During the month-long hiatus since the last two races in Houston, Texas, Pigot and Hargrove have continued their rivalry in the Canadian Porsche GT3 championship, each of them winning once two weeks ago on the streets of Toronto. Now the stakes are even higher, with the Pro Mazda series champion set to pocket a MAZDASPEED Scholarship which will pave the way toward graduation to the top step on the Mazda Road to Indy, Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, in 2015.
The battle has ebbed and flowed as the season has progressed. Pigot, 20, from Orlando, Fla., began with a flourish, winning each of the first four races for Juncos Racing in the #7 Doug Mockett & Company/Rising Star Racing/Vitamin-D Pro App/California Scents car. Then, while Pigot encountered some misfortunes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and on the Lucas Oil Raceway oval, Hargrove, 19, from Vancouver, B.C., Canada, stepped up by scooping three wins and a second-place finish in Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing's #3 MAZDASPEED/ Analytic Systems/RaceEnergy/Metal Action Machining entry. The tide turned one more time in the second of two races at Houston in late June, with Hargrove crashing out on Lap 1 and Pigot cementing his authority with his fifth win of the season.
Both have enjoyed success previously at Mid-Ohio, with Pigot winning a USF2000 race in 2012 and Hargrove snagging a pair of second-place finishes last year en route to the USF2000 championship.
Alberico, Kaiser Seeking Breakthrough Wins
Their respective teammates, Kyle Kaiser and Neil Alberico, have both been knocking on the door of victory lane this year. Kaiser, 18, from Santa Clara, Calif., began the season with three straight podium finishes for Juncos Racing, while Alberico, 21, from nearby Los Gatos, Calif., also has three podium finishes to his name, including a fighting drive to second in Race Two at Houston. Alberico won two of the three USF2000 races at Mid-Ohio in 2013.
Other top contenders will include Andretti Autosport teammates Shelby Blackstock and Garett Grist. Blackstock, from Nashville, Tenn., the son of country singing legend Reba McEntire, endured a disappointing start to his sophomore Pro Mazda season but has bounced back strongly, rising to fourth place in the standings. Rookie Grist, meanwhile, from Grimsby, Ont., Canada, won handsomely at the Lucas Oil Raceway oval and started from the pole in both Houston races. Grist also knows how to win at Mid-Ohio, scooping his maiden USF2000 victory at the venue in 2013.
Connery and Newey Return, Lift set for Debut
Kyle Connery, from Vero Beach, Fla., will return to the series this weekend after a three-race hiatus. A former race winner in the F2000 Championship Series at Mid-Ohio, Connery will once again drive for JDC MotorSports alongside team regulars Ryan Booth, from Charleston, S.C., who snagged a season-high fourth in the most recent race at Houston, and the inspirational Michael Johnson, from Flint, Mich., who displays astonishing speed for someone who was paralyzed from the chest down following a motorcycle racing accident at the age of 14.
Brandon Newey also will be back behind the wheel for Team Pelfrey. The son of Bryan Herta Autosport co-owner Steve Newey has kept his hand in by scoring a win and a second-place finish in the F1600 Championship Series at Virginia International Raceway in June as well as a hard-fought victory in the Canadian F1600 series two weeks ago in Toronto.
SCCA racer Brian Lift will make his professional debut this weekend at the wheel of HAVOC Motorsport's #21 The Scion Group/Bleeding Edge Networks/Quick Dream Motorsports entry. Lift, from Crestwood, Ill., finished second at last year's 50th annual SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Road America.
Tight Battles Also Among Team and Expert Categories
The Team and Expert Championship chases are as finely poised as the drivers' title-chase. Juncos Racing and Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing are separated by just five points after nine races, with the advantage having swung like a pendulum in recent events.
In the Expert Championship, for drivers over the age of 30, Jay Horak (M1 Racing), from Mesa, Ariz., still holds the upper hand, despite skipping the last two races which allowed Bobby Eberle (World Speed Motorsports) to trim the deficit to just two points. Horak and M1 will return at Mid-Ohio, along with new teammate Carlos Conde, from Scarsdale, N.Y., who last competed regularly in the series in 2010. Young Brazilian Felipe Donato will drive a third M1 entry.
Jeff Harrison, from Grapevine, Texas, also will return with World Speed Motorsports to ensure the biggest field of the season at 21 cars. Harrison has won the expert category in each of his four previous appearances this year.
On-Track Action Begins on Friday
The Pro Mazda competitors will take to the track for a pair of test sessions on Thursday, followed by official practice at 9:15 a.m. ET on Friday, August 1, and qualifying at 1:05 p.m. The green flag for Race One will fly at 5:35 p.m. on Saturday, August 2, and for Race Two at 10:45 a.m. on Sunday, August 3. Live timing for all sessions will be available at www.promazdachampionship.com.