Mazda Road to Indy Cooper Tires Winterfest gets going this week

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The North American open-wheel race season gets going this week, with the three Mazda Road to Indy championships participating in the Cooper Tires Winterfest two-track event.

The Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 championships will be at NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans Friday and Saturday, Feb. 21-22, before shifting to Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. next Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 25-26.

For Indy Lights, it’s four days of preseason testing. Meanwhile the other two series will participate in races. Pro Mazda will have four races, with two apiece at each track, and USF2000 will have six races, with two triple headers.

USF2000 and Pro Mazda each will start out with a practice session and a qualifying session on Day 1, followed by one race later in the afternoon. Day 2 at each track will comprise two practice sessions and one race for Pro Mazda and one practice plus two additional races for USF2000.

Live timing will be available on respective series websites: www.indylights.comwww.promazdachampionship.com and www.usf2000.com.

Some quick news and notes on the entry lists, which are slightly different from those at the Chris Griffis Memorial test this winter:

INDY LIGHTS

  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has four cars entered, with series veteran Juan Pablo Garcia joining in one of the cars. The No. 8, currently listed as a TBA, has had ex-GP2 driver Luiz Razia testing this winter.
  • Andretti Autosport has the other TBA of the 12 cars, with its third car not listing anyone. Italian Vittorio Ghirelli tested in that car earlier this winter.

PRO MAZDA

  • Team Pelfrey adds a third car for Brandon Newey, a USF2000 competitor in 2013 and son of Bryan Herta Autosport team co-owner Steve Newey.

USF2000

  • Danilo Estrela, formerly of Belardi Auto Racing, makes his official debut with Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, as second driver alongside Jake Eidson at the three-time defending championship-winning team.
  • Afterburner Autosport’s fourth car is the only “TBA” listed of the 20 cars entered.

ENTRY LISTS

INDY LIGHTS (12)
Team Moore Racing: 2 Zack Meyer (CAN)
Belardi Auto Racing: 4 Alexandre Baron (FRA), 5 Gabby Chaves (COL)
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: 8 TBA, 10 Juan Pablo Garcia (MEX),
42 Jack Harvey (GBR), 77 Juan Piedrahita (COL)
Fan Force United: 24 Scott Anderson (USA)
Andretti Autosport: 26 Zach Veach (USA), 27 TBA,
83 Matthew Brabham (USA)
BHA/Jeffrey Mark Motorsport: 28 Lloyd Read (WAL)

PRO MAZDA (16)
Cape Motorsports w/WTR: 2 Neil Alberico (USA), 3 Scott Hargrove (CAN)
Juncos Racing: 5 Jose Gutierrez (MEX), 6 Julia Ballario (ARG),
7 Spencer Pigot (USA), 18 Kyle Kaiser (USA)
World Speed Motorsports: 13 Bobby Eberle (USA), 16 Michele Bumgarner (PHI)
Andretti Autosport: 27 Garett Grist (CAN), 28 Shelby Blackstock (USA)
M1 Racing: 37 Jay Horak (USA)
JDC Motorsports: 54 Michael Johnson (USA), 91 Kyle Connery (USA)
Team Pelfrey: 80 Dalton Kellett (CAN), 81 Pipo Derani (BRZ),
82 Brandon Newey (USA)

USF2000 (20)
Cape Motorsports w/WTR: 2 Jake Eidson (USA), 3 Danilo Estrela (BRZ)
Belardi Auto Racing: 4 Daniel Burkett (CAN), 14 Florian Latorre (FRA),
41 Nico Jamin (FRA), 44 Michael Epps (GBR)
Team E Racing: 7 R.C. Enerson (USA)
Afterburner Autosport: 11 TBA, 15 Gustavo Myasava (BRZ),
17 Victor Franzoni (BRZ), 18 Jeroen Slaghekke (NED)
M2 Autosport: 13 Juan Carlos Maldonado (COL), 79 Santiago Lozano (COL)
Pabst Racing Services: 23 Will Owen (USA), 77 Austin Cindric (USA)
ArmsUp Motorsports: 24 Peter Portante (USA), 51 Aaron Telitz (USA)
JDC Motorsports: 93 Scott Andrews (AUS), 97 Clark Toppe (USA)
JAY Motorsports: 96 Henrik Furuseth (NOR)

IMSA: Sebring Day 2 of two-day test notebook

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Testing across several IMSA sanctioned series continued at Sebring International Raceway on Tuesday as preparations continue for next month’s events during the weekend of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

Below are highlights from Day 2 of testing around the 3.74-mile road course.

