Garth Rickards is the first driver confirmed for Carlin’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires program next season, with the Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania native stepping up from the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda ranks into an Dallara IL-15 Mazda.
Carlin ran three cars this year with Ed Jones winning the championship, and graduating to the Verizon IndyCar Series with Dale Coyne Racing. Neil Alberico isn’t confirmed but seems very likely to be back for a second season while a third car would be a topic of intrigue.
As for 24-year-old Rickards, he completed two years in USF2000 with Team Pelfrey and Pabst Racing, and scored his first series podium with third at Mid-Ohio last year, at his de facto home track. Rickards has tested extensively with Carlin this offseason prior to this signing. He showed a lot of pace in USF2000 but was frequently unlucky from a results standpoint, and perhaps that’s why his overall mark wasn’t as good as it could have been.
“To say I am excited is an understatement and I can’t thank everyone who was involved enough,” Rickards said. “Carlin has proven that they are one of the best junior open wheel teams in the world with their track record. Their focus on driver development will really help me grow and move my way up through the field in my rookie season.
“Trevor and the whole Carlin squad have been extremely supportive and I’m excited to work with them hopefully for many years. I want to personally thank David Luther and Luther Automotive for believing in me and helping me continue to chase my dream. Together with all my associate sponsors coming on board it has put us in a great position to be a force in 2017.”
Team principal Trevor Carlin added, “We are extremely pleased to have Garth join us here at Carlin for 2017. Garth has shown real potential in his career so far and it’s always nice to see a driver moving further up the Mazda Road to Indy ladder. We know that Garth will be a strong addition to our team and having already worked with him over the course of a test program we’re looking forward continuing where we left off and building a strong program together for the season ahead.”
Rickards is the ninth Indy Lights driver confirmed for 2017. Andretti Autosport (with Steinbrenner Racing for Colton Herta’s entry, 4 total cars), Juncos Racing (2) and Belardi Auto Racing (2) have also confirmed entries with Team Pelfrey now the only team yet to reveal its first driver for next season.
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.