Pirelli World Challenge/Mazda Road to Indy: Day Two

Photo by BobHeathcote.com

It was a packed scheduled for Day 2 of the Pirelli World Challenge/Mazda Road to Indy weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The Mazda Road to Indy kicked things off first thing in the morning with qualifying for the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires and then Race No. 1 of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda. The Pirelli World Challenge followed with qualifying for the four GT classes (GT/GTA/GT Cup/GTS) and the Race No. 1 for TC/TCA/TCB. The first of two races in Pro Mazda and Indy Lights capped off the afternoon of activities. 

Mazda Road to Indy
Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires
Race No. 1

An assured victory by Spencer Pigot in today’s Indy Lights Grand Prix Presented by Cooper Tires at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca ensured that the outcome of this year’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires title-chase will remain undecided until tomorrow afternoon’s 16th and final race. 

Pigot, who won the 2014 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, took the lead for Juncos Racing on Lap 3 after polesitter Max Chilton (Carlin) clipped the tire stack at the apex of the Corkscrew. 
 Pigot, 21, from Orlando, Fla., led the remainder of the 30-lap race to record his series leading fifth victory of the season and turn a six-point deficit into an eight-point advantage over erstwhile championship leader Jack Harvey, who finished a distant fifth for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian.

Kyle Kaiser, from Santa Clara, Calif., finished second in front of his home crowd, shadowing Juncos Racing teammate Pigot virtually from start to finish, while Englishman Ed Jones (Carlin) kept his own championship aspirations alive after finishing third. 

Jones’ countryman and teammate, Chilton, set off confidently in the lead after snaring his second pole of the season, but his fate was sealed by a minor miscue when he clipped the mound of tires marking the apex of the famed Corkscrew turn. The impact damaged a valve stem on the left-rear tire, forcing Chilton to head for the pit lane. He rejoined at the back of the field and turned a series of fast laps but could only recover to 11th by the finish. 

Kaiser, who qualified second, slid a little wide at the apex of Turn Two on the opening lap which allowed Pigot to slip through into second place. Kaiser regained the position following Chilton’s error to secure his best Indy Lights finish. 

Jones ran third, just a second or so behind the two leaders, and remained under pressure for the entire race from Sean Rayhall (8Star Motorsports), who once again impressed as he posted the fastest lap of the race en route to a fourth-place finish.

Felix Serralles made a fine start for Belardi Auto Racing, jumping from seventh to fourth in the early stages before losing a position to Rayhall. The Milwaukee race winner looked set for fifth until a stuck throttle caused him to spear off the road in Turn Six with just four laps remaining. Serralles’ misfortune allowed Harvey to claim fifth, despite struggling with the balance of his Racing Steps Foundation Dallara-Mazda. There was a modicum of solace for the Schmidt Peterson team, which clinched its second successive Team Championship with one race remaining.

In the drivers’ standings, Pigot now holds an eight-point lead over Harvey, 326-318, heading into tomorrow’s 16th and final race of the season, which will start at 2:50 p.m. PDT. Jones lies a further 13 points adrift.

Max Chilton of Carlin set the pace in qualifying by breaking Tony Kanaan’s 18-year-old record with a lap of 1:14.2329 minutes. He placed 11th after clipping a tire barrier early in the race.

Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires
Race No. 1

Garett Grist scored an accomplished victory for Juncos Racing in this afternoon’s Allied Building Products Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Monterey at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, but a second-place finish for Team Pelfrey’s Santiago “Santi” Urrutia was enough to clinch the season-long Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. The gifted Uruguayan thereby guaranteed himself a $590,000 Mazda Scholarship prize to assist in his graduation to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the final rung on the Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel development ladder, in 2016.

Grist, who left it until the final moments of qualifying to clinch the pole position for the penultimate round of the 16-race championship, was much more assertive during this afternoon’s 30-minute race. After a collision among the midfield contenders prior to the green flag ensured that the first four laps were run under caution, Grist took off into the lead and quickly established an appreciable advantage over Juncos Racing teammate Will Owen, who jumped from third on the grid to second. Urrutia slotted into third place ahead of his closest championship rival, Neil Alberico (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing). As Grist made his escape at the front, also posting the fastest lap of the race on Lap 9, Owen allowed both Urrutia and Alberico to move past on Lap 5 before slotting into fourth place and commencing a race-long battle with teammate Jose Gutierrez.

At that stage, the championship already seemed to be securely in Urrutia’s hands, having claimed the provisional pole position for tomorrow’s final race by virtue of setting the best of each drivers’ second-fastest laps during qualifying. The accompanying bonus point ensured he would have a 33-point margin over Alberico if their positions remained unaltered in the closing stages. Ultimately, though, that became moot when, just two laps from the finish, Alberico spun at the exit of the Corkscrew. His failure to finish ensured that the title was Urrutia’s – 16 years and one day after his countryman and boyhood hero Gonzalo Rodriguez tragically lost his life at Mazda Raceway following an accident during practice for an IndyCar event on September 11, 1999.

Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda
Race No. 1

Nico Jamin secured the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda title – and a Mazda scholarship prize valued at over $380,000 – in style this morning at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

The talented 19-year-old from Rouen, France, romped to a dominant victory for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, his ninth of the season and fifth in succession in the first of two races that comprise this weekend’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix Powered by Mazda. Australian rookie Anthony Martin finished second for the third time this season for John Cummiskey Racing, and in the process clinched top rookie honors. Jake Eidson finished third for Pabst Racing but it wasn’t enough to keep his slim championship aspirations alive going into tomorrow’s season finale.

Jamin, who has been the class of the field in 2015, made his intentions clear yesterday afternoon by snagging his 12th pole of the season, breaking the record established by 2010 series champion and current Verizon IndyCar Series driver Sage Karam. Even more remarkably, it was Jamin’s 11th consecutive pole. He also broke the record for most podiums in a season at 14 besting the record set by J.R. Hildebrand in 2006. Jamin duly checked out at the start, completing the first lap of the 2.238-mile road course a full 1.7 seconds clear of Cape Motorsports teammate Aaron Telitz. Jamin never looked back en route to a comfortable victory.

Pirelli World Challenge
GT Qualifying

GT/GTA/GT Cup – Alessandro PierGuidi, of Tortona, Italy, qualified for the GT pole for Round 20 at the Pirelli World Challenge Grand Prix of Monterey at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca presented by Cadillac. PierGuidi, in the No. 30 Ferrari 458 GT3 Italia, ran a fast lap of 1:23.734 minutes.

In GTA, Eric Lux, of Buffalo, N.Y., captured the pole position while Doylestown, Penn.’s Colin Thompson secured the top spot in GT Cup presented by MOMO for Round 18 of the Championship.

GTS – Jack Baldwin, of Marietta, Ga., ran the fastest lap to secure the pole position during Saturday morning’s GTS qualifying session at the Pirelli World Challenge Grand Prix of Monterey at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca presented by Cadillac. Kris Wilson of Monument, Colo., and Ben Clucas, of London, England, will start second and third on the grid. Baldwin piloted the No. 73 GTSport Racing/Umphrey’s McGee Porsche Cayman S to the top spot with a lap of 1:31.279 minutes. It’s Baldwin’s sixth pole of the season.

Race No. 2

Corey Fergus, of Columbus, Ohio, scored the Round 17 TC win at the Pirelli World Challenge Grand Prix of Monterey at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca presented by Cadillac. Tallahassee, Fla.’s Paul Holton captured the TCA win while Joey Jordan of Fallbrook, Calif., took home the winner’s trophy in TCB — his second consecutive win of the weekend.

The 40-minute race began under mostly cloudy, 70-degree conditions with a standing start that led to an almost immediate full-course yellow when John Weisberg of Webster, N.Y., stalled the No. 50 REDCOM Laboratories/Red Line Berg Racing Mazda MX-5 on the grid. Before the yellow flag flew, polesitter Adam Poland, of Mt. Vernon, Texas, in the No. 33 Edge Addicts/Majestic Pet EASTEX Motorsports Mazda MX-5 launched cleanly to take the lead through turn 1 over second-on-the-grid Fergus in the No. 00 USLED/Axis Roofing/AERO/RSS/Motul Motorsports Promotions Porsche Cayman.

The race restarted to commence lap 2 with Poland getting passed by both Fergus, and Salt Lake City, Utah’s Vesko Kozarov in the No. 3 Nissan/Skullcandy/Stance Skullcandy Team Nissan Nissan Altima through turn 2. Poland then was passed by Ernie Francis, Jr., of Davie, Fla., in the No. 98 Breathless Racing/Time4Learning Mazda MX-5 and momentarily dropped back to fourth, only to repass for third at the corkscrew. The battle heated up on lap 15 when Francis, Jr. passed Fergus through turn 9 and held the lead briefly; Fergus repassed Francis, Jr. in traffic in turn 2 of the next lap and the pair engaged in a heated battle for first through the next number of laps. Francis, Jr. attempted the pass-for-lead several times but could not execute and Fergus defended deftly for his third win of the season.

Local Military Members Sing National Anthem

Today’s singing of the national anthem was done beautifully by Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician Interpretive Ariana Ramirez and Air Force Master Sergeant Corey Smith. They were at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, along with many other local members of the United States military, as part of the raceway’s annual Military Appreciation Day. Personnel from Naval Support Activity Monterey, Army Presidio of Monterey, Defense Language Institute, and Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Coast Guard Station Monterey, among others, took part in special activities and enjoyed all  the racing action. 

Race Fans Get to Meet Their Heroes at Autograph Sessions

Race fans of all ages got not one but two chances this afternoon to meet and get autographs from the drivers of the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda. Temperatures had dropped dramatically from the previous couple of days so a great crowd turned out to meet the heroes.