MRTI: Team Pelfrey primed for big first full season in Indy Lights

Photo: Team Pelfrey
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It’s a mix of new and old blended together for Team Pelfrey ahead of its first full season in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, with the Dale Pelfrey-owned squad forging full speed ahead with a projected two-car program.

The genesis of Pelfrey’s Lights team – which is a different entity from the Pelfrey Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and F1600 programs – originates from Pelfrey wanting to get closer to IndyCar, but trying to figure out the best path forward in which to do so.

Following the acquisition of 8Star Motorsports, including all crew, assets and equipment and the Pompano Beach, Florida-based workshop, Team Pelfrey’s Lights program has its systems engaged as it looks ahead to 2016.

According to Team Pelfrey team manager Gary Neal, the timing was right for this opportunity to materialize after the 8Star team starred in a partial 2015 schedule with Sean Rayhall and Scott Hargrove driving.

“Dale was interested in starting a new team, or a new venture in Indy Lights on his own, but then was looking at partnering with Enzo (Potolicchio) about 8Star Motorsports,” Neal told MotorSportsTalk.

“In the period of four days, he came to the conclusion he’d like to own a team rather than partner. He’d made the decision to acquire the team, including keeping me as director of ops and Yves (Touron) as engineer. We closed two weeks after the initial meeting.

“It’s not an expansion so much as an extension. Dale owns this team outright, and Nigel (Tuckey) has more (of a leadership role) in Team Pelfrey (other teams).

“He was interested in the fact that it’s a new car, with a new lifespan ahead of it. Dale wanted to get back closer to IndyCar, the next level below IndyCar. He’s run a quality organization. His business has always been founded on quality relationships.”

The 8Star team had one of the new Dallara IL-15 Mazda chassis and following the purchase, Pelfrey purchased a second chassis outright. Both cars are targeted to race for the full season.

Compared to more Indianapolis area-based teams, having a Florida base is beneficial for Team Pelfrey in the winter when it comes to testing.

“We have two really good tracks with Palm Beach and Sebring (International Raceways), within two hours of the shop,” Neal said. “And Homestead is a good track also. But not as good as PBIR.

“It’s a 50-50. Teams based in Indianapolis have less travel costs during year. But in winter mine are cheaper than theirs. It doesn’t make much difference than Indianapolis during the races. Maybe some races, my truck arrives home a day later than Indianapolis. It doesn’t compromise us any.”

Neal confirmed he’s tested Hargrove and 2015 FIA Formula 3 European champion Felix Rosenqvist over two days of testing at Palm Beach International Raceway. Juan Piedrahita has also been linked to a seat, but nothing is confirmed yet.

“We actually ran two days in Palm Beach, one day with Scott Hargrove and Felix Rosenqvist,” Neal said. “Scott jumped back in and was up to speed. Since he’d tested at Palm Beach, he knew what the car was going to do.

“What we’d learned from the season and with Sean developing the car further it was a newer setup, and it was improved from the beginning of the year. There were five other cars on the track but I know we were competitive.

“Felix, he’s the F3 champ and has won Macau the last two years. He’s a very competent driver. It would be great if we can get him in the car.”

The team’s planned deadline for naming drivers is just prior to the single-day oval test at Phoenix International Raceway, February 25. Neal noted the importance of the test because 8Star didn’t run the short oval races last year.

“Everybody would loved to have had our seats done before Christmas, but there’s still a bunch of time,” Neal said. “My deadline is the 19th or 20th of February, right before the Phoenix oval test.

“For the team, it’s crucial we make that test because we miss the short ovals last year.

“We need a driver. Scott is high on our list… and he’s one of our targets. We’re working hard to get with Scott to see if we can get him in the car. Continuity is important. Changing during the season doesn’t help anybody.”

Anyone who will have paid attention to 8Star’s sports car program, owned by Enzo Potolicchio, would not have been surprised at the quality of the effort turned in last year in Indy Lights.

Pelfrey’s more of a known name within the open-wheel world compared to 8Star, but Neal says he and the small team’s background – they only have three full-time staff members – make up for quantity with quality and heart.

“My engineer and I came home to open-wheel racing,” Neal said. “He’d been an engineer in IndyCar (Dreyer & Reinbold Racing most recently) prior to coming to 8Star. I’d been at McLaren, and also Chip Ganassi Racing in IndyCar racing. We had the experience. A race car is a race car.

“Open-wheels, or closed wheels, it’s the experience we bring. Methods work. Were quite competitive with the IMSA Lites cars when we ran them. Those procedures work for us. We had some good drivers as well. It’s all part of the chemistry.

“We want to run a quality team. We don’t want to make up the numbers.”

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

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Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.

Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome during the inaugural season of 1974 on a 250, which was the premiere class at the time. Houston was one of three races held that year along with events at Daytona International Speedway and the Los Angeles Coliseum. All three venues return in 2023 with the first SuperMotocross championship finale returning to the famed LA Coliseum in September.

Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

More SuperMotocross coverage

Supercross unveils 16th edition of a Ricky Carmichael designed Daytona track
Power Rankings after week 3
Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list
Injury sidelines Austin Forkner for remainder of 2023 SX
Chase Sexton wins Anaheim 2 in 450s; Levi Kitchen takes 250s
Results and points from Anaheim 2