A mix of returning drivers and new young guns will make up the numbers for this weekend’s Mazda Road to Indy Chris Griffis Memorial Test. The fifth annual offseason test will take place at Austin’s Circuit of The Americas for the first time.
The full release from the Mazda Road to Indy is below:
A total of 34 drivers from 11 different nations will converge this weekend on the Circuit of The Americas, near Austin, Texas, for the annual Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test. The acclaimed Mazda Road to Indy offers opportunities for talented race car drivers to graduate all the way from karting through the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires to the Verizon Indy Car Series and the Indianapolis 500. Thirteen different teams representing all three levels will be seeking to gain a head start on preparations for the 2016 racing season.
Juncos Racing, which claimed its first Indy Lights championship this year with rising American star Spencer Pigot who will graduate to the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2016 with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, will field a pair of Mazda MZ-R turbo-powered Dallara IL-15 cars. Kyle Kaiser, who finished sixth in the points table this year following a strong rookie campaign, already has confirmed he will remain with the team in search of the 2016 championship with his familiar #18 entry. The California teenager will be joined at COTA by Mexican Jose Gutierrez, who has raced for Juncos in Pro Mazda the past two years, and Canadian Zachary Claman DeMelo, who raced Formula Renault 2.0 cars in Europe this year. Both youngsters will gain their first experience in an Indy Lights car and are due to share the championship-winning #12 car for one day apiece with Gutierrez also taking over the controls of the #18 car on Day Two.
Defending Indy Lights Team Champions Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian are set to field a pair of cars for Korea’s Heamin Choi, who competed in this year’s season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in advance of a full campaign in 2016, and Wisconsin native James French, who has gained extensive experience in a variety of high-powered open-wheel vintage cars and sports cars in recent years.
Andretti Autosport also has entered two cars for series veteran Shelby Blackstock, from Nashville, Tenn., and Canadian Dalton Kellett, who is stepping up to Indy Lights after competing in both USF2000 and Pro Mazda.
Five Pro Mazda teams will make the trip to Texas. Frenchman Nico Jamin, who won this year’s USF2000 championship, as well as a Mazda Scholarship to graduate to the next level, will remain with Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing for this weekend’s test.
Patricio “Pato” O’Ward (Team Pelfrey), from Monterrey, Mexico, and Will Owen (Juncos Racing), from Plano, Texas, both secured podium finishes during impressive rookie campaigns in Pro Mazda and are intent upon chasing top championship honors in 2016. Argentina’s Nicolas Dapero is confirmed at Juncos Racing for his rookie Pro Mazda season after driving a Formula Renault 2.0 car in South America this year. He will be joined by Australian Jake Parsons, the 2014 AsiaCup champion, who has been racing this year in the Formula Masters China Series.
Reigning Expert Series Champion Bobby Eberle will continue at the test with World Speed Motorsports and will be joined this weekend by fellow veterans Jay Horak (M1 Racing) and Kevin Davis (JDC MotorSports).
USF2000 will boast the largest contingent of drivers with as many as 18 youngsters seeking to gain experience of the first rung on the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder. Series veterans at the test will include China’s Yufeng Luo, Russia’s Nikita Lastochkin, and Pennsylvanian Garth Rickards, who finished seventh, eighth and ninth respectively during their rookie campaigns in 2015. Luo will remain with Pabst Racing for the test, joined this weekend by Rickards, while Lastochkin will join defending series champion team Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing alongside Californian TJ Fischer and Dutchman Rinus Van Kalmthout, who will each drive for one day.
Van Kalmthout also is one of four Mazda Road to Indy and MAXSpeed Group Driver Development Program winners who will share a pair of Afterburner Autosport Van Diemen-Mazdas for the two-day test, joining Trenton Estep, from San Antonio, Texas; Kyle Kirkwood, from Jupiter, Fla.; and Sting Ray Robb, from Payette, Idaho.
Another highly rated karting graduate, Oliver Askew from Tequesta, Fla., and 2014 INDYCAR Academy and Skip Barber Racing School graduate Chase Owen, from Houston, Texas, will also test for the Afterburner team.
