By Steve Wittich
The Cooper Tires Pro Mazda Mid-Ohio Grand Prix Saturday/Sunday double-dip will be the 16th and 17th times that the Pro Mazda Presented By Cooper Tire (formerly known as Star Mazda) series will race on the 2.258-Mile, 13-Turn Road Course.
The first race in 2002 was won by Guy Cosmo, who finished ahead of Justin Pruskowski (2nd), Scott Speed (3rd) and 28 other Mazda powered machines.
Over the past three season, it’s been Cape Motorsports drivers that have been dominant, winning five of seven races and leading 137 of 161 possible laps. Over that same three year span Cape Motorsports, Juncos Racing, and Team Pelfrey have split podiums equally – each collecting a lucky seven.
Championship winners who also won at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course include:
Victor Franzoni (2017)
Santi Urrutia (2015)
Matthew Brabham (2013)
Rafa Matos (2005)
Michael McDowell (2004)
Guy Cosmo (2002)
BN Racing’s David Malukas led the 11 drivers that took part in a two-day series test at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course last week, but it wasn’t by much. The top five times were within two-tenths of a second Malukas top lap of 75.8655 seconds. Included in that list were: Santi Urrutia, who was helping out Team Pelfrey by testing – points leader Parker Thompson, Carlos Cunha and Sting Ray Robb. Rinus VeeKay, who trails Thompson by a scant seven points turned in the sixth quickest time, a half-second shy of the BN Racing rookie.
How things can change in 24 hours. After a run of nine straight top-five finishes to start the season, rookie Parker Thompson was bound to run into some bad luck. Unfortunately for the Canadian, it corresponded with his closest championship competitor’s strongest weekend.
Thompson began Saturday’s Pro Mazda race on the streets of Toronto with a 46 point lead over VeeKay and after two forgettable races in a 24-hour span, left Sunday’s second race holding onto a seven-point edge in the chase for the Mazda Motorsports Advancement scholarship and a seat in the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires series in 2019.
Thompson will be making his 9th, and 10th Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires starts at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. His results include a win, three 2nd place finishes, two 4th, a 5th and a 17th.
VeeKay will be making his 3rd and 4th start in Central Ohio finishing on the podium in both races one year ago.
Thompson was able to cross the finish line ahead of VeeKay in their head-to-head races in USF2000 in 2017.
VeeKay wasn’t the only Juncos Racing driver to make inroads into Thompson’s lead. Carlos Cunha enters the final five-race stretch 39 points behind the Canadian points leader.
The Brazilian suffered his first DNF due to contact in 23 career Pro Mazda starts, also ending an impressive streak of 20 races in which he was still running at the end. But, the 18-year-old is heading to a track where he scored his first Pro Mazda pole and a pair of podium finishes last year. Cunha ended the recent test with the fourth quickest lap time, only 0.15 seconds off of the fastest lap time.
Malukas has had a rookie Pro Mazda season full of ups and downs. But, after a pair of wins in the previous round at Road America, rebounding from a five-point penalty, a couple of DNFs due to contact and losing ground to the points leader will test the mettle of 16-year-old. The Chicago, Ill. led testing at the circuit last week and has a pair of solid sixth place USF2000 finishes last year to build a foundation for a bounce-back weekend.
Reigning USF2000 champion Oliver Askew was the second biggest winner of the Canadian doubleheader. The 21-year-old finished 4th and 2nd and had the quickest lap of the race on Sunday. More importantly, Askew showed that he could be aggressive when it was warranted, making many highlight reel passes during Sunday’s race.
Unfortunately, budget issues kept Askew from participating in the open test last week, but hopefully, the momentum from Toronto will continue to build, and the Jupiter, Fla. resident will fight for wins.
Sting Ray Robb, Robert Megennis, and Nikia Lastochkin are engaged in an entertaining battle for the seventh spot on the points table. Only 13 points separate the trio of drivers representing three different teams.
Robb has gone four races without a top five and has likely not had the sophomore season that he wanted. It’s easy to forget that Robb is only 16-years-old and that the maturity he has shown through some tough results is a sign of a mature driver. Robb had two solid races last year at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, had more pace than his results indicated in Toronto, and was less than three-tenths from the top time in testing last week.
Megennis who is coming off a masterful display of defending and a podium in Toronto has scored 16 and 15 more points then Robb and Lastochkin, respectively over the past five races.
Lastochkin is coming off what could be considered his best Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires race weekend. The Russian finished 5th and 4th and bagged the 2nd and 6th quickest races laps. Impressive stuff in a very deep field.
Andres Gutierrez, who is driving the second Team Pelfrey Mazda/Tatuus PM-18, is returning to the track where he made his Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires debut last year in USF2000. The impressive debut weekend for the 17-year-old included a pair of top 10 finishes. The Mexican driver is clearly more comfortable on natural terrain road courses, and is due for a breakout weekend.
Last, but certainly not least is Fatboy Racing! pilot Charles Finelli. The New Yorker kept his nose clean and had two impressive sixth-place finishes in Toronto. Bravo!
The big mo
After a pair of wins in the season-opening races, VeeKay grabbed the early momentum, but the “mo” swung back Thompson’s way during a scorching “Month of May.” The positive energy started to inch a little towards Malukas and Scott at Road America but made a big move back towards VeeKay with his two wins in Canada.
VeeKay has outscored Thompson by 15 points over the past five races.
Pro Mazda points scored over the last five races
|9||Sting Ray Robb||72|
Now, let’s look at a stat that favors Thompson.
With four of the final five Pro Mazda Presented By Cooper Tire races taking place on natural terrain road courses, now would be a great time to see how our contenders stack up. The series has contested six races (two each at Barber Motorsports Park, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Road America) on natural terrain road courses. So far, Parker Thompson has a slight advantage over Harrison Scott, who will be missing this weekend’s action (see below) and double Road America winner David Malukas.
Championship leader Thompson has outscored his closest competitor VeeKay by 46 points over the course of those six races.
Points scored in the first six Pro Mazda natural terrain road courses.
|8||Sting Ray Robb||75|
Replacing Harrison Scott at RP Motorsport in the No. 10 this weekend will be highly touted Brazilian Felipe Drugovich. The 18-year-old has won seven of the first eight Euroformula Open Championship races to take a commanding lead in that series.
Drugovich won 10 of the 16 races in the MRF Challenge – Formula 2000 during the offseason, a series that featured Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires drivers Rinus VeeKay, Robert Megennis and Danial Frost.
Drugovich spent the past two years in the highly competitive ADAC Formel 4 (German Formula 4) series where he collected six wins on the way to a third-place finish in 2017.
Scott’s departure was a little surprising given this tweet a few days ago.
We were in touch with a spokesperson for the reigning Euroformula Open champion, and they confirmed that Scott was ready to race this weekend, and will be prepared to step back into the car for the Italian team for the final rounds at Gateway Motorsports Park and Portland International Raceway.
The second RP Motorsport entry, the No. 27, will have it’s third different driver this season. Mathias Soler-Obel is making the step up from USF2000 after starting the season with the family-run Sol.O Racing. The Colombian born, Atlanta, Ga. based driver test with the team last week and was on pace with the rest of the Pro Mazda field.
Lodovico Laurini started the season in the No. 27 before handing off to Raul Guzman for the two rounds at Road America and Toronto. The Mexican finished on the podium in Race #1 on Saturday but had a massive shunt in Race #2 on Sunday.
Moisés de la Vara makes his return to the Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires with DEForce Racing. The 20-year-old Mexican was part of the team’s inaugural USF2000 season and just wrapped up the FIA Fórmula 4 Nacam Championship, where nine wins and 16 podiums earned him the championship.
Past Pro Mazda winners at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
|9||Sting Ray Robb||72|
Pro Mazda Presented By Cooper Tire weekend schedule
- 10:20AM – 10:45AM – Pro Mazda Practice #1
- 2PM – 2:20PM – Pro Mazda Qualifying #1
- 11AM – 11:20AM – Pro Mazda Qualifying #2
- 4:10PM – 4:50PM – Pro Mazda Race #1
- 11:05AM – 11:55AM – Pro Mazda Race #2