Par for the course, really, as the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course has recently seemed a haven for driver swaps and one-off entries. With in-season testing fairly limited, teams have often used this race as a tryout for new drivers in preparation for the following year. There’s also been a higher than normal amount of injuries that have occurred heading into this race over the years.
Here’s a look back at some of the surprise entries the last few years, since IndyCar returned to the track in 2007:
2012: Giorgio Pantano (pictured) substitutes for an injured Charlie Kimball at Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing. Starts 24th, and finishes 14th.
2011: Simon Pagenaud gets called in as a last-minute injury replacement for Justin Wilson at Dreyer & Reinbold. Starts 18th, finishes 13th. Martin Plowman makes his IndyCar debut in a jointly entered AFS/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car, starting 26th, finishing 18th.
2010: Ex-Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand makes his IndyCar debut as a D&R injury replacement for Mike Conway, qualifying 18th and finishing 16th (Ed: thanks to DRR PR ace Brie Rentz for the catch, I didn’t have this initially). Former Honda F1 tester and A1GP champion Adam Carroll makes his second, and last, IndyCar start in an AFS/Andretti Autosport extra car. Starts 17th, finishes 19th. Englishman Jay Howard makes his fifth start of 2010 for Sarah Fisher Racing, starts 26th and finishes 24th. Conquest brings in unheralded Italian rookie Francesco Dracone for his IndyCar debut, starts 23rd, finishes 22nd in the memorable/infamous Halkin Jet/LaPasta.biz car.
2009: Servia, who like in 2013 did not have a ride for that full season, replaces Robert Doornbos at Newman/Haas Racing for his second of three eventual stints with the team (2005, 2011). He qualifies 14th, finishes 11th. Doornbos moves to a second HVM Racing car, qualifying 18th and finishing 14th. Richard Antinucci makes his fourth of five career IndyCar starts, qualifying 19th and finishing 18th for Team 3G. Paul Tracy is called in as a last-minute replacement for Mario Moraes at KV Racing, as the Brazilian lost his father. “PT” qualifies 10th and finishes seventh on short notice.
2007: Ryan Hunter-Reay is plucked from career obscurity by Rahal Letterman Racing to replace the underperforming Jeff Simmons. He starts 10th and finishes seventh in his first open-wheel start in two years.
MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Sunday times and notebook
Thompson (90, Exclusive) and Hoogenboom (78, BN) in Pro Mazda. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.