Nico Jamin steps up. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Pro Mazda 2016 season preview

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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.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”