MRTI: NOLA Cooper Tires Winterfest recap

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The first week of the 2015 Cooper Tires Winterfest is in the books for the Mazda Road to Indy, from NOLA Motorsports Park outside New Orleans. Here’s a quick recap of where things stand at the moment:

INDY LIGHTS PRESENTED BY COOPER TIRES (Results)

Former Marussia F1 driver Max Chilton stole the show over the two-day test period, with his fastest lap both a half second faster than the rest of the field and without the benefit of the new push-to-pass system (extra 50 hp from the 2.0L turbocharger Mazda MZR-R engine).

With 112 laps completed, Chilton was also one of the busiest drivers too, only three laps in arrears of lap leader Shelby Blackstock (115) of Andretti Autosport. Scott Anderson (108), RC Enerson (105), Kyle Kaiser (102) and Felix Serralles (100) also topped the century mark.

Spencer Pigot, the reigning Pro Mazda champion, had a truncated test after an off course excursion damaged his tub. The Juncos Racing team, he said, will work to get him out for the Barber test next week.

PRO MAZDA CHAMPIONSHIP PRESENTED BY COOPER TIRES (Results)

Remember English up-and-comer Jack Aitken, who delivered a scathing critique of the FIA’s new superlicence points system earlier this year? He made a statement on track in Pro Mazda this week at NOLA with two wins from the three races for Team Pelfrey, in a warmup for his main campaign back overseas in Formula Renault Eurocup.

Aitken and Weiron Tan of Andretti Autosport were the two stars of the week, and occasionally at odds with each other.

Aitken held off Tan’s charges in Thursday’s race one, with Tan later alleging Aitken of weaving to defend. Tan crushed the field in Friday’s race two as Aitken was among several cars caught up in a start line incident (see below).

In race three, Aitken held off Tan once more and Tan made it apparent he wasn’t pleased both by walking away from the podium and delivering a harsh post-race official quote.

“I was extremely frustrated with the officials for Race Three… I got the inside heading into Turn One and was in front by the apex and Jack Aitken had run wide and exceeded the track limits to claim a position,” Tan said, via the Andretti team release.

“Not only was I mad that he was not told to return the position the next lap, every single lap at Turn One and Turn Five he had exceeded the track limits without fail and a call was not made until Lap 14 in which a warning was given. Even after that he still did the same thing and nothing was done by the officials.

“I have nothing against Jack or the other drivers, but what I would like to see more fair competition. I race within the rules, so should everyone else. Officials must make things clearer. Race Three was not right and I couldn’t bring justice to it.”

From Aitken’s perspective: “The third race was almost a replay of the first race, with Weiron getting close a couple of times. I managed to hold on for the win to take two out of three and we’re looking forward to more at Barber next week.”

Tan later apologized on Twitter and will head to Barber Motorsports Park tied with Aitken in the points standings.

COOPER TIRES USF2000 CHAMPIONSHIP POWERED BY MAZDA (Results)

Jake Eidson took two of three wins in the USF2000 trio of races at NOLA for Pabst Racing; the Colorado native is yet to be confirmed to the team after racing with Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing.

Eidson led home Cape’s pair of 2015 drivers, Aaron Telitz and Nico Jamin, in Thursday’s race one. Victor Franzoni took the win in Friday’s race two, courtesy of an impressive seventh to first drive.

Franzoni had a dominant drive in race three as well en route to the win, but his car was later disqualified following post-race technical inspection. That gave Eidson his second win of the week, and a 26-point lead heading to Barber next week.

Santino Ferrucci will drive No. 14 for AJ Foyt Racing full time in 2023 IndyCar season

Santino Ferrucci AJ Foyt
James Gilbert/Getty Images
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Santino Ferrucci will return to full-time racing in the NTT IndyCar Series next season, joining AJ Foyt Racing.

Ferrucci had made eight IndyCar starts with three teams since his last full-time season in 2020 while also racing part time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year.

He will drive the storied No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet for four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt’s team, which will field the car from its Waller, Texas headquarters.

“It’s incredibly exciting to be back in the INDYCAR Series full time,” Ferrucci said in a team release. “Being a part-time driver over the last two years has been hard for me, personally. I’m a race car driver, and I want to compete. Working with different teams has been exciting, and I’m proud that no matter which car I’ve raced, I’ve always shown speed and consistency. I couldn’t be more excited to join AJ Foyt Racing in the 14 Chevy. I can’t wait to make the best of it.”

Ferrucci, 24, had finished a career-best fourth in IndyCar four times, including the 104th Indy 500 in 2020. He was the 2019 Indy 500 rookie of the year with a sixth.

In nine Xfinity starts since 2021, Ferrucci has a career-best finish of 13th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I am thrilled to welcome Santino to the team,” Larry Foyt said in a release. “He’s shown a knack for getting toward the front of the field, and I think he is a racer who moves forward on race day. A.J. sees the fire in him and has enjoyed their meetings together. I think Santino’s experience will help his rookie teammate as well, so he is a great addition to our roster.”

Ferrucci will be teamed at AJ Foyt Racing with Benjamin Pedersen, who finished fifth in the 2022 Indy Lights standings. The team has yet to specify the number for Pedersen’s entry, which will be fielded out of its Indianapolis race shop.

Foyt’s two full-time drivers last season were Dalton Kellett and Kyle Kirkwood, who is moving to Andretti Autosport.