HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Day Two of Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires Spring Training saw a total of 28 drivers – representing the first two rungs on the acclaimed open-wheel racing development ladder – in action on the 2.21-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway road course. The Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires offers scholarships at every level to assist talented young drivers to progress all the way from the grassroots of the sport to the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.
The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda boasts a brand-new look this year with the introduction of a sleek new Mazda-powered Tatuus USF-17 chassis, but it was ‘situation normal’ for Florida-based Cape Motorsports, which has won each of the past six USF2000 championships, as Oliver Askew, 20, from Jupiter, Fla., set the pace in all three sessions.
Askew, a multiple karting champion who won both a Team USA Scholarship and the inaugural Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout to ensure he will be able to compete in his first-ever full season of car racing in 2017, posted the fastest time of 1:24.518, an average speed of 94.085 mph, in the third and final session this afternoon.
Teenaged Dutchman Rinus VeeKay, another karting standout, ended up less than half of one-tenth of a second slower with a time of 1:24.6115 on his debut with Newman Wachs Racing which is making an eagerly anticipated return to the sport following a seven-year hiatus.
Four different teams were represented among the top-five fastest times during the first two of two days of testing. Robert Megennis, 16, from New York, N.Y., edged out impressive 14-year-old Team Pelfrey teammate Kaylen Frederick, from Potomac, Md., for third, while fellow rookie Calvin Ming, from Guyana, rounded out the top five for Pabst Racing.
Lap times were similarly close as the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires contenders also completed three sessions today. Team Pelfrey, which has guided Santi Urrutia and Aaron Telitz to consecutive Pro Mazda titles enabling them to graduate to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the final step on the MRTI ladder, continued to set the pace although, intriguingly, each of its three drivers, TJ Fischer, Nikita Lastochkin and Carlos Cunha, topped the timing charts following one of the sessions.
Los Angeles-based Russian Lastochkin, who is stepping up to Pro Mazda after two years in USF2000, was quickest in the opening stanza this morning at 1:24.4710, while Fischer, from Vacaville, Calif., set the fastest time of all in the first session this afternoon at 1:24.4417 (94.219 mph). Rookie Cunha, from Campinas, Brazil, topped the times at 1:25.1641 in the final period. Earlier, Cunha, who is enthused about racing for the first time in North America after two years in the Brazilian F3 Championship, set a best time of 1:24.6217.
Anthony Martin, from Perth, Australia, last year’s USF2000 champion, was the only contender to split up the Team Pelfrey juggernaut, posting the second fastest time in this morning’s session at 1:24.6523.
Veteran Bobby Eberle, from Houston, Texas, who won the 2016 National Class Championship, completed the top five for World Speed Motorsports on 1:25.7417.
The USF2000 and Pro Mazda teams will continue testing tomorrow before the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires contenders gain their first taste of the road course to wrap up Spring Training on Thursday. The teams will then pack up and head northward up the coast to St. Petersburg, Fla., for the opening races of the season next week on March 10-12.
Oliver Askew (No. 3 Cape Motorsports), fastest in USF2000: “I came here with a question mark over how we stack up against the rest, so I’m really happy. We’ve tested four or five times and the car has been fantastic: this just solidifies that. We’ve worked on qualifying runs, because the balance changes so much depending on the tires, and we’ve worked on the car in traffic. We’re making changes every session, so we’ll keep working on that tomorrow. It’s hard to realize that St. Pete is a week away. As soon as I won the scholarship, my mindset was to be the best I could right now. I’ve been training every day and, when we are testing, working to get the most out of the car. I’m ready now!”
Rinus VeeKay (No. 38 Newman Wachs Racing), second in USF2000: “It was a very good day, being in the top three in every session. I think if we can put everything together tomorrow we can be ready to earn pole positions this season. It’s been good learning the new car; after a couple of tests, I knew where the car was going. We’ve been working on balance in the corners and in the mid points. It was busy on the track today with most of the field here, but it’s very good to get the comparison to other teams and drivers. It’s a preview of how the season is going to be so if I’m top three often, that will be good.”
TJ Fischer (No. 82 Team Pelfrey), fastest in Pro Mazda: “We were constantly working at it today, pushing the whole time because everyone is going to be quick in this field. We worked a lot on brake zones and making sure everything is there, rather than being quick on one part of the track but losing time somewhere else. We did qualifying runs and race runs so we had the whole spectrum. There’s still a ton for me to learn – how to manage the car, how to manage the tires. It’s night and day compared to last year. Being in just one series this year is good: I can build a foundation and use this as a springboard. I’m actually getting a footing under me this year. The whole team is meshing well and all the drivers at Team Pelfrey are really quick.”
Nikita Lastochkin (No. 80 Team Pelfrey), second in Pro Mazda: “I was a little concerned going into today because I’d never even sat in the car before. To be able to do some good times gives me a lot of confidence. The morning was great but I got a little tired by the end of the day because the car is a lot more physical than the USF2000 car. It has more downforce and more grip and it’s more lively to drive. To be honest, I’m a bit overwhelmed after the first day! But I couldn’t be happier to be back at Team Pelfrey. I worked with them for the first two years of my racing career and I love the atmosphere and the way they go about doing their thing.”
Live timing of all sessions will be available on the respective series websites, indylights.com, promazda.com and usf2000.com, as well as on indycar.com and the Road To Indy TV App.
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