WATKINS GLEN, N.Y., Sept. 4 — Kris Wright saved his best for last for the season finale of the Pro Mazda Series Presented by Cooper Tires Saturday and Sunday at Watkins Glen International.
Although he only competed in three Pro Mazda events this year after advancing from the USF2000 series in June, he recorded his best Pro Mazda finish ever when he placed fifth in Saturday's race. His previous best Pro Mazda finish was a seventh at Mid-Ohio in July.
Wright then went on to finish eighth in the second half of the doubleheader on Sunday for another top-10 result.
The Pittsburgh-based rookie also achieved his best Pro Mazda qualifying results to date when he qualified fifth for Sunday's season finale and then got to start fourth due to a penalty bestowed on another driver.
Usually tire wear is a problem for drivers at the end of races, but Wright not only managed his tires well, he had something left at the end. He set his fastest lap of each race as he was coming down to take the checkered flag at the historic 3.37-mile, 11-turn road course in New York's Finger Lakes region, again recording his best effort at the end.
The Pro Mazda doubleheader supported Sunday's Verizon IndyCar Series race.
Wright qualified eighth for Saturday morning's 30-minute race with his No. 12. It's sponsored by PPG and Esmark Steel Group, and fielded by JDC MotorSports.
Matt Machiko got around him on the first lap, but Wright advanced to seventh on lap two when Nikita Lastochkin and Robert Megennis tangled in Turn 9 and brought out a full-course caution. He got sixth by passing T.J. Fischer on the restart on lap six, but then Bobby Eberle snuck by and pushed him back to seventh.
Wright was having none of that, however, and he passed the veteran back in the heel of the boot on lap seven to regain sixth place. He then zeroed in on Machiko, and made another pass stick in the same spot on lap nine to nail down fifth.
"On the restart Bobby made an unusual move and changed his line, and I got passed while I was avoiding what could have been an accident," Wright said. "I knew I was faster than both he and Machiko, and I was able to get by both of them later.
"The only real problem I had in that race was that when Eberle made his move, it put me on the left side of the track and I hit my front wing on one of the curbs," he disclosed. "It broke the two mounting posts for the front wing, so my wing was drooping down for most of the race. That really changed the aerodynamics of my car, and I had to change my driving style for the rest of the race to compensate."
Wright successfully adapted to the situation and he took the checkered on lap 14 to post his first top-five finish in the series, setting his fastest race lap of 1:47.4903 in the process. It was the fifth-fastest lap run by anyone during the race, and was done at an average speed of 112.866 miles per hour.
Wright qualified fifth for Sunday's race during a rainy session with a time of 2:09.5439 (93.652 mph), but a penalty imposed on another driver allowed Wright to start on the outside of Row 2 in that 40-minute contest for his best starting spot in the series ever.
Although Saturday's race was dry, it was wet and cold for Sunday morning's race, and Wright dropped to eighth at the start. The field got strung out due to no full-course cautions and he was still in eighth place at the checkered, but again he set his fastest lap of the race at the end with a 2:03.703 on lap 20.
"It rained more than anyone imagined it would, and we were on rain tires for Sunday's race," Wright said. "The track started getting drier as the race went on, and we had too much of a rain setup. But that's the way it goes sometimes.
"The team did a really good job," he emphasized. "They had to go from wet to dry setups several times, but they worked very hard to adjust to the different conditions.
"In today's race I had a close call around lap 10 when I was catching Sting Ray Robb," Wright noted. "I didn't spin, but I almost spun. I kept it going, but the gap was too much by that time.
"I'm glad I got to do these Pro Mazda races," he summarized. "I kept getting better each event, and I know I made a big improvement from my first Pro Mazda weekend. I'm glad I finished the season with my best result. I'd like to do more formula car races in the future if possible."
Coverage of the weekend's action will air on Road to Indy TV.
Wright also competes in the IMSA Prototype Challenge series, where he is second in the Mazda Prototype Challenge point standings. One weekend remains in the 2017 season for that series: Oct. 4-7 at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Ga.
"I can't wait for Road Atlanta!" he said.
More information is available on Wright's Web site at KrisWrightMotorsports.com. Fans can also follow him on Facebook and Instagram. The Pro Mazda series' Web site is at promazda.com, while the Prototype Challenge series' Web site is at imsa.com.
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