Perhaps overlooked in the run-up to the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis this weekend is that it’s also a showcase event for all three Mazda Road to Indy divisions, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.
As in Barber, each series will have a pair of races. But unlike Barber, no series has two races in one day; they’ll all have one Friday and one Saturday race.
In Indy Lights, the field is down to 11 cars with the withdrawal of Italian Vittorio Ghirelli, who had driven the second Team Moore Racing entry. Ghirelli was initially planned to race the full season, but was not present for the series’ open test on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval this past weekend – Jimmy Simpson, who drove the No. 22 in last year’s Freedom 100, filled in.
Up front the battle again is expected to rage between Zach Veach, points leader on 181, and Gabby Chaves, with 172 markers. The pair of split the four races thus far. Meanwhile it would not be a surprise to see Matthew Brabham or any of the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports quartet break through and claim their first win in the series.
Pro Mazda has seen Spencer Pigot of Juncos Racing go 4-4 to open the season, although his teammate, Kyle Kaiser and the pair of Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing drivers Neil Alberico and Scott Hargrove have shown promise as they seek to knock Pigot off the top step of the podium. A 20-car field will take the green flag for the two events; World Speed Motorsports adds a third car while JDC’s fourth, which had been driven by Italian Vicky Piria in the first two weekends, is not entered this one. Tough week for Italians in the ladder series…
With three wins from the first four USF2000 races, including a Saturday two-race sweep in Barber, Winterfest champion RC Enerson is poised to add to that this weekend. He’ll attempt to do so in a 23-car field that has its second significant driver change in as many races. Florian Latorre shifted from Belardi Auto Racing to Cape at Barber in a third car there; Jeroen Slaghekke now moves over to Belardi from Afterburner Autosport this weekend.
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.