All three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder will venture north of the border this week for their annual visit to the streets surrounding Exhibition Place – just minutes away from downtown Toronto – in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series. The 1.786-mile, 11-turn temporary circuit always provides a stiff challenge for the drivers with its omnipresent concrete walls ready to punish any mistakes.
Two races each will be held for Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda. All three series are now reaching into the crucial second half of the season with more than $3.5 million on offer in scholarships and awards to assist drivers in their progression from the grassroots of the sport to IndyCar.
Herta, O’Ward Continue their rivalry
The battle for this year’s Indy Lights championship – and the quest for a scholarship valued at $1 million to guarantee entry into three Verizon IndyCar Series events in 2019, including the 103rd Indianapolis 500 – seems to be distilling into a head-to-head duel between Colton Herta and Patricio O’Ward.
Both teenagers are run from under the same Andretti Autosport awning, albeit with Herta’s car carrying allegiance to Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing as a joint enterprise with George Michael Steinbrenner IV, the racing aficionado grandson of legendary former New York Yankees Major League Baseball owner George Steinbrenner.
Each has won four times this season. O’Ward, 19, from Monterrey, Mexico, started impressively by winning three of the first four rounds. He also dominated the most recent event – last weekend on the Iowa Speedway oval – by qualifying on pole and then leading all 100 laps to close to within eight points of Herta, 19, from Valencia, California, who went on a tear of four straight wins in May and June.
Herta will be seeking redemption after clipping a wall and retiring from the lead in one of the Toronto races last year. O’Ward, who snagged a second-place result in Pro Mazda in 2016, held an appreciable edge in the only other visit to a street circuit this year – in St. Petersburg, Florida.
After finishing runner-up in the standings in each of the past two years, Santiago “Santi” Urrutia hasn’t given up on his dream and is sure to be a contender for Belardi Auto Racing. He currently trails Herta by 49 points with seven races remaining.
Belardi teammate Aaron Telitz has tasted the fruits of success before in Toronto, winning twice on his way to the Pro Mazda Championship in 2016.
Last year’s Pro Mazda champion, Brazilian Victor Franzoni, has shown good form of late for Juncos Racing, claiming a well-deserved first Indy Lights victory last month at Road America.
Dalton Kellett, who hails from nearby Stouffville, Ontario, has never had much luck in his hometown race but has high hopes of setting that record straight this week. Kellett finished on the podium at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May. Andretti Autosport teammate and former Atlantic Championship winner Ryan Norman, from Aurora, Ohio, scored his best result to date of third on the streets of St. Petersburg and will also be one to watch.
The Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix of Toronto Presented by Allied Building Products will commence with official practice slated for 1:30 p.m. on Friday, July 13, followed on Saturday by qualifying at 8:35 a.m. and the green flag for Round 11 at 12:40 p.m. A separate qualifying session at 9:05 a.m. on Sunday, July 15, will set the grid for Round 12 which will start at 12:25 p.m.. All times are EDT.
Maple Leaf well-represented in Pro Mazda
This weekend’s Cooper Tires Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Toronto Presented by Allied Building Products will have a distinct Canadian flavor as Parker Thompson, from Red Deer, Alberta, seeks to extend his championship lead with Michael Duncalfe’s Canadian-based Exclusive Autosport team.
Thompson, 20, has become a popular fixture on the Mazda Road to Indy over the last few years, twice finishing among the top three in the USF2000 title-chase before stepping up to Pro Mazda this season. He has lost no time in making his presence felt. Thompson led much of the season-opening race on the streets of St. Petersburg before having to settle for second. In the next event at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, Thompson romped to victory in Race 1 before adding a second-place finish in Race 2 to take over the points lead in the chase for a Mazda Scholarship worth $790,300 to move up to Indy Lights in 2019.
Subsequent wins on the Indianapolis Grand Prix circuit and a dominant performance on the Lucas Oil Raceway oval have taken him to a commanding 46-point lead with seven races remaining on the schedule. Thompson has history on his side, too, after winning three times in Toronto over the past two years, including claiming the Exclusive team’s maiden Mazda Road to Indy triumph in 2017.