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.