MRTI – Pro Mazda and Indy Lights Championships Take Shape at Milwaukee

The Mazda Road to Indy teams, at least the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Firestone Indy Lights Series portions of it, did battle last weekend at the oldest active racing venue in the world, the Milwaukee Mile. Traditionally, the Pro Mazda and Indy Lights races at the Mile have usually been processional affairs, but there was more racing action and passes this year than there’s been in a while. On Episode 192 of the OpenPaddock.net Podcast, we had eluded to fact that, especially in Indy Light, the talent level was deep enough that we could see another exciting race like we saw at Indianapolis, albeit probably without the four-wide finish.

Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires

Photo courtesy of the Pro Mazda ChampionshipThe Pro Mazda events usually see a diminishment of participation on the ovals. Let’s face it, racing is expensive enough, and a mistake on an oval is typically a LOT more costly than a mistake on a road course. Because of this, many of the teams and drivers further back in the championship standings often view the ovals as an unnecessary risk. The Pro Mazda series this season is already hurting for cars, but this past weekend the entry list held only 10 cars. Matthew Brabham made a clean sweep of the weekend by being fastest in each of the two practice sessions, starting on pole with a new track record qualifying time, leading every race lap, and setting the fast lap of the race, which by the way was also a new track record for fastest race lap.

Photo courtesy of the Pro Mazda Championship“This is the longest race we’ve done all year. Basically we made sure we could last the whole race. We had a great car; the team’s work has been absolutely phenomenal all year. The car has been good everywhere we’ve been, so I can’t thank those guys enough. They’re working really hard, and it’s all falling into place for us. The race was pretty interesting. It was weird, not knowing what to expect since we hadn’t run a race that long before, and it was even more difficult with this place being relatively hard on the tires because we’re riding on the edge all the way around. But, we managed, and thankfully the Cooper tires held up, and it was a great race for me.” — Matthew Brabham, #83 Andretti Autosport

His nearest championship competitor, Juncos Racing’s Diego Ferreira, continued to struggle on the ovals. He finished in 6th at Lucas Oil Raceway, and he finished 6th again at Milwaukee after starting in 8th position. Finishing well back in the order, and more importantly down low in the points, while Brabham continues to pile up wins is making Diego’s work on the remaining road courses that finish out the 2013 season much more difficult.

“I think it wasn’t a bad finish for the ovals of the season,” said Ferreira. “It was a long race and I am just happy to be done with the ovals and move onto the road and street courses for the remainder of the season. I am ready to be back on the podium and gain more points for the championship. I have to say thanks to my team, spotter, and sponsors.” — Diego Ferreira, #57 Juncos Racing.

Brabham’s decisive victory in Milwaukee puts him well in front in the championship, leading Ferreira 184 points to 135. It will take a sequence of unfortunate events for Brabham to lose that lead, but keep in mind that the next race for the Pro Mazda drivers will be on the challenging Streets of Toronto July 12-14. Bad things have been known to happen on those fast, but very tight streets.

Firestone Indy Lights

The Indy Lights series is struggling right now, not for talent, but for participants. The drivers we have in the series are top notch, but sadly, there were only eight of them committed to doing battle at the Milwaukee Mile last weekend. Qualifying went very well for two former teammates, now arch rivals, Sage Karam and Zach Veach. Zach, driving the #12 for Andretti Autosport, had his best qualifying effort in Firestone Indy Lights starting the Milwaukee 100 on the front row in P2. Schmidt Peterson Motorsport’s Sage Karam, driving his #8 Comfort Revolution/Michael Fux machine, earned his second consecutive pole of the year.

“A big thanks to the K12 guys, they’ve been working so hard for us the whole season. We came here and tested about a week ago and that didn’t really go the way we wanted to – I had a couple rookie mistakes. To come back and rebound and be on our first front row in Milwaukee where we gained our first pole in 2011, it’s a really good feeling. We have a lot of work to do for tomorrow, but we’ll go back and study what we need to tonight. I want to thank my engineer, my crew guys, K12 and Andretti Autosport for making this all possible.” — Zach Veach, #12 Andretti Autosport

On the race start, Veach got a huge jump on the field, something Karam felt was foul of the regulations and said as much post-race. Zach ran well ahead of the field for a nearly half of the race until Sage caught him up and passed him on the exit of Turn 2 on Lap 56 to take the race lead. Sage would keep that lead for the remainder of the race, scoring his first Firestone Indy Lights victory. His gain on championship leader, Carlos Muñoz, was minimal, though, as Carlos would overtake Zach in the closing laps to secure P2 after starting back in fourth.

Photo courtesy of Chris Jones, INDYCAR“In my opinion I think he (Zach Veach) jumped the start a little bit. He went way before I did and the green wasn’t even out. As the pole sitter, I thought it was my job to pace the start. I was disappointed about that but I couldn’t let it get to me. I had to stay mentally strong, and that’s what we did. I saved my tires pretty well in the beginning and ran him down and made a good move. And the traffic, we worked well with them and they worked well with us. So I have to give a big hats off to all of the lapped traffic out there for really being polite.” — Sage Karam, #8 Schmidt Peterson Motorsport

Third-place starter and driver of the #5 race car for Belardi Auto Racing, Peter Dempsey, struggled all race long with an ill-handling car that developed stronger and stronger oversteer until he finally lost the car on the exit of Turn 4. The car was damaged, but still drivable, and it did bring out the race’s only caution. Peter was able to stay in the race and only lost one lap to finish sixths, a disappointing finish after starting in third.

“The weekend certainly didn’t go as planned. I was hoping to have a strong weekend coming off our win at the Freedom 100. The team put a lot of effort in over the weekend, and we certainly had a good qualifying car, but unfortunately, we did not get the chance to do a race run in practice and lost the balance during the race. I was hanging on in fourth place, and I was happy to take the points, but then to get stuck behind my teammate for the majority of the second half of the race caused us to lose too much time. I was confident I could hold off Gabby Chaves until the end of the race, but with a few laps to go, I just lost it on power off of turn two. I’d like to thank my team and engineer for their great effort over the weekend, and we will try to bounce back stronger at Iowa.” — Peter Dempsey, #5 Belardi Auto Racing

The Firestone Indy Lights drivers return to oval racing this weekend on the 7/8-mile high-banks of Iowa Speedway. Since the IndyCar race is on ABC this weekend, the Indy Lights race won’t air on NBCSN until Friday, June 28th at 11pm. You can listen to IMS Radio and follow live timing and scoring at http://racecontrol.indycar.com/.