Jordan Cane, from Bognor Regis, England, was too young to contest the opening six races in this year’s F1600 Championship Series, but after reaching his 14th birthday he made up for lost time by winning seven of 15 races and vaulting to fourth in the championship standings. The gifted youngster will make the step to USF2000 this weekend with Team Pelfrey alongside similarly highly touted youngster Robert Megennis, from New York, N.Y.
Recently crowned Australian Formula Ford champion Cameron Hill, who hails from the same town, Queanbeyan, as ex-Formula 1 and current factory Porsche FIA World Endurance Championship driver Mark Webber, will gain his first taste of slicks-and-wings open-wheel racing when he joins JDC MotorSports for the two-day test alongside Formula Mazda regular Tazio Ottis, from Alameda, Calif.
Mexico’s Andres Gutierrez will drive the same John Cummiskey Racing Van Diemen which Australian Anthony Martin guided to Rookie of the Year honors in 2015.
Two teams who dipped a toe in the USF2000 waters this season, Swan Racing and RJB Motorsports, also will join the COTA test in anticipation of full programs in 2016. Swan will field SCCA F1600 front-runner Max Mallinen, while RJB will enter a car for F600 champion Clint McMahan.
A total of six test sessions for each series will be conducted over the two days. The full schedule is available on the series’ websites at indylights.com, promazda.com and usf2000.com.
THERMAL, Calif. – Winning the Indy 500 is a crowning achievement for driver and car owner, but for Chip Ganassi, last May’s victory by Marcus Ericsson had meaning even beyond just capturing one of the world’s greatest sporting events.
When Ganassi was 5 years old and growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, his father, Floyd, attended a convention in Indianapolis in 1963. Floyd went to Indianapolis Motor Speedway to tour the track and visit the former museum that used to stand next to the main gate on 16th and Georgetown.
Ganassi’s father brought young Chip a souvenir from the gift shop. It was an 8-millimeter film of the 1963 Indy 500, a race won by the legendary Parnelli Jones.
“I must have watched it about 1,000 times,” Ganassi recalled. “More importantly than that, something you did when you were 5 years old is still with you today.
“I was 50 years old when I celebrated my Thanksgiving with Parnelli. It dawned on me that something I did when I was 5 years old took me to when I was 50 years old. That’s pretty special.”
Ericsson and Ganassi were presented with their “Baby Borgs,” the mini-replicas of the Borg-Warner Trophy, in a ceremony Feb. 2 at The Thermal Club (which played host to NTT IndyCar Series preseason testing). The win in the 106th Indy 500 marked the sixth time a Ganassi driver won the biggest race in the world.
Ganassi will turn 65 on May 24, just four days before the 107th Indianapolis 500 on May 28. The 2023 race will mark the 60th anniversary of the victory by Jones, who is now the oldest living winner of the Indianapolis 500 at 89.
Jones wanted to do something special for Ericsson and Ganassi, so each was given framed photos personally inscribed by Jones.
“Congratulations Marcus Ericsson and my good friend Chip Ganassi on winning the 2022 Indianapolis 500,” Jones said in remarks conveyed by BorgWarner publicist Steve Shunck. “There is no greater race in the whole world and winning it in 1963 was by far the biggest thrill in my life.”
Ganassi’s relationship with his racing hero began 60 years ago, but the two have shared some important moments since then.
It was Jones that signed off on Ganassi’s first Indianapolis 500 license in 1982. Jones was one of the veteran observers who worked with Ganassi and other rookie drivers that year to ensure they were capable of competing in the high-speed, high-risk Indianapolis 500.
When Ganassi turned 50, he got to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner with Jones.
“We’ve been friends over the years,” Ganassi told NBC Sports. “He wrote me a personal note and sent me some personal photographs. It really says what this race is all about and how important it is to win the biggest auto race in the world.”
Michelle Collins, the director of global communications and marketing for BorgWarner, presented the “Baby Borgs,” first to Ganassi and then to Ericsson.
