Seeming so close, yet so far away, the drivers on the Mazda Road to Indy are on their way back to the town of Leeds for the Grand Prix of Alabama. For the drivers of the USF2000 and ProMazda series, they’ve only had one weekend to prove themselves since their last meeting at the Barber Motorosports Park for Winterfest. Here’s a breakdown of what we’ll be looking for this weekend.
Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda
After a terrible wreck and other instances of contact in the final race which took out half of the field in St. Petersburg, there may not be a hungrier group of drivers to hit the track next weekend. What was shaping up to be a wide group of drivers who could’ve ended up on the podium for the series, these incidents took out drivers like Nico Jamin, Aaron Telitz, and Henrik Furuseth, who had all been finishing among the top 10 all weekend long. Instead their day ended early, and after an unexpected disqualification of Victor Franzoni who had also been performing really well all weekend, he’ll be looking for that opportunity to take back his spot among the top of the field.
RC Enerson is certainly on the map as the one to beat, but there are more than enough talented drivers to make him earn it. In fact, there were 8 different drivers that finished in the top 3 across the 5 races that weekend. RC Enerson, Jake Eidson, Victor Franzoni, Nico Jamin, Florian Latorre, and Aaron Telitz will all be gunning for the podium and have every opportunity to earn it. This is absolutely the weekend to keep a close eye on USF 2000.
Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires
Spencer Pigot, who is seemingly invincible right now has only one thing working against him coming into Barber Motorsports Park, history. It may seem like an eternity ago, but the last time Spencer wasn’t on the top spot of the podium was at Barber. Pigot nearly swept the ProMazda series at Winterfest with the exception of the very last race. He was bested by just .292 of a second by Scott Hargrove who has been a top 5 presence in every race since Winterfest.
Spencer has had the luxury of getting ahead early so far this season. His biggest lead in St. Petersburg was over 6 seconds, and in Barber by about 8. That being said, there’s a fierce group of drivers who have the talent to knock him off of his podium. Garett Grist and Shelby Blackstock from Andretti Autosport have been fierce competition for podium placements, and Barber has given Grist two podium appearances this year at Winterfest alone. There’s little doubt that anything less than a podium finish for Grist at Barber would be a disappointment for him. Looking around him, he’ll have to beat his teammate Blackstock and Team Pelfrey‘s Pipo Derani who have lots of momentum coming into Barber, in addition to Hargrove who would love to be the one to defeat Pigot in Alabama once more.
Let’s also not minimize Pigot’s Juncos Racing teammate Kyle Kaiser, who is looking far more consistent and competitive since St. Petersburg to fight for the only podium spot he hasn’t held in this early season, P1.
Legacy Indy Lights 100
Before you assume that this Indy Lights season is becoming a 2-man race, look in the side view mirror, because Matthew Brabham is punching through the field like a wild kangaroo. After some setbacks in St. Petersburg, Brabham continues to race on the edge and deliver some really aggressive driving that has put him in contention with Gabby Chaves and Zach Veach who seem to be taking turns on the top of the podium. Luckily for Brabham, there aren’t too many walls at Barber for him to brush up against so we’ll see if that’s what is holding him back.
Although it doesn’t seem there’s much room in the top two spots on the podium, there’s some promise among the field for the podium from some “rookies” that are looking to make an impact. These “rookies” are definitely wolves in sheep’s clothing. The trail of experienced, European drivers behind the Indy Lights veterans Chaves and Veach have made great sacrifices to race in the Mazda Road to Indy, and they have their sights set to take down any veteran that stands in their way. Jack Harvey always performs when it counts. With podium appearances at Barber during Winterfest and in St. Petersburg, he’s gotten a taste of that podium and won’t be backing down anytime soon. Behind him, are Luiz Razia, Alex Baron, and Vittorio Ghirelli who have plenty of experience overseas but need to get more consistent with their performances here in the states in the ProMazda series.
Finding their groove in mid-field are also Juan Piedrahita and Scott Anderson, who have certainly been consistent (despite a wreck in St. Pete for Anderson), and that could definitely pay off as we get deeper into the season. It’s going to be a challenge to break up the Chaves/Veach rivalry, but it can be done. Whoever does it will certainly add an exciting dynamic to the season and earn one heck of a spotlight. Let’s also not forget about Lloyd Read, despite having a near-death/wreck experience in St. Petersburg and a mechanical fire among other issues in Long Beach, he’ll be eager to finally get a shot to make an impression.