When qualifying opens Saturday for next weekend’s Indianapolis 500, a Canadian rookie will be piloting a second car for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan, a team co-owned by Napa auto dealer and former Indy Car champion Jimmy Vasser.
After finishing 12th in the team’s second car at the Indy Grand Prix road course last weekend, Zachary Claman De Melo was tapped as a substitute for the injured Pietra Fittipaldi, who was badly injured in a World Endurance Championship race in Europe on May 4 and is expected to be out of action for at least eight weeks.
“It’s an iconic venue and I’m extremely fortunate to be able to have the opportunity to drive here,” said Claman De Mello about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “It’s unfortunate that it’s under these circumstances, with Pietro’s injuries, so I realize how lucky I am to have this chance.”
On Tuesday, Claman De Mello jumped his first hurdle of the week, comfortably passing his Rookie Orientation with a top speed of 220.852 mph, making him eligible to qualify for one of the 33 starting spots on the grid.
Claman De Mello began racing karts in his native Montreal at age 10 and won the first of his three Canadian Karting Championships at the age of 14. Following a year of racing in Europe’s Formula Renault series, he turned to the Indy Lights series in the U.S. in 2016. He was named a part-time driver for the Coyne-Vasser-Sullivan team at the beginning of this season, after making his Indy Car debut at Sonoma Raceway last September, driving for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
Although the Canadian is looking to qualify for his first Indianapolis 500, he is no stranger to the Speedway. He finished sixth in last year’s Freedom 100 on the 2 ½-mile oval in the Indy Lights series.
Mees leads flat track
When the American Flat Track series returns to Northern California for the Sacramento Mile Saturday night, Jared Mees is poised to pick up where he left off at Calistoga two weeks ago — and Phoenix last week and Dallas and Daytona as well.
Mees’ win at The Arizona Mile last Sunday showed that the four-time and defending national champion is as unbeatable on a superspeedway-sized track as he is on the jumps of a TT Course or on a shorter oval. The rider from Sebastien, Florida, is on pace to surpass his record of 10 victories in a season, which he set last year in claiming the title.
Mees has made sweeping the competition a weekly habit, claiming four of the first five AFT national events in 2018. The only blemish on his season was a disqualification at Alabama, when a post-race inspection by AFT officials discovered that he had used a chemically altered tire in his run to victory circle, which forfeited what appeared to be another victory. AFT officials then awarded the race win to second place finisher Kenny Coolbeth.
In Arizona, Mees ran away from the field and cruised to a nearly full second win over his teammate Brad Baker. It was a strong contrast to the nail-biter at The Calistoga Half Mile two weeks ago, when Mees barely survived a charge by Jeffrey Carver to win by a slim one-tenth of a second.
As the series goes to Cal Expo, Mees has a dominating 25-point lead over second place in the standings as he guns for his fifth national championship. In a tough battle for runner-up, there are only 12 points separating second from fourth.
Kyle Larson adds karting event to busy schedule
NASCAR driver Kyle Larson is expected to be busy at Charlotte Motor Speedway over the next two weeks, as the Monster Energy Cup Series gears up for its All Star race this weekend and the World 600 on Memorial Day.
So, how does the driver from Elk Grove enjoy a day off from his duties behind the wheel of his Chip Ganassi Chevy? By playing in the dirt.
Larson, who cut his racing teeth powersliding karts on dirt tracks, has entered a pair of mini-karts in the Clash at the Creek, expected to draw hundreds of competitors to Mountain Creek Speedway in Catawba, N.C., next Sunday and Monday nights. The quarter-mile dirt track is considerably smaller than the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway, but the racing is just as close with drivers flat-footing the throttle and power sliding the cushion like a modern day sprint car.
“I’ve heard lots of good things about Mountain Creek Speedway and I’m excited to make my first trip there,” said Larson, who won dozens of championships in karting before moving on to sprint cars on his way to the ranks of NASCAR. “Outlaw karts are what I cut my teeth in, so I enjoy running any big races that I can like this.”
Larson also sponsors a karting event at Cycle Land, near Chico, on the Monday before the NASCAR series races at Sonoma Raceway that traditionally lures hundreds of kart racers who compete from mid-morning to dark in an elimination tournament for top money.
Placerville race is gold mine for sprint cars
When the national World of Outlaws tour swung through California in March, the biggest winner was Mother Nature, which washed out five of the 10 races set in the Golden State. One of those races was planned for Placerville Speedway in the Sacramento foothills.
To make up for the loss, promoters Brad Sweet and Scott Russell have reset the event to become the biggest and richest race in California for 410 sprint cars.
Scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 12 and just prior to the World of Outlaws appearance at Calistoga Speedway the following weekend, the event will now be known as the 49er Gold Rush Classic. The feature race will be 49 laps on the tight, quarter-mile oval and will pay a cool $20,000 to the winner.
“Gold was discovered just 10 miles from the racetrack, so it seemed fitting to change the name of the race,” said Sweet, who drives the Kasey Kahne-owned World of Outlaws sprint car and makes his home in Placerville.
“We want larger paying events and we are excited to create this event,” added Sweet, who is also Kyle Larson’s brother-in-law.