“More special is winning the Indianapolis 500,” Ganassi said during the presentation. “It’s been a big part of my life. I want to call out my buddy, Roger Penske, and thank him for the stewardship of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and what it means to us. It’s about the history, the tradition and, to me, it’s about the people that have meant so much in my life.
“Thanks for the trophy, Marcus.”
The Baby Borg presentation also came on the birthday of sculptor William Behrends, who has crafted the Bas-relief sterling silver face of each winner on the Borg-Warner Trophy since 1990. The “Baby Borg” presents each winner with a miniature of one of the most famous trophies in sports.
“I have to thank BorgWarner for everything that has happened since winning the Indianapolis 500, including the trip to Sweden,” said Ericsson, who took a November victory lap in his native country. “I’m very thankful for that because it’s memories that are going to be with me for the rest of my life.
“To bring the Borg-Warner Trophy to my hometown, seeing all the people there on the city square on a dark day in the middle of November. It was filled with people and that was very special.
“I’m very proud and honored to be part of Chip Ganassi Racing. To win the Indianapolis 500 with that team is quite an honor. It’s a team effort and a lot of people worked very hard to make this happen.
“Our focus now is to go back-to-back at the Indy 500.”
If Ericsson is successful in becoming the first driver to win back-to-back Indy since Helio Castroneves in 2001-02, he can collect an additional $420,000 in the Borg-Warner Rollover Bonus. With Castroneves the last driver to collect, the bonus has grown to an astronomical amount over 21 years.
Ericsson is from Kumla, Sweden, so the $420,000 would have an exchange rate of $4,447,641.67 Swedish Kronor.
“It’s a nice thing to know I could get that if I do win it again,” Ericsson told NBC Sports. “But the Indianapolis 500 with its history as the biggest and greatest race in the world, it doesn’t matter with the money, with the points, with anything. Everyone is going to go out there and do everything to win that race.
“It’s great to know that, but I will race just as hard.”
A popular slogan in racing is “Chip Likes Winners.” After winning the 106th Indy 500, Ganassi must really love Ericsson.
“It doesn’t get much bigger than that, does it? I’m very thankful to be driving for Chip,” Ericsson said. “He likes winners and winning the Indianapolis 500, it doesn’t get better than that.”
When Ericsson was presented with his Baby Borg, he stood off to the side and admired it the way a child looks at a special gift on Christmas morning. The wide-eyed amazement of his career-defining moment was easy to read and met with delight by executives of BorgWarner (an automotive and technology company that has sponsored the Borg-Warner Trophy since its 1935 debut).
“I noticed that immediately and I was watching him look at it wishing I had a camera to capture that,” Collins told NBC Sports. “But maybe not because we always have our phones in front of us and it’s nice to take in that moment as it is. That is what makes the moment well worth it.”
Said BorgWarner executive vice president and chief strategic officer Paul Farrell: “It’s very special to have the big trophy that has been around since 1935 and to have a piece of that. Hopefully it’s something that (Ericsson) cherishes. We think it’s special, and clearly, Marcus Ericsson thinks it is very special.”
The process takes several more steps before the face is reduced to the size of an egg and casted in sterling silver. It is attached to the permanent Borg-Warner Trophy and unveiled at a ceremony later in the year. Ericsson’s face was unveiled last October during a ceremony in Indianapolis.
That’s when it hit Ericsson, a three-time winner in IndyCar after going winless in Formula One over 97 starts from 2014-18.
“Until then, it was strange because you are so busy with your season right after the Indy 500 you don’t really get much time to sit back and think about what you had accomplished,” Ericsson said. “It was the offseason before I really realized what I had done.”
The permanent trophy remains on display at Indianapolis Motor Speedway but has been known to travel with the winning driver on special tours, such as the Nov. 3-7 trip to Sweden.
