The return to the Gateway Motorsports Park this weekend is huge in it’s own sense. But, add to the fact where this race weekend falls on the schedule, and it only adds even more importance to it.
For the Verizon IndyCar Series, this is the third to last race of 2017. With seven drivers will very much in the hunt for this year’s championship, Gateway will be a proving ground on who can really distance themselves heading to the final two races of the year.
But, for the Mazda Road to Indy program, two of the three ladders will also be in Gateway this weekend. These two races are tight as well, which too, Gateway could shape who’s the champion in them as well.
In Pro Mazda, Anthony Martin leads Victor Franzoni by just four points. Each have combined to win all nine races this season, with Martin taking five checkered flags to Franzoni’s four. Franzoni does have nine podiums in those nine races, with his other five events finishing second. Martin, has eight podiums, which that one race he didn’t, a fourth place run in the second road course race at IMS in May, has the points closer than it would have been.
One of these drivers will win this title and get the scholarship to Indy Lights next season. Cape Motorsports (Martin) or Juncos Racing (Franzoni) will produce the champion. They had two races at Watkins Glen next weekend to settle it.
But, there may be one less driver in Indy Lights next year, because the champion will earn a scholarship to earn a three-race deal in the Verizon IndyCar Series himself. Currently, Kyle Kaiser leads Santi Urrutia and Colton Herta by 42 points each.
Kaiser, won at a short oval at Phoenix last year, while also finishing sixth and fifth respectively the last two years at Iowa. At Indy this year, he came home ninth. Mix that with finishing 12th in the doubleheader at Mid-Ohio, the title isn’t necessarily his. Yes, he has a short oval win to his credit, but he’s struggled on ovals lately as well as on the season. The drivers chasing him, well they’ve been stellar on ovals and could close the gap even more.
Urrutia, has been strong on ovals himself, finishing fourth (Phoenix), second (Indy) and fifth (Iowa) last year and fifth (Indy) and second (Iowa) this year. He has four podiums over his last five starts on the season too.
Herta, has two ovals starts, a first-lap crash at Indy after starting second and finishing 13th and a fourth place run at Iowa. He has five top sixes over his last six starts.
But, Matheus Leist is right there, 48 points down and he won at both ovals this season. Even Nico Jamin and Zachary Claman De Melo who are 54 points out each are in striking distance too.
So, this MRTI championship race will also be intense.