After a six-week break since the Mazda Road to Indy season-opening weekend at St. Petersburg, Team Pelfrey is poised to build on the success it achieved on the streets of St. Pete.
The Nigel Tuckey-led Pelfrey enjoyed a dominant start to its Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires campaign, with Pato O’Ward and Aaron Telitz splitting the two race wins. With O’Ward and Telitz also second in the races they didn’t win, and Weiron Tan scoring his first podium for the team with third in race two, Pelfrey scored five of a possible six podiums.
For good measure, the team also had strong pace at Barber in preseason testing – Telitz, O’Ward and Tan were 1-2-3 – so hopes are high for continued success off the back of a strong season opener.
“With a Pelfrey 1-2 to start, it was unbeatable,” O’Ward told NBC Sports after his first win in the season opener. “I’m really happy for the team, and everyone set up the cars so fantastic. It was totally on rails.”
Telitz added after his win on Sunday in only his second Pro Mazda start, “It just feels awesome. Today the roles were flip-flopped where Pato was in front yesterday and I was trying to chase him down running consistent laps. Today I got out front and ran the race I wanted to run. I kept him behind me for the first five laps or whatever, then methodically laid down solid lap times.”
Telitz is a past winner at Barber. His most recent Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda win came there last year, and until his St. Petersburg win he’d been in a winning dry spell.
Not that it was getting to him, because it really wasn’t. Honest.
“It doesn’t even feel like a monkey. It doesn’t seem like that long ago,” Telitz said. “I did well in USF2000 and there were some races I didn’t win where I thought I should. So to get my first win first weekend is just amazing. I’m just crazy happy.”
Tan, meanwhile, looks for a calmer Barber weekend after a chaotic race there last year in the regular season, then driving with Andretti Autosport. Consistency, he said, will be key through the year.
“As I learned last year, we had quite a bit of trouble at the start of the season, and some more midseason,” Tan explained. “What I learned is consistency will pay at the end of it.”
Of the three, it’s an important weekend for O’Ward, who’s only confirmed through Barber in the team’s third car. A strong performance this weekend could go a long ways towards ensuring the talented young Mexican stays put for the rest of the season.
O’Ward is splitting his time between Pro Mazda and the IMSA Mazda Prototype Lites presented by Cooper Tires this season, and the balancing act is good for him as he continues to develop and gain seat time. In his opening Prototype Lites weekend at Sebring, a week after St. Petersburg, O’Ward finished second and fourth driving with Performance Tech Motorsports.
“Having a season under my belt definitely helps me now,” he said. “Now it’s knowing the track, knowing the people. That helped me improve session-to-session. All the seat time I can get helps. The best thing is, we started on the right front.”
In USF2000, look for the team’s quartet of rookies to shine because this is a track where all four will have had track experience from the open test.
Robert Megennis scored a surprise but welcome podium to open the season at St. Petersburg, and Jordan Cane followed up with another one in race two.
Megennis, Cane and fellow freshmen TJ Fischer and James Munro will look to topple the Pabst Racing train that swept the weekend in St. Petersburg, with Jordan Lloyd and Yufeng Luo splitting the two wins.
Munro was second, with Fischer, Cane and Megnenis eighth, ninth and 10th in testing at Barber. Munro completed 147 laps with Fischer, Cane and Megennis clocking 140, 155 and 152 laps, respectively.
The Pelfrey Pro Mazda and USF2000 efforts are separate entities from the Indy Lights program, which has Juan Piedrahita and Scott Hargrove on board looking for big results there. Hargrove, who finished second in St. Pete race one, helped Pelfrey with its total of eight podiums as a haul from St. Petersburg, across its three teams.