Mazda Road to Indy pre-season testing continued this week for participants in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires with 10 hours of valuable on-track time over a two-day stretch at NOLA Motorsports Park near New Orleans, La. The Indy Lights teams kicked off the annual Cooper Tires Winterfest at the track which will see action in April with the Verizon IndyCar Series as well as the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.
Teams were greeted with temperatures hovering near 40º F both Wednesday and Thursday, which delayed the start of testing one hour. A total of 11 cars logged miles as teams continued to learn the nuances of the impressive new Mazda-powered Dallara IL-15. During today’s session, drivers were able to utilize the “push-to-pass” function, which allowed an extra 50 HP from the 2.0-liter turbocharged Mazda MZR-R engine.
Reigning Pro Mazda champ Spencer Pigot, from Orlando, Florida, topped the charts Wednesday morning with a lap of 1:27.4298 (112.882 mph) followed closely by Carlin’s Ed Jones and Andretti Autosport’s Shelby Blackstock. In the afternoon session, 2014 Indy Lights champions Belardi Auto Racing continued their form as newcomer Felix Serralles, from Ponce, Puerto Rico, set the quick time with a lap of 1:25.0687 (115.953 mph). Max Chilton continued to help the Carlin team come to grips with its new machinery taking second position with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian’s Jack Harvey in third.
On Thursday morning, Chilton set the quickest time of the three sessions with a lap of 1:24.120 (117.260 mph) as Pigot’s Juncos Racing teammate Kyle Kaiser and Serralