Oliver Askew (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) and Victor Franzoni (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) completed weekend sweeps from pole in the second of two races for each of the first two rungs on the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder, as part of the Mazda Road to Indy Grand Prix Presented by Royal Purple Supporting the Lupus Foundation of America weekend at the 2.439-mile, Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Like yesterday, a scattered and somewhat chaotic race for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda produced a similar result at the top of the standings: Oliver Askew has won once again.
Askew has completed his second consecutive weekend sweep and has now won five races in a row to kick off the season, driving the No. 3 Soul Red Tatuus USF-17 Mazda for Cape Motorsports.
This win today was another flag-to-flag victory in the 17-lap, 30-minute race from pole position, although behind him, there was a lot of action.
A multiple car accident on the first lap of the race took out drivers Colin Kaminsky (John Cummiskey Racing) and Dev Gore (Exclusive Autosport), while Kris Wright (JCR), Bruna Tomaselli (ArmsUp Motorsports) and Ricky Donison (Cape) were also collected in the mess, but continued.
That put the race under the first of two full course cautions with Askew then launching nicely from the restart on Lap 4.
Team Pelfrey’s Kaylen Frederick had fallen from second to third on the initial start behind Pabst Racing’s Rinus VeeKay and fell further back on the subsequent restart, out of the top-five down to as low as seventh.
Askew extended the gap over VeeKay to more than three-plus seconds over the 10-plus lap middle stint of the race before his lead evaporated when two different drivers who impressed on Friday had problems.
Pabst Racing rookie Calvin Ming of Guyana, who banked his first podium of USF2000 with third, which became second after Frederick’s disqualification, dropped off pace on Lap 13. Then two laps later, trouble struck Callan O’Keeffe, the South African rookie from Team BENIK, as he slowed to a halt at the inside of Turn 7 and needed to get pushed off course.
It briefly slowed the field for a quick one-lap full-course caution, where the pace car wasn’t even deployed and Askew was left to play pace car driver on his own, and it also wiped out a three-plus second lead.
Askew led from VeeKay, Newman Wachs Racing’s Dakota Dickerson, Pelfrey’s Robert Megennis and Frederick in the top five, with DE Force Racing’s Kory Enders, Exclusive Autosport teammates Parker Thompson and Luke Gabin, Donison – who’d recovered 10 positions from the first lap incident – and Pabst’s Lucas Kohl in the top 10 at the restart.
The green and white flags came out simultaneously for a one-lap shootout as the race was up against the 30-minute time clock.
It got a bit nutty from there as Megennis got a monster tow on Dickerson into Turn 1, before the two collided when battling over the final podium position at Turn 2, and ultimately both fell down the order.
Askew won from VeeKay by 1.2488 seconds, with VeeKay back on the podium for the fourth time this season.
Frederick was the beneficiary of the Megennis/Dickerson battle to advance into third, with Thompson and Enders completing the unofficial top-five finishers. For Enders, the fifth place finish is the first top-five in USF2000 for the rapidly improving DE Force team in its maiden season.
Gabin improved to sixth, a great result after starting 16th, ahead of Megennis, Donison, Kohl and Dickerson in the top 10.
As a result of the Team Pelfrey disqualification – more from TSO Ladder on that here – it changed the points standings even further in Askew’s favor after Friday’s race.
It was unofficially a 42-point lead from Askew to Frederick (155 to 113), but the points elimination for Frederick meant Askew entered today with a 52-point lead over VeeKay (155-103). Frederick was third with 88 points and Megennis sixth with 68 after the points were taken away heading into the day.
That lead only grows with today’s result, as Askew’s first three months in the series have been nothing short of staggering.
It’s worth noting that Askew’s driver coach – Jonatan Jorge – is not here this weekend as he’s supporting other drivers at the European Le Mans Series weekend in Monza. But Askew and Jorge, who runs JJRD, Inc., have stayed in constant contact throughout the weekend via phone. The Team USA Scholarship winner also said the track conditions were more consistent this weekend compared to the first two weekends in St. Petersburg and Birmingham; here, there is only open-wheel rubber present whereas there was sports car rubber present at those two. Askew’s restarts have been exemplary thus far this year and that’s been a big credit to his success; he said today, he had to perform another “mind trick” to prepare himself for the one-lap shootout.
Askew also praised Donison’s weekend performance, in what was the best weekend thus far for both Cape drivers. Donison could have started second on Friday but was bumped back to third after Frederick was reinstated to second after a penalty was rescinded. Then he was bumped up to third after Frederick was disqualified after the race; and that made it quirky where the Indian driver’s first career USF2000 podium was one where he did not actually get to stand on the podium. Donison’s day saw him start fourth, to being caught up in the first lap incident and fall to 19th, to finishing eighth unofficially.
A similar driver with a yo-yo day was Frederick, who felt he may have had contact on the opening couple laps, which dropped him back. But while he was unfortunate early he was smart late; opting to hold back as Megennis and Dickerson battled over third, and then snaking through to the podium once they made contact. Frederick said weekends like this one where items happen outside his control are character-building ones.
VeeKay was happy to be back on the podium after a difficult first race on Friday when he finished sixth. He and the entire Pabst team had a good weekend. Ming was second on Friday and Kohl, in ninth today, had his first top-10 finish of the season.
The next weekend for USF2000 is at Road America, the end of June, after about a month-and-a-half break.
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Some races in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires are more exciting than others, and the second Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires race of the weekend falls into the “others” department.
Not that Victor Franzoni minded it, following an authoritative romp to his second win to complete a dominant stretch from start-to-finish all weekend on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Franzoni, who drives for Juncos Racing, avoided the same pitfall as Friday when he had a slow start and dropped to fourth place.
But having made it through Turns 1 and 2 without losing any positions and after fending off the challenge from Team Pelfrey drivers TJ Fischer and Carlos Cunha behind him, Franzoni promptly checked out from there.
Gaining anywhere from four to eight or nine tenths of a second per lap, Franzoni ultimately stretched the gap to a final margin of victory of 13.0798 seconds over Fischer in the 29-lap, 40-minute race.
The result also moves Franzoni into the points lead over Anthony Martin, with the Australian driver finishing off the podium for the first time this season in fourth at Cape Motorsports. Franzoni has two wins and two seconds, while Martin has two wins, a second and a fourth.
The top six drivers all finished in the same order as they started. Franzoni won from Fischer, in a career-best second place after three straight third places to start the year. In third was Cunha, with the Brazilian teenager securing his first career Pro Mazda podium.
Martin was fourth, one spot ahead the third member of Team Pelfrey, Los Angeles-based Russian Nikita Lastochkin and the first World Speed Motorsports driver, Phillippe Denes.
After the race Franzoni said that without a headwind facing him on the front straight, and after his start mistake yesterday, he was determined to not make the same mistake again. It’s been a whirlwind start to the year for him as he went from not having a ride to then only sorting a deal with Juncos just before St. Petersburg after the potential of a USF2000 ride was there, but now he feels fully part of the Juncos family after their best weekend together. Franzoni credited the team’s test in October for the performance baseline ahead of this weekend.
Fischer is now through a full year of circuits in Pro Mazda, as this weekend last year was his final one in USF2000 before he stepped up to Pro Mazda. Fischer credited his driver coach, Chuck West, and Pelfrey engineer Rick Cameron for his improvement and growth, and like Franzoni has four podiums in as many races.
Cunha was over the moon both with his first podium and with racing at Indianapolis. His eyes lit up in talking about the weekend, and this result fulfills his early season promise that has had pace but not yet results.
The next weekend for Pro Mazda is at Road America, the end of June, after about a month-and-a-half break.
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