“It’s been incredible to see the amount of interest in me and the IndyCar Series and the Indy 500,” Ericsson said. “The trophy tour with the Borg-Warner Trophy we did in November really made a huge impact in Sweden. I was on every TV show, morning TV, magazines, newspapers, everywhere. People are talking about IndyCar racing. People are talking about Marcus Ericsson. It’s been huge.
“I was back in Sweden last month for the Swedish Sports Awards and I finished third in the Sports Performance of the Year. Motorsports is usually not even nominated there, and I finished third. That says a lot about the interest and support I’ve gotten back home in Sweden.”
Ericsson continued to reap the rewards of his Indianapolis 500 victory last week at the lavish Thermal Club, about a 45-minute drive from Palm Springs, California.
Earlier in the day before the Baby Borg presentation, Ericsson, and Chip Ganassi were among the 27 car-driver combinations that completed the first day of IndyCar’s “Spring Training” on the 17-turn, 3.067-mile road course. The next day, Ericsson turned the test’s fastest lap.
The 32-year-old still seems to be riding the wave, along with his girlfriend, Iris Tritsaris Jondahl, a Greece native who also lived in Sweden and now lives with Ericsson in Indianapolis.
“Today, receiving my Baby Borg, it was another thing of making it real,” Ericsson said. “It’s not a dream. It’s reality. To get the Baby Borg and bring it home. My girlfriend, Iris, and I are house hunting, looking for a house in Indianapolis. It will definitely have a very special place in our new home.”
Ericsson told NBC Sports his most cherished trophy before getting his Baby Borg was for his first NTT IndyCar Series win in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix in 2021.
“It was such a huge win for me and such a huge breakthrough for me and my career,” he said. “After that, it catapulted me into a top driver in IndyCar.”
The Brickyard win was another level for Ericsson, who moved to Ganassi in 2020.
“Marcus kept himself in the race all day,” Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull told NBC Sports. “Anybody that ran a race like Marcus ran, maybe you deserve the race win, but you don’t always get it. Marcus did everything that it took, and we are really, really proud of him.”
Ericsson also proved last year to be one of the best oval drivers in the series, a much different form of racing than he experienced until he came to the United States.
“Racing in Europe and around the world, I always liked high-speed corners,” he explained. “It was always my favorite. I always had this idea if I go to IndyCar and race on the ovals, it is something that would suit me and my driving style. I was always excited to try that. When I came to IndyCar and started to drive on ovals, I liked it straight away. It worked for me and my style.
“The first few attempts at Indy, I had good speed, but it was always some small mistakes that got me out of contention. I learned from them. I’m very proud I was able to pull it off, but it was a lot of hard work behind that.”
The victory in the Indianapolis 500 is etched in history, as is Ericsson’s face on the trophy.
“It’s such a special thing,” the driver said. “The BorgWarner people and IndyCar and everyone at IMS, I get to experience so many cool things since winning the Indy 500. It’s a win that keeps on giving. It never ends. It still does.
“I can’t wait to get back to Indianapolis, the month of May, as the champion. I still have to pinch myself. It’s a dream, for sure.”
Ganassi doesn’t have to pinch himself — all he needs to do is look at his collection of Baby Borgs.
His first Indy 500 win — as a team co-owner with Pat Patrick — came in 1989 with Emerson Fittipaldi’s thrilling duel against Al Unser Jr.
In 1990, Ganassi formed Chip Ganassi Racing. Juan Pablo Montoya won the Indianapolis 500 in 2000, Scott Dixon in 2008, Dario Franchitti in 2010 and 2012 and Ericsson in 2022.
“It’s a feather in the team’s cap for sure just to have our representation on the Borg-Warner Trophy with five other drivers,” Ganassi said. “It’s a testament to the team, a testament to Mike Hull that runs the team in Indianapolis. I just feel really lucky to be a part of it. It’s great to work with a great team of great people.
“Just to relive that moment again and again never gets old; never goes away. I’m really lucky to be in the position I’m in. It’s an honor to represent the team with the great people that it took to bring Marcus across the finish line. He and I get to celebrate events like this, but it’s really about the people at Chip Ganassi Racing in Indianapolis that pull this all together.”