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

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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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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Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing
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Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.