Marco Andretti gave his 2017 season an early shot in the arm by turning the fastest lap in opening practice for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He backed it up with the eighth fastest time in the second practice, which put him eighth fastest overall for the day, a solid start after a dismal 2016 season.
Andretti commented that his performance was a result of the Andretti Autosport team getting to grips with the track. He explained, “I just think we did a good job chasing the track. I mean, the track is very low-grip, which is not what we were expecting. We were expecting the new pavement to be higher-grip. Everybody’s sliding around a lot and I think we just did a good job of chasing it.”
Andretti was also quick to credit new technical director Eric Bretzman for improving the team’s engineering efforts. “He’s fantastic. It’s what we needed. I talked to him all through the off-season. I talked to him every week. He really updates me, includes us in development, which is very important. So, it’s very good.”
He was also pleased to run the softer “red” tires on Friday afternoon, a change in policy for Friday practice sessions. “It takes some of the guessing out of it,” he asserted. “A lot of the time, you’d guess wrong on the balance for qualifying. I don’t think it should be a guessing game. So I think that’s good to get a run on them before qualifying.”
One element that could throw a wrench into things is weather. Rain is a possibility for Sunday’s race, but Andretti did not express concern, referencing the need to adapt to changing conditions and the influence teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay has on his mindset. “It’s the same for everybody. We know in Florida sometimes it’s just humid and it goes away,” he said of the weather. “But, we just have to adapt. That’s what Ryan is good at. Where I used to get worked up about things, like (changing) Turn 3, I’d be like ‘Oh man, they’re changing Turn 3,’ and he’d be like ‘I don’t care if tomorrow we run this track upside down. We’re going to conquer it.’ So, it’s a good mindset to have: make big problems into little problems. He definitely helps turn mountains into molehills for me.”
In all, Andretti is confident at the conclusion of Friday’s practices. “I think I’ve made gains. I think Honda has made gains. Our team approach has made gains. If we each make small gains, it could be a big (gain).”
Saturday practice for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg begins at 10:50 a.m. ET.
MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Sunday times and notebook
Thompson (90, Exclusive) and Hoogenboom (78, BN) in Pro Mazda. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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.