The first step in seeing who lands where on the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires for 2017 is the annual Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy test, which takes place this weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Here’s a rundown of who’s testing where, when this weekend across the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series.
Over 40 drivers representing 12 countries will converge this weekend on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix circuit for the sixth annual Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires Test. All three levels of the unique open-wheel development ladder – which offers annual scholarships worth over $2.3M to progress from karting through the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires – will be in action on October 8/9 on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course in Speedway, Ind.
The two-day test is held in honor of former Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian Team Manager Chris Griffis, who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in September 2011 at the early age of 46. It will be notable also for the debut appearance of the new Tatuus USF-17, which will replace the venerable Van Diemen as the basis for the USF2000 series from 2017.
At least a dozen Indy Lights drivers, representing a mix of series veterans and rookies, are slated to participate, including newcomer Aaron Telitz, from Birchwood, Wis., who recently earned a scholarship to graduate into Indy Lights after winning this year’s Pro Mazda championship. Telitz will join the Schmidt Peterson team, which is comfortably the most successful team in the history of Indy Lights with 74 race wins and seven championships to its name, on Saturday before switching over to Belardi Auto Racing, which guided Chaves to the title in 2014 and won a series-high six races in 2016.
Carlin, winner of the 2016 championship with Ed Jones, will field a trio of cars for Zachary Claman De Melo, who placed ninth in the 2016 standings with Juncos Racing as a raw rookie, Neil Alberico, who this year earned a coveted commemorative ring in celebration of having competed on all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, and Garth Rickards, who has competed in USF2000 for the past two years.
Series veterans Kyle Kaiser, from California, and Brazilian Andre Negrao, who finished third and seventh, respectively, in the 2016 title-chase, will test for Juncos Racing alongside Pro Mazda race winner Nicolas Dapero, from Argentina, while 2015 USF2000 champion Nico Jamin, from France, will join Canadian veteran Dalton Kellett and Slovakian newcomer Richard Gonda at Andretti Autosport. Colombian Juan Piedrahita will seek to continue the progress he made this year during a partial campaign with Team Pelfrey.
Pro Mazda will undergo a transitional year in 2017 with the new Tatuus PM-18 due to be delivered during the summer ahead of its championship debut in 2018. The series also will offer an expanded prize fund next season, including a scholarship worth close to $800,000 for the champion to move on to Indy Lights in 2018, as well as Indy Lights test drives for the next two finishers.
Brazilian Victor Franzoni, who won three USF2000 races in 2016, including a sweep of the series finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, will join 2015 championship-winning team Juncos Racing for the test alongside Mexican Jorge Cevallos, who undertook a partial campaign this year.
Team Pelfrey, which dominated the 2016 season, winning 13 of 16 races, will field cars for Californian TJ Fischer, who showed improving form after joining the Pro Mazda field mid-season, plus British-born, Australia-raised, American-based youngster Joseph Burton-Harris and reigning National Class Champion Bobby Eberle.
No fewer than five different new teams are set to begin preparations for a full-time move to USF2000 in 2017 after recently taking delivery of their eagerly anticipated state-of-the-art Tatuus USF-17 cars.
Newman Wachs Racing, established 10 years ago by long-time friends and racers Eddie Wachs and the late, lamented Paul Newman, has been reconstituted following a seven-year hiatus and will field a pair of cars for Brendon Leitch, a proven winner in the Toyota Racing Series in his native New Zealand, and 17-year-old New Yorker Andre Castro, who has made an impressive debut this year in the Skip Barber Racing Series.
Carlin Benik, an amalgamation of forces between Trevor Carlin’s open-wheel powerhouse and the Benik karting operation run by Ben Cruttenden and Nick Mitchell, will make its debut with highly rated Dutch karting star Rinus VK, while DE Force Racing, co-owned by former IndyCar driver David Martinez, will run a pair of new cars for Kory Enders, from Warwick, N.Y., and Andres Gutierrez, from Monterrey, Mexico.
Exclusive Autosport, which has proven to be a dominant force in Canadian F1600 competition, will step up with cars for USF2000 veteran Jordan Lloyd, from Australia, young Texan Trenton Estep, who has taken the Canadian F1600 series by storm in 2016, and Canadian veteran Jayson Clunie.
Illinois-based Kaminsky Racing also has entered a new car for Colin Kaminsky.
In addition, new USF-17 cars will be present with several established USF2000 organizations including Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, Pabst Racing, ArmsUp Motorsports and Team Pelfrey.
Brothers Dominic and Nicholas Cape, whose drivers have claimed six consecutive championships, have enlisted 2012 USF2000 champion and 2016 Indianapolis 500 starter Matthew Brabham to commence their learning curve with the USF-17. The Capes also have entered a pair of Van Diemens for recently announced Team USA Scholarship winner Oliver Askew and Pacific F2000 Champion Tim de Silva.
Last year’s Team USA Scholarship winner Dakota Dickerson will join Pabst Racing for one day alongside and Brazilian Lucas Kohl and recently crowned F1600 Championship Series winner and SCCA Runoffs Champion Neil Verhagen. Dickerson, from San Diego, will spend another day sharing the ArmsUp team’s new car with Devin Wojcik.
Robert Megennis, who earned top rookie honors in 2016, and fellow teenager Kaylen Frederick, who made his USF2000 debut at Mazda Raceway, will drive a pair of new cars for Team Pelfrey, while fellow F1600 grad Calvin Ming, from Guyana, will drive an older Van Diemen.
Additional Van Diemens will be entered by RJB Motorsports for Chandler Horton, son of IndyCar Director of Engineering/Safety Jeff Horton, and JDC MotorSports, which will give a taste of USF2000 to karting standouts Dev Gore, 19, from Atlanta, Ga., and Ryan Norberg, 17, from Orlando, Fla. The duo earned their opportunities via the Driver Advancement Program run by MAXSpeed Group, which oversees the Rotax Max Challenge karting series.