The storylines were plentiful Sunday for Rounds 11 and 12 of Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires. Michael Whelden broke a 28-race win streak by JDC Motorsports dating back to August 2014. Austin Versteeg rebounded from a 13th-place Round 11 finish to claim his seventh win of the season. And Clark Toppe took the Lites 1 Championship points lead for the first time since being tied for first after Round 3 in early July.
Round 11 – Whelden had home-field advantage on his side as he claimed his first career Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires victory Sunday in Round 11 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Whelden, from Sausalito, drag-raced his way to victory over Clark Toppe by a mere .077 of a second in the No. 29 Extreme Speed Motorsports Élan DP02 chassis powered by a Mazda engine and racing on Cooper Tires. The win by Whelden ended JDC Motorsports’ win streak at 28 races, dating to August 2014. Andrew Novich, with Comprent Motor Sports, was the last non-JDC driver to win a Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires race. He won Round 10 of the 2014 season Aug. 10, 2014, at Road America.
ROUND 12 – Versteeg found the top step of the podium for the seventh time this season with a 4.037-second victory in the No. 7 JDC Motorsports entry over teammate Clark Toppe. The 1-2 finish was the duo’s sixth of the season and first since Round 7 in July at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Versteeg came into the weekend leading by a mere two points. Going into the third and final race of the weekend, he trailed Toppe by seven points. He now enters the final two races of the season – Sept. 28-30 at Road Atlanta – trailing by only five points, 202-197. Whelden followed his first series career win with a third-place finish in Round 12 at his home track in the No. 29 Extreme Speed Motorsports entry. The third-place finish completed the trifecta for the local driver. He finished on each step of the podium this weekend, second in Round 10, first in Round 11 and third in Round 12.

Global Mazda MX-5 Cup Invitational
Sunday – The final race of the inaugural Mazda MX-5 Cup Global Invitational was nothing short of thrilling. Nathanial Sparks, aka “Sparky,” added the biggest win to his growing racing resume. After winning the pole and finishing second in the first race of the weekend, Sparks was looking for the win today to secure the championship.  Sparks executed his strategy flawlessly after taking the lead early in the race. The combined finishes from both races means that Sparks is the inaugural Mazda MX-5 Cup Global Invitational champion. Sparks will now turn his focus back to closing out the 2016 Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires season where he is the current points-leader with two races remaining.