The departure of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports from the 2017 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires grid doesn’t necessarily mean a departure of cars from the grid, if those cars wind up elsewhere.
At least one more figures to land with Andretti Autosport, with the team closing on running four cars next season.
The team confirmed Nico Jamin earlier this week, in addition to the previously confirmed Dalton Kellett. Ryan Norman has tested for Andretti this offseason and figures to be added, while a fourth car would be a wild card.
“He went really well. He’s the real deal,” team principal Michael Andretti told NBC Sports about Jamin. “He’s serious about it. His approach is very professional. He’ll be really quick.
“We’re excited to have him, Dalton, and then we have a couple other deals trying to get finalized. We’d fully expect to be a four-car team. We bought a lot of stuff from (Schmidt).”
While Andretti is doing his part to help the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder with a four-car effort, and with Belardi Auto Racing and Juncos Racing poised to be bigger teams in 2017 than they were in 2016, he did note the concern over the series’ costs of operating.
For several years, Andretti Autosport ran a team in all three rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy. However, first the team’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, then Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, programs were discontinued. The Dallara IL-15 Mazda, introduced prior to 2015, has witnessed an escalation in costs compared to the older Dallara that came into the series at its inception in 2002.
“That’s the problem; this new car made the same mistakes IndyCar did,” Andretti said. “It’s costing a good $200,000 more than what it used to, and it’s a big number. That’s been a big problem.
“That’s why they’re struggling, because it’s expensive with the (U.S.) dollar being so strong. Europeans aren’t necessarily looking because of the strength of the dollar. Personally, I feel the new car was a bit of mistake the way they went about it.”
Andretti Autosport had Kellett, Dean Stoneman and Shelby Blackstock this year in Indy Lights. Blackstock shifted to Belardi Auto Racing, while Stoneman is unsure of what he’ll be doing next season. The Englishman won twice, both on the road course and oval at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
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.