Eurosport Racing Continues Work with Mazda Prototype Challenge Chassis

Teams in the Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda championship completed their second day of testing on Tuesday. Among them, Eurosport Racing continued their work with the only Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) entries in the field, in the hands of drivers Dr. Tim George (in the No. 24 entry) and Jon Brownson (in the No. 34).

“Right now, I’m driving by myself so we’re trying to make the car comfortable enough to last an hour and 45 minutes with just me in the car,” George said of their preparation efforts. “We’re trying to set up the car where it’s quick, yet it and can last, both the car and for me to make sure we don’t tire out, get fatigued and make mistakes.”

The 1 hour 45 minute window that George referenced represents the race times for the 2018 season, up considerably from last year’s sprint format that featured a pair of 45-minute races across a race weekend.

Though that change represents a drastic shift in driving philosophy, it is one that George welcomes.

“The new rules for the endurance races are great, I enjoy it a lot,” said George. “It gives you a chance to think through things differently with strategy. It also gives you a chance if you blow it…in a sprint race if you make a mistake you don’t get a chance to come back.”

Florida Drivers in Continental Tire Challenge Eager for Hometown Race at Sebring

A strong contingent of drivers from Florida are represented in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, and next month’s 12 Hours of Sebring weekend will see them compete on home soil.

“I grew up in Tallahassee and I live in Orlando now, so Sebring has been my home track since day one,” said Paul Holton, driver of the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren GT4, which finished 14th at the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. “I’ve spent a lot of time down here and really enjoy the place. It’s a nice, quaint little town not far from Orlando so it’s a quick, easy drive down for me.”

Fellow Floridian Ramin Abdolvahabi, a native of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and driver of the No. 09 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage, revealed that, even though Sebring is only two hours from his hometown, this week’s test was his first time at the track in two years.

“I haven’t been here for two years, so coming back is like coming home,” he said. “It’s a fantastic track and it’s one of the iconic tracks in the world so being at Sebring – a small town, my hometown, welcoming – it’s fantastic. I went on the track a couple of times yesterday and it’s just like wearing an old shoe, it just fits and it’s fantastic. Hopefully, the race will go well and the weather will hold, so anyone who’s out there, come and see us!”

Frank Raso Trades in Airplanes for Porsches at Sebring

Several IMSA drivers boast “day jobs” outside of their racing gigs. Among them, Frank Raso’s work falls outside of ordinary jobs like doctor or lawyer. Rather, Raso flies airplanes for a living.

“I’m an airline pilot for a major airline,” said Raso, who tested the No. 10 Topp Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car at Sebring. “I’ve been flying for almost 30 years, and it’s allowed me, with all my time off and things like that to do this and fall back into racing again. I messed with it a little bit when I was younger, but it was, of course, expensive, so I got away from it for a while. I decided I wanted to get back into it in kind of my last couple of years before I get too old.”

Raso explained that the skills he practices while flying planes are more than transferable to his driving duties in a Porsche GT3 Cup car.

“Flying an airliner or flying any airplane, we have checklists, but everything is kind of done in order. It’s almost in a robot fashion type of a thing where you do this, you do this, you do this and you have to make sure you hit all your marks and fly the airplane with precision.

“So, when you get in these Cup cars, with no anti-lock brakes, no traction control, and no driver assist items, you have to make sure you hit your marks, when you’re accelerating, when you’re turning in. You have to be alert. It keeps your wits about you. The car can step out at any time. They’re a very difficult car to drive, but they’re a lot of fun.”
The 54-year-old Raso posted a best finish of fourth, on four separate occasions, in a part-time schedule during the 2017 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season as a competitor in the Gold Cup class.
Newcomers Get Taste of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge
A number of new drivers got to sample Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge cars during the two days of testing at Sebring. Among them was amateur racer Scott Welham, who got his first taste of professional racing during the two-day outing at Sebring.
And he had a strong support system backing him up in the Kelly-Moss Road and Race team, the defending Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champions with driver Jake Eidson.
“Here, you’ve got somebody that actually does coaching, data acquisition, track management – these are all separate people – plant manager, owner, a car-setup guy, you’ve got someone that bills you – which isn’t always a good thing, but you know, you just have that huge, huge support group that enables you to focus on driving,” Welham said of the team’s influence on his development over the two days.
IMSA’s next visit to Sebring will be for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17.