Pro Mazda 2016 season preview

Nico Jamin steps up. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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The upshot of the increased Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires field is that the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires field loses a number of drivers this year. With fewer teams in the championship, there’s no way to sugarcoat it: it’s a sparse field.

Although there’s just eight full-season primary class cars confirmed – albeit with more possible – there’s still enough talent sprinkled in to where it doesn’t figure to be a runaway by any one driver. The three confirmed series veterans – Garett Grist, Weiron Tan and Will Owen – do figure to have an early edge over the five rookies in the three teams.

For purposes of this preview, we’ll be looking at the primary class entries. Jay Horak and Bobby Eberle also run in the National Class.

Team Pelfrey

Team Pelfrey has upgraded its presence in Pro Mazda, and has two confirmed new drivers for the year. Santiago Urrutia steps up to Indy Lights after winning last year’s title; and Pato O’Ward also tested at Barber.

  • 81-Weiron Tan: The Malaysian returns for his second season after winning four regular season races and two Winterfest rounds a year ago with Andretti Autosport. With greater consistency, should challenge for the title.
  • 82-Aaron Telitz: Don’t let Telitz’s humor and easygoing personality fool you; he’s intensely serious behind the wheel. Will be keen to emerge at the head of the “Nico-Aaron-Jake” logjam that dominated USF2000 last year.
  • 80-Pato O’Ward: The young Mexican has tested both in Pro Mazda and IMSA Mazda Prototype Lites this winter. If he returns for a full season, he’ll give Pelfrey another set of data and a bit of continuity.

Juncos Racing 

The four-car Juncos effort features two returnees and two newcomers. Purely on strength of numbers, Juncos has the best shot to win the title.

  • 5-Garett Grist: The 20-year-old Canadian is one of the preseason title favorites as he returns for his third year in Pro Mazda, with the sole purpose of securing the title. Came on strongly in second half last year and should be even better this season.
  • 23-Will Owen: Also 20, the series sophomore should win his first race and potentially vie for the title. Juggles his studies at TCU with racing; also raced down under in New Zealand in the Toyota Racing Series this winter.
  • 31-Nicolas Dapero: Argentine 17-year-old rookie graduates from F3 and karting into Pro Mazda. Should develop nicely as the year goes on.
  • 00-Jake Parsons: No word yet if he’ll garner the “Double 0” nickname to match his car number, but the 21-year-old Australian is an intriguing prospect, having raced primarily in Asia in Formula Masters and Formula BMW.

Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing

Cape’s been regarded as the team to beat in USF2000 but has come up short of Pro Mazda titles with Scott Hargrove and Neil Alberico the last two years. They’ll have two USF2000 graduates look to break the drought this year.

  • 2-Nico Jamin: Jamin, 20, dominated the USF2000 season and will win races in Pro Mazda. The question is how many and if he can get on enough of a roll to upend the few returning drivers in the series.
  • 3-Jake Eidson: Another 20-year-old, the young American fought valiantly against the Cape juggernaut in USF2000 last year and now rejoins the team as he steps into Pro Mazda this year. Wins are likely, but he needs to find that next-level killer instinct if he wants to contend for a title.

JDC Motorsports

John Church’s team continues with at least one full-season entrant and perhaps a National class car for Kevin Davis at selected rounds.

  • 19-Jorge Cevallos: The 21-year-old Mexican was a late add to the Barber test, and has raced formula cars primarily in his home country.

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds