Mazda Road to Indy Drivers Head to the Ovals for “Freedom Friday”
 May 22, 2018| 
  • Series News
LOR PM 2018 Advance Web

 Oval Veteran Thompson Heads Pro Mazda Entry

SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Memorial Day weekend is steeped in tradition, especially in Indianapolis where the annual federal holiday held in remembrance of the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces coincides with the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” – the Indianapolis 500.

The Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires – a unique open-wheel development ladder which offers scholarship-funded opportunities for drivers to progress all the way from the grassroots of the sport to the Indy 500 – pays its own tribute to this nation’s history with the biggest event of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season, the Freedom 100, taking place on Friday, May 25, as part of the regular Carb Day activities which include one final practice session for the 33 starters prior to Sunday’s 102nd Indianapolis 500.

In addition, the first two rungs on the ladder, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, will see action in the respective Freedom 75 and Freedom 90 events at Lucas Oil Raceway, in nearby Brownsburg, Ind., on Friday evening.

For all three series, this will mark the first oval-track race of the season. A little extra significance will stem from the fact that 50 percent more championship points will be available in comparison to the regular road and street circuit events.

The new Tatuus-Mazda PM-18 technical package for Pro Mazda has created some sensational action during the opening six races of the season at three different venues. Three drivers have so far featured on the top step of the podium, with Dutchman Rinus VeeKay (Juncos Racing), Englishman Harrison Scott (RP Motorsport Racing) and Canadian Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport) each capturing a pair of wins for three different teams. Four more challengers also have led races – Brazilian Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing), Mexico’s Andres Gutierrez (Team Pelfrey) and Americans Oliver Askew (Cape Motorsports) and David Malukas (BN Racing) – and lap records have been shattered.

Both the qualifying and race lap standards at the tight and challenging 0.686-mile Lucas Oil Raceway, established in 2013 by series champion Matthew Brabham, are expected to be easy pickings when the middle rung on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder returns to LOR for Friday’s Freedom 90 following a one-year hiatus.

Experience is usually of paramount importance on the ovals, and while an extremely competitive field makes pinpointing a potential winner especially difficult, all eyes will be focused on series points leader Thompson, from Red Deer, Alb., who qualified on pole, led 61 of the 75 laps and ultimately finished second in the USF2000 race at Lucas Oil Raceway in 2016. Thompson, though, is keen to play down any advantage.

“Headed into our first oval of the season, a lot of variables will come into play,” he asserts. “Ovals are a completely different animal for the teams and drivers, especially Lucas Oil Raceway. But I’m confident in the team around me. We’re coming off a great performance at the IMS road course and I think we’ll use that momentum to our advantage working together on our oval package.

“Even though I may have experience at LOR, I don’t think I can bring many of my past oval experiences into the Freedom 90,” he continues. “This new PM-18 car is so different from the old USF car, and the USF-17. I am really going to have to rely on the knowledge of my engineer, Tim Lewis, to build confidence with tackling the beast of a Pro Mazda car on the banks of an oval.”

Activity for the Cooper Tires Freedom 90 will kick off on Thursday, May 24, with 90 minutes of testing in two sessions, followed by 60 minutes of official practice. Single-car qualifying will commence at 3:05 p.m. EDT on Friday, with the race set to start at 7:05 p.m.

Indy Lights Champs Newgarden, Kaiser, Karam Headline MRTI Oval Clinic

The first oval race of the season – and for the vast majority of Pro Mazda and USF2000 drivers their very first oval race – will be preceded by a special Oval Clinic hosted by the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires on Thursday morning. The two-hour introduction to oval racing will feature input from reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden and fellow MRTI graduates Kyle Kaiser, winner of last year’s Indy Lights championship, and former USF2000 and Indy Lights champion Sage Karam, who yesterday posted the fastest lap during the first post-qualifying practice session. The trio will be joined by Pro Mazda Chief Steward and five-time Indy 500 starter Johnny Unser, plus Lucas Oil School of Racing instructor Gerardo Bonilla, in offering advice based upon their wealth of experience.

Coverage of all three races can be found on a series of platforms including Road to Indy TV, the Road to Indy TV App and dedicated broadcast channels on demand via Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Roku and, most recently, the Xbox One Official App as well as live streaming and live timing on the series’ respective websites andindycar.com. Indy Lights is also featured on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network broadcasts on Sirius 214, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app.

The Freedom 100 Indy Lights race will be broadcast live on NBCSN, beginning at 12:10 p.m. EDT on Friday.

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