Much like USF2000, which saw Kyle Kirkwood clinch the title at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course a month ago, and Indy Lights, where Patricio O’Ward can secure the Pro Mazda Presented By Cooper Tire title at Gateway Motorsports Park this weekend. The chase for the $790,300 Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarship can be clinched at Gateway.
Five races ago, when the series took the green flag for a Sunday race at Road America, Parker Thompson held 48 point lead over 2017 USF2000 vice-champion Rinus VeeKay. Much like Patricio O’Ward in Indy Lights, VeeKay has won four of the last five races. Meanwhile, Thompson had a miserable trip home to Canada that began when he was taken out of the first race while running second and chasing VeeKay for first. A mediocre trip to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course puts Thompson on the brink of elimination.
If VeeKay extends his win streak to five, the Exclusive Autosport rookie will need to finish on the podium to push the championship to the Pacific Northwest next weekend at Portland International Raceway.
Thompson did score max points for the first oval race of the PM-18 era, the Cooper Tires Freedom 90 at Lucas Oil Raceway in May. The 20-year-old started on pole, led all 90 laps and had the quickest lap of the race (by a significant margin).
Dutchman VeeKay finished that race in fourth, over 10 seconds behind Thompson.
The 50% more points on offer (see chart below) for the Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires oval races this year provide a boost that both drivers could utilize. If VeeKay wins and Thompson finishes fourth, VeeKay clinches the title. If Thompson were to win and VeeKay finish fourth, Thompson would only trail by six points headed to next weekends finale.
Phew, got all that? Oh yeah, don’t forget that because of early-season issues with the Mazda 2.0L power plants, each driver’s worst points scoring result will be dropped.
A 10th place finish after contact in the second race at Toronto and a 12th place finish due to a mechanical issue in the Sunday’s race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course has left Carlos Cunha under attack for third place in the championship. The Juncos Racing sophomore has an impressive 11 podiums but is still looking for his first Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires victory. Could this be the weekend? The 19-year-old Brazilian finished third at Gateway last year and was a scant 0.2213 seconds behind Thompson in the first oval race of the season.
Nipping at the heals of Cunha both 20 points in arrears are Oliver Askew and David Malukas.
Outside of VeeKay, 2017 USF2000 champion Askew is the hottest driver in the series, scoring the second most points over the last five races, and moving from sixth in points to tie for fourth. The pilot of the Soul Red No. 8 lost spots in five of the first six races in 2018. But, beginning at Lucas Oil Raceway, the 21-year-old has gained spots in six of seven races. Askew has completed 99.7% of the 377 laps contested so far, the most of any Pro Mazda driver.
If you want to read more about Askew’s up and down season, check out Joey Barnes article on Motorsports Tribune —> Oliver Askew Taking Valuable Lessons from Rookie Pro Mazda Campaign
There is a good chance that 16-year-old BN Racing rookie David Malukas would already have overhauled Cunha for third place, but a mechanical failure in the final race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course cost him valuable points. Malukas only finished half of his first ever oval start at Lucas Oil Raceway, and completing all 55 scheduled laps in the Mazda St. Louis Pro Mazda Oval Challenge Presented by Cooper Tires.
With close battles in the top five, bonus points could play an essential role in deciding the champion. Three bonus points are available each race – one each for winning the pole, leading the most laps, and turning the fastest race lap.
Bonus points scored with three laps remaining in the 2018 Pro Mazda Presented By Cooper Tire season.
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With the absence of Harrison Scott and three straight podium finishes, Juncos Racing rookie pilot Robert Megennis has moved from eighth to sixth in the title chase. The New Yorker had a podium in the first oval race of the season, giving him a great shot of extending his podium streak.
Team Pelfrey sophomore Sting Ray Robb is only 14 points behind Megennis and is coming off one his best performances of the year a month ago at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Harrison Scott, who stepped out of the No. 10 RP Motorsport machine for the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course double-header returns to the Italian team for this weekends race at Gateway Motorsports Park. The 22-year-old had an impressive oval debut in May, starting sixth and moving to fourth before being taken out on Lap 45.
Returning to RP Motorsport for the second weekend of action is Mathias Soler-Obel, who finished 12th after starting 14th at his first ever oval race in USF2000 at Lucas Oil Raceway.
Moisés de la Vara is back for a second weekend with DEForce Racing. The Mexican driver started and finished tenth in his first Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires oval race in USF2000 at Iowa Speedway.
Nikia Lastochkin for Cape Motorsports and FatBoy Racing’s Charles Finelli round out the dozen car field.
Points available for the pair of Pro Mazda Presented By Cooper Tire oval races in 2018
The lone 30-minute practice session runs from 11:30 AM to Noon on Friday, with qualifying at 6:45 PM. The 55-lap race is scheduled to roll off at 3:45 PM.