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Apr 23, 2014 - 08:55 PM
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Veach, Pigot, Enerson Seek to Build on Early-Season Momentum
Posted by: newsla on Apr 23, 2014 - 08:53 PM
IndyCar News
Veach, Pigot, Enerson Seek to Build on Early-Season Momentum


The new auto racing season is barely under way but the level of intensity will be high when all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy travel this week to Barber Motorsports Park in rural Alabama. Talented young Americans Zach Veach, Spencer Pigot and RC Enerson have grasped early advantages in their respective championship chases and will be looking to maintain their momentum as each series will host a pair of races which will once again run in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

 

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The highly acclaimed - and unique - development ladder offers opportunities for talented drivers to graduate all the way from the grass roots of the sport to the Verizon IndyCar Series with MAZDASPEED scholarship prizes at every stage. The various levels - beginning with the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and progressing through the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires - have attracted drivers from around the globe. In all, 16 different nations will be represented among the three series this weekend.

Indy Lights Finely Poised After Opening Two Races
The Legacy Indy Lights 100, which will comprise the first double-header event of the season for the rejuvenated Indy Lights series, is set for the latest installment in what is shaping up to be an intriguing fight for supremacy between a pair of second-year drivers. Veach, 19, from Stockdale, Ohio, and 20-year-old Colombian-American Gabby Chaves, from Miami, Fla., have shared the honors from the opening two races of the season.

Chaves, driving for Belardi Auto Racing, started from the pole in St. Petersburg (after qualifying was canceled due to inclement weather and the grid was decided by practice times), but it was Veach who grabbed the advantage for Andretti Autosport at the first corner and never looked likely to relinquish it.

Fresh from his first-ever Indy Lights win, Veach secured the pole in Round 2 at Long Beach, eclipsing Chaves with a sensational last-lap effort, only for his rival to even the score by snatching the lead in Turn One. This time it was Chaves who led all the way, albeit with Veach virtually glued to his gearbox throughout the final stages.

"Long Beach is considered as one of the most important races of the season, and to have my first win of this season there was incredible," noted Chaves, who finished second in Indy Lights points last year and also was runner-up in the Pro Mazda standings in 2012. "My goal for this year is to win as many races as I can. If I can do that then the championship will come naturally to me."

Veach currently holds a slender one-point advantage over Chaves (due to the fact no pole bonus point was awarded at St. Petersburg), adding a little extra significance to this weekend which will comprise a 40-minute "sprint" race on Saturday and a one-hour "feature" on Sunday immediately before the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Verizon IndyCar Series main event.

Another man to watch will be third-generation racer Matthew Brabham, who is chasing an unprecedented third straight Mazda Road to Indy title after winning the USF2000 championship as a rookie in 2012 and sweeping the Pro Mazda title, also at his first attempt, in 2013. The Florida-born, Australia-raised 20-year-old posted the fastest time at Barber in February, driving a second Andretti Autosport entry, and scored a strong third-place finish at Long Beach after making a mistake in the season opener.

Brabham currently lies fifth in the standings, 10 points shy of Englishman Jack Harvey in third and three markers behind Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian teammate Luiz Razia, from Brazil, in fourth. Colombian Juan Piedrahita and Mexican Juan Pablo Garcia, also driving for the Schmidt Peterson team - which has won the last four Indy Lights titles - plus Italian Vittorio Ghirelli (Team Moore Racing) and Frenchman Alex Baron (Belardi Auto Racing) also are within 10 points of Brabham following the first two races.

After a pair of test sessions on Thursday, April 24, the Indy Lights contenders will take to the 2.3-mile, 17-turn road course for a 45-minute practice session at 9:00 a.m. CT on Friday, then will qualify at 3:00 p.m. Saturday's "sprint" race will start at 12:00 p.m., with the 60-minute "feature" event due to take the green flag at noon on Sunday, April 27.

Who Can Challenge Pigot in Pro Mazda?
After finishing a close second in the USF2000 points table both in 2011 and 2012 - tantalizingly close to a coveted MAZDASPEED scholarship prize - Spencer Pigot fully intends to set the record straight this year in Pro Mazda. The 20-year-old from Orlando, Fla., won once during his rookie campaign in 2013 and has used that experience to excellent effect, setting a torrid pace this year after joining the 2010 championship-winning team, Juncos Racing.

Pigot comfortably won the four-race preseason Cooper Tires Winterfest mini-series - and was fastest in every single session at Barber Motorsports Park - then began the "regular season" in similarly imperious style by cantering to a pair of wins on the streets of St. Petersburg in March.

"Winning both races at St. Pete was extremely important and the perfect start to the season," said Pigot. "It's great to have the points on the board so early; it gives everyone on the team a lot of confidence going into Barber. But there are still lots of races left so we'll keep working hard to stay on top.

"Barber is a pretty difficult track but a ton of fun to drive," he continued. "You've got a good mix of fast and slow corners with a lot of elevation change which is exciting. I think qualifying will be key because it's a hard track to pass on. We were fast there at the Winterfest so I'm feeling good about our chances this weekend."

Fellow American, series sophomore and Juncos Racing teammate Kyle Kaiser, 18, from Santa Clara, Calif., has clearly learned from Pigot's pace and currently lies second in the championship, 15 points adrift, following a pair of second-place finishes.

Brazilian Pipo Derani, a veteran of Formula 3 in Europe, also has showed a good turn of pace for Team Pelfrey, finishing on the podium in Race Two at St. Petersburg. Other likely standouts will include 19-year-old Canadian Scott Hargrove, who won the 2013 USF2000 championship and, stepping up into Pro Mazda with his team, Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, claimed his first victory during the Winterfest at Barber in February; and American Shelby Blackstock, the son of country singing star Reba McEntire, from Nashville, Tenn., who is looking to rebound from a disappointing start to his season with Andretti Autosport.

Two promoter test sessions on Thursday for the 21 Pro Mazda contenders will lead into practice at 8:15 a.m. CT on Friday, followed by qualifying at 1:15 p.m. Round Three is slated to start at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 26, and Round Four at 8:50 a.m. on Sunday.

Americans Enerson and Eidson at the Front in USF2000
Drivers from nine different countries will contest the third and fourth rounds of the highly competitive USF2000 series, which will be making its regular season debut at Barber Motorsports Park.

RC Enerson, 17, from New Port Richey, Fla., holds the early advantage for Team E Racing after finishing second in the season opener at St. Petersburg, then winning Round Two comfortably. Enerson also won at Barber in February to secure the preseason Cooper Tires Winterfest mini-series crown.

Brazilian rookie Victor Franzoni (Afterburner Autosport) claimed the other race victory in Florida but was disqualified from second place following Round Two when his car failed post-race technical inspection. Franzoni thus languishes fifth in the point standings entering this weekend's double-header.

Second place in the points table currently is held by another highly rated American, Jake Eidson. The 18-year-old already is a proven winner after securing three Skip Barber Racing titles and the 2013 F1600 Championship Series in addition to a coveted Team USA Scholarship. Eidson, who earned a fourth and a second from the first two races, drives for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing which has won the past three USF2000 crowns.

A pair of young Frenchman, Nico Jamin and Florian Latorre, claimed a third-place finish apiece at St. Petersburg with Belardi Auto Racing. Both teenagers are expected to be among the front-runners again this week, although Latorre has switched camps and has joined Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing for the remainder of the season.

Others to watch will include Adrian Starrantino, who began his rookie campaign with a pair of top-six results in Florida, and JAY Motorsports teammate Colton Herta - the 15-year-old son of former Indy Lights champion and 2011 Indianapolis 500-winning team owner Bryan Herta - who was too young to drive at St. Petersburg but served notice of his talent last year by dominating the Pacific F1600 Championship.

In common with the other Mazda Road to Indy series, the 23-car USF2000 field will commence the weekend with a pair of promoter test sessions on Thursday, followed by practice at 12:30 p.m. CT on Friday, April 25 and qualifying later in the afternoon at 4:00 p.m. The pair of races will be held on Saturday, April 26, with the green flag for Race One slated for 9:05 a.m. and Race Two at 1:00 p.m.


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