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Road to Indy Recap: Grand Prix of Alabama


The results in Alabama at the Barber Motorsports Park were about as unpredictable as the weather. After a month from the races in St. Petersburg, the Mazda Road to Indy series were reunited for another great weekend of racing.

Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda

Latorre-BarberEveryone expected RC Enerson to come to Barber with confidence and experience being that he dominated Winterfest only months earlier, and he did. Only maybe with a bit too much confidence. In the practice sessions, you could see Florian Latorre nipping at Enerson’s heels. Latorre, just having left Belardi Racing (due to management issues, not with the team) debuted with his new team Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, and it seemed that he went out this weekend with something to prove. Latorre was determined to show Enerson was not invincible, a feat he almost accomplished.

With a new team and a new car, Latorre ended the qualifying race earning pole position for Race 1. RC Enerson found his magic once again and took P1 in both races over the weekend, but Latorre would be on the podium again for the second time this season in Race 1. Jake Eidson also made a return to the podium behind Latorre in that race, but the rest of the field was as mixed as a bag of trail mix. Another driver earning some good points this weekend was Arms Up Motorsports’ Aaron Telitz who has given his team their first podium appearance finishing P2 in Race 2. Other than Enerson, we also saw the return of Victor Franzoni to the podium, the only driver who has beaten RC this season. Unfortunately, it seems that now Franzoni’s future in the series is uncertain after losing a primary sponsor.

Franzoni’s troubles may also be stemming from a dispute between Afterburner Autosport and teammate Felipe Donato, who tested at Barber but wasn’t able to come to an agreement with his team over an issue that began with his wreck in St. Petersburg.

Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires

16c_9444Pro Mazda has a really exciting storyline developing as Spencer Pigot continues to dominate the series. The question now is, who can beat Pigot? We may have seen a glimpse of that answer this weekend. Much like his new Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing  teammate Florian Latorre, Scott Hargrove had his eyes set on one thing. Beating the guy at the top. So far, it looks Like Scott has the goods to make that happen.

In this weekend’s practice sessions it seemed like either Pigot was holding back, or was showing vulnerability. Either way, after Pigot placed P3 in the 3 practice sessions, this may have been the boost Hargrove needed to give him confidence that Pigot can be beat. After the practice sessions, Hargrove etched his name in the P2 slot of the podium finishing just behind Pigot all weekend long even coming within 0.05 of a second behind the undefeated driver in the qualifying race.

Seemingly pressured to perform thanks to their Indy Lights teammates from Andretti Autosport, Shelby Blackstock placed at P6 and above all weekend long ending on a high note with a P3 finish (his second of the season) in Race 2 at Barber. At times, it has seemed as if Blackstock was frustrated with his car, but know that he’s finding consistency that no longer seems to be an issue. One driver who is seemingly frustrated with his car is Team Pelfrey’s Pipo Derani. Derani had been performing well in St. Petersburg with a P3 & P4 finish in both races, but couldn’t break out above P7 at Barber until Race 2 earned him a P4 finish.

Flying under the radar in Pro Mazda is Juncos Racing’s other threat, Kyle Kaiser. Kyle has shared the podium with teammate Spencer Pigot in 3 of the 4 races this season, but continues to manage to deflect the pressure from the field on to his teammate. Kaiser has the skills and the speed to beat Pigot, but is he being a good teammate and fighting off the field for his teammate? He’s currently tied with Scott Hargrove with 89 points for the season in second place, but will he continue to let Spencer glow in the spotlight or will he challenge Hargrove and Pigot to secure his place in the standings? Kaiser is one to keep an eye on, there may be more strategy there between teammates than we can see on the surface.

Legacy Indy Lights 100

16c_8945Indy Lights at Barber Motorsports Park was almost as winding with highs and lows as the track itself. Sure, the almost seemingly inevitable storyline played out in the end, but throughout the weekend there was no shortage of surprises.

Fan Force United’s Scott Anderson can’t seem to catch a break. After wrecking his new car in St. Petersburg, he continues to be plagued by mechanical issues, but when he gets to race he puts up a formidable fight in the midfield. Hopefully we’ll get to see more of him on the track and see where his skills truly are. The only other person just as unlucky is Lloyd Read. After narrowly being taken out by Anderson’s flying tire in St. Petersburg, his car catching fire in Long Beach, Barber seemed to be a reset for Read and he was finally able to get in some uninterrupted time on the track. Read seemed to play it safe, finding his rhythm on the track and getting settled in to the car. He’ll also be one to keep an eye on as long as he can stay on the track.

On the opposite end of the field, things were really interesting. Road to Indy TV is hearing that there’s some turbulence among the Andretti Autosport drivers Zach Veach and Matthew Brabham. Whether you look at Long Beach or Barber, it’s not difficult to see why. Some say Veach thinks he didn’t get enough support in Long Beach from Brabham in trying to defeat Chaves, which as we know, Chaves won the top spot out of the gate in lap 1 and never looked back.

It seems that Brabham is focused on reaching the podium himself. After not placing below P4 all weekend in California, Brabham had another podium finish in his sights. Barber had other plans. Practice sessions didn’t go well, but after a P4 finish in Race 1, Brabham seemed to be back in the groove. That was until the weather came in. Rain, the great equalizer, came in and things started to change… including Brabham’s car. With only a handful of laps to go, the car was done with the race before it was over leaving Brabham frustrated trackside. He would not finish the second race due to a fuel pump issue.

16c_7858There may not have been a more interesting team to watch this weekend than Belardi Auto Racing. Since Long Beach, Alex Baron has been looking to make a name for himself. Baron finished in the top 6 all weekend in California, and brought his momentum to Barber. It all started with Baron qualifying in P2 ahead of teammate Gabby Chaves for Race 1. Gabby and Zach took notice, but Baron was unfazed. Coming into Race 1 with confidence and momentum, Baron made contact with Chaves early in the race causing damage to Chaves’ car. Fortunately for Belardi, the damage was minimal. Unfortunately for Chaves, the damage was extensive enough to hold him back throughout the race. He held off his teammate for most of the race, but Chaves would finish below fifth for only the second time in his Indy Lights career. Gabby Chaves would come back in Race 2 to split the races, take the podium, and keep the championship up for grabs.

It’s going to be worth watching the Andretti drivers and see if they continue to work independently, but with Belardi now having a strong duo fighting in the top 5, they’ll have to work together to dominate the podium. That being said, they won’t have it easy. Jack Harvey and Luiz Razia have revived Schmidt Peterson Motorsport’s contention in the championship, and they’ll continue to be a presence on the podium. Question is, can they break up the Chaves/Veach rivalry? Let’s just be grateful we’re only 4 rounds into the season.

 

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