By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
The 2017 Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires is undergoing a transitional year. This year is the last year of the older Star-manufactured car before a transition into the new Tatuus PM-18, a car based off of the USF-17 that is running in USF2000 this year.
Despite low car counts during the Chris Griffis Memorial Test and the preseason testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the series has managed to have some late additions before heading to St. Petersburg for the first race weekend of the year for a 14-car field at St. Petersburg.
Anthony Martin parlayed his Mazda scholarship money from winning the 2016 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championhip powered by Mazda into a Pro Mazda ride with the same team: Cape Motorsports and their No. 8.
2017 marks the second year in a row that the Cape brothers will be running the Soul Red car in Pro Mazda, as Nico Jamin ran the same livery last season.
After telling IndyCar media that the team would not be returning to Pro Mazda in 2017 in an effort to focus on their upcoming Indianapolis 500 entry, Ricardo Juncos is back in Pro Mazda with Victor Franzoni and Jeff Green in the No. 23 and 60 cars, respectively.
Franzoni drove for the team at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test and will be looking to repeat the form he showed there. While Green is a newcomer to Pro Mazda having driven the car for the first time at Homestead.
Team Pelfrey is back with three cars in Pro Mazda with two drivers having driven for the team before and one rookie.
In the No. 80 car, Nikita Lastochkin returns to the team after spending 2016 at Cape Motorsports. Lastochkin drove for Pelfrey in 2014’s F1600 championship and 2015’s USF2000 championship. The No. 81 car has rookie Carlos Cunha driving for them. Cunha had excellent pace at Homestead and is looking to impress in his American debut.
The No. 82 car will have TJ Fischer behind the wheel. Fischer drove for Pelfrey in the first half of last year’s USF2000 championship before moving over to the Pro Mazda car following the exodus of Weiron Tan.
World Speed Motorsports
World Speed Motorsports ran cars during the 2014 and 2015 Pro Mazda seasons before taking nearly the whole of 2016 off. However, the team is back with three cars for this year’s campaign.
In car No. 13 is Bobby Eberle, running for the overall championship this time after running in the national class for several years prior to that. In No. 14 is veteran karter Sting Ray Robb, who was one of the first drivers confirmed for this year’s championship. While car No. 15 is driven by Phillippe Denes, who has four years of karting behind him and raced at the season finale last year at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with Team Pelfrey.
Many teams have awnings set up with frames coming off of their motorhomes. FatBoy has an inflatable awning over their cars with a couple of La-Z-Boy chairs off to the side. Talk about different, right?
The FatBoy team has one driver competing for the championship class with Matt Machiko driving car No. 3 while Brendan Puderbach and Charles Finelli are racing in the national class in cars No. 31 and 83, respectively.
Making their Pro Mazda debut, ArmsUp Motorsports is running one of Juncos Racing’s old Pro Mazda cars with Max Hanratty behind the wheel of the No. 6 machine. Hanratty had driven for ArmsUp in the 2015 USF2000 championship and the first half of the 2016 USF2000 championship.
Kevin Davis Racing
The No. 44 car will have the team’s namesake Kevin Davis behind the wheel, who ran a handful of races in Pro Mazda during the previous two seasons.
2017 has a compressed schedule for Pro Mazda. The season starts in St. Petersburg before taking the entire month of April off and going to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course for a doubleheader there.
The series then has a doubleheader at Road America, three races at Mid-Ohio, one race on the oval at Gateway Motorsports Park and then two races at Watkins Glen International to finish off the season.