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

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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.”

INDYCAR: Patricio O’Ward turns heads in Carlin debut

Chris Jones / IndyCar
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While the top story coming out of Sunday’s IndyCar Classic at Circuit of the Americas is undoubtedly 18-year-old Colton Herta’s victory in only his third IndyCar start, another teenager made quite some noise during the first IndyCar race at the facility.

19-year-old Patricio O’Ward made an impressive start to his 2019 IndyCar campaign by starting and finishing in eighth position. It was the first of his 13 races this season for Carlin Racing.

“I think it was a pretty good race for us. We ended exactly where we started and didn’t go backwards, so I’d say that was a successful day” O’Ward said. “I know the No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet had a top-five finish in it today and even though we couldn’t make it happen, it’s nice to know that we have the pace and can be fighting up front with the veteran drivers.”

O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champ, made his series debut for Harding Steinbrenner Racing at last year’s season finale at Sonoma Raceway, where he made it to the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying and finished ninth. O’Ward was scheduled to race for the team full-time in 2019, but left in early February to pursue other options due to a lack of sponsorship.

Pato found a new home with Carlin, and despite missing preseason testing, he proved to be competitive from the get go and pressured some of IndyCar’s more tenured drivers, including Graham Rahal.

In what was undoubtedly the most daring move of the race, O’Ward ended a great battle with Rahal by hitting a superb outside pass on Lap 15.

O’Ward may have likely earned a better result on Sunday, if he didn’t have to save fuel in order to make the finish.

But with only two IndyCar starts to his credit, he is already racing like a seasoned veteran. Sunday’s IndyCar Classic may be the first of many successful outings for him this year.

After the race, he tweeted to his team: “Well done gentlemen … This is only the beginning.”

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