Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Mazda Road to Indy: Nikita Lastochkin’s odd route to racing

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Most race car drivers tend to follow a common path. They get their start as youngsters, usually in karting and often younger than the age of 10. And by the time their teenagers, most have progressed into cars, and their careers blossom from there.

However, some don’t always follow the beaten path. Case in point: Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires driver Nikita Lastochkin. At the age of 27, he is among the oldest drivers in the Pro Mazda ranks. But, it’s not because he’s a veteran of the series. In fact, he didn’t start racing until he was 22.

Born in Russia, Lastochkin moved to the United States at the age of 16 after graduating high school. As he explained in a “My Mazda Road to Indy” feature, Lastochkin was eager to the see world and decided to start by heading to the U.S.

“I had no family here, no friends, but I’d always had an adventurous streak and I wanted to see the world, see what was out there,” he explained. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do in my life, what degree to pursue, so I asked my parents if I could do it and I moved to English First, a language school in the Los Angeles area. I could speak English, so it was more about exploring the city and the culture.”

Racing, however, was never the goal. “I didn’t know anything about racing. You could have shown me a Skip Barber car or a Formula One car and I wouldn’t know which was which,” he said of his knowledge of motorsports at the time.

However, at the age of 22, Lastochkin, a thrill-seeker of sorts who has an admitted love of going fast, enrolled in the Skip Barber Racing School “for fun.” From then on, he was hooked.

“I took the Skip Barber Racing School just for fun and I really enjoyed it – and I did pretty well. I heard about the racing series and decided to give it a go. I had some good success, with wins and poles, all that good stuff.”

He quickly decided to switch careers – he had been working in the jewelry industry at the time – and began to focus exclusively on racing. And he did so by following a path being set by current Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires young gun Colton Herta.

Nikita Lastochkin on the podium at Road America. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

“I had raced against Colton Herta in Skip Barber, and as I was looking at where I would go next, I saw that Colton was racing in Pacific Formula F1600. I had no idea of who he was, aside from being a race car driver. But I knew that Bryan had been a driver, so I figured that wherever Colton was going would be a good move after Skip Barber. That was my logic that first year, since I had no one to advise me,” Lastochkin said of his early racing career.

Now 27, Lastochkin has steadily climbed up the open wheel ladder and has been entrenched in the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires series since 2015.

In the 2017 Pro Mazda season, as a driver with Team Pelfrey, Lastochkin demonstrated strong consistency, finishing fifth or better in eight of 12 races, including a pair of podiums at Road America.

Heading into 2018, Lastochkin will continue in the Pro Mazda ranks, now with Cape Motorsports, with whom contested the 2016 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda in 2016, and hopes to continue his racing education and build on his prior successes.

“I’m quite happy to be back with Cape Motorsports – I know them, and they know me,” Lastochkin said. “It’s like being back at home. It’s always my plan to do the best I can and to keep progressing.”

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Indianapolis Motor Speedway can have 10,000 fans for IndyCar races

Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have crowds for its NTT IndyCar Series race weekend next month, the first time fans are allowed at the track this year.

The track announced Friday that up to 10,000 fans will be allowed in the grandstands daily from Oct. 1-4. The IndyCar Harvest GP race doubleheader will be held on the track’s road course Oct. 2-3.

IMS has played host to several events this year without fans, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 and a NASCAR-IndyCar weekend July 4-5 that included the Brickyard 400. Plans originally were made to have fans at the Indy 500 before reversing course a few weeks ahead of the race. In a letter last month, Roger Penske vowed that fans would return for the 2021 Indy 500.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS president Doug Boles said in a release. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

Fans will undergo temperature screenings upon entry and also be required to wear face coverings at all times on property. The track said each attendee will receive a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer.

The Friday, Oct. 2 race will be shown at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA, and NBC will broadcast the Saturday, Oct. 3 race at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s the release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 – For the first time in 2020, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will welcome fans to the Racing Capital of the World for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

Tickets are available now via IMS.com and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including the following:

  • Face coverings must be worn throughout the property at all times;
  • All fans will receive temperature screenings before gate entry;
  • Grandstand seats will be marked for distancing;
  • Attendees must use pre-assigned gates and remain in their designated zones.

Global Medical Response, the world leader in compassionate, quality emergency medical and patient relocation services, will be the presenting sponsor of the penultimate weekend of INDYCAR racing this season.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

The plan, which includes each attendee receiving a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer upon entering the track, was developed in consultation with state and local health officials.

This event weekend is highlighted by an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, with races Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3. It will be the penultimate event of the series’ season as the field pursues the champion’s prestigious Astor Challenge Cup to be awarded Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The INDYCAR Harvest GP will pay tribute to a storied IMS event, the Harvest Classic in September 1916. The Harvest Classic was the only racing event held outside of May at IMS from 1911 through 1993. The event featured three races, all won by legendary driver Johnny Aitken.

Fans also will see a host of facility improvements during the event weekend, including more than 30 new LED video boards, refreshed concession stands and restrooms, and 5G wireless connectivity throughout the facility.

The first race will air at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 2 on the USA Network. NBC will broadcast the second race at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Oct. 3, with WTHR-13 airing the action live in Central Indiana.

Also racing that weekend will be the first pairing of two major sports car series — the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli and its North American counterpart, GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS. Former Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ryan Briscoe is among the drivers in the Indianapolis 8 Hour event held Sunday, Oct. 4.

The event also will showcase drivers in SRO America’s Pirelli GT4 America, GT Sports Club America and the TC America series.

The full on-track schedule is available at IMS.com.