Sebastian Vettel has finished quickest in the second practice session for this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza, finishing over six-tenths clear of the rest of the field as Red Bull laid down an ominous pace ahead of qualifying tomorrow.
Much as they did in FP1, the majority of the field came out early on the hard tire for FP2 in order to gauge their one-lap pace on the prime compound. Sebastian Vettel was quick to put his Pirellis to good work, topping the timesheets once every driver had posted a competitive time. However, teammate Mark Webber was less fortunate, sitting on the sidelines for the first twenty minutes of the session following a KERS problem. Eventually, the Australian driver managed to get out and moved into second place just behind Vettel ahead of the first medium tire runs.
On the softer (and faster) compound, Vettel continued to dominate early on as he became the first driver to break the 1:25 barrier, with a very competitive time of 1:24.453. Once again, teammate Webber was his closest challenger, albeit six-tenths down on the defending world champion. Judging by their practice pace, it appears that Red Bull’s struggles on high-speed circuits such as Monza may no longer exist, making both Vettel and Webber contenders for victory on Sunday.
Lotus also showed strong pace on the softer compound, with Raikkonen and Grosjean setting identical times of 1:25.116 to sit P3 and P4 respectively whilst home favorite Fernando Alonso could only manage fifth on the low-fuel runs. Having been replaced for FP1, Giedo van der Garde, Adrian Sutil and Jules Bianchi all returned to action, but none of the trio could outpace their teammates during the session.
With around forty-five minutes remaining, the majority of the field switched to high-fuel runs in order to evaluate their pace for the race on Sunday. Red Bull continued to impress on the long runs, with Vettel lapping around one second per lap quicker than championship rival Fernando Alonso, although their respective fuel loads could have exaggerated this gap. Alonso’s teammate, Felipe Massa, suffered from a gearbox problem with just under fifteen minutes remaining, ending his session early.
Come the checkered flag, Red Bull’s dominance went unchallenged, suggesting that Vettel could be in line to extend his championship lead on Sunday and potentially score a third win at Monza ahead of the Asian leg of the calendar.
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.