So perhaps at the front, things haven’t changed a great deal. Mercedes still rules the roost, and the gap to the rest of the field is just as big as it was before (if not bigger). On qualifying pace – the raw times that we get at the end of the session – the gap is at least half a second between Mercedes and the rest of the field. Daniel Ricciardo finished third for Red Bull some 0.536s behind Nico Rosberg in P2.
If we take a look at the race pace, though, half a second is being kind.
As per usual, the second half of FP2 on Friday was all about long runs and race pace. The times rarely change in the second half of the session as the teams whack on the harder tire and fill the car full of fuel. Unlike the qualifying sims, the drivers complete far longer runs of around 15 laps to evaluate a normal stint. It gives us an insight into how they might shape up on a Sunday.
And if the script does indeed follow FP2, Mercedes will waltz to a win. Throughout their long runs, Hamilton and Rosberg continually lapped in the 1:30s and 1:31s region – a full one second faster than Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull, and almost 1.5 seconds ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in the Ferrari.
So at the front, not much appears to have changed. However, further back, there certainly are a few movers.
Lotus is the team that finally could break its duck this weekend. Zero points from the first four races isn’t much to shout about, but Romain Grosjean did look set to finish in the top ten in China only for a gearbox problem to force him into retirement. However, Pastor Maldonado finished an excellent P9 in FP2, whilst Grosjean would most probably have done a bit better than 17th had it not been for a problem on his car.
Marussia is another team to keep an eye on. Sure, points aren’t on the cards, but after a close-run battle with Caterham over the last few races (and years, in fact), the team appears to have forged ahead. Jules Bianchi finished 16th in FP1, some 1.2 seconds ahead of the Caterhams, and in FP2 extended this advantage to 1.4 seconds. Max Chilton might have been a bit unrealistic saying that he wanted to take on Sauber this weekend, but his French teammate could have a shot.
Finally, McLaren also appeared to be in better shape on Friday as Kevin Magnussen and Jenson Button both finished inside the top ten in FP2. After a difficult few races in cold conditions, the return to the warmer coast of Spain is certainly suiting the MP4-29.
It might seem all the same at the front, but there has definitely been some movement further back over the past three weeks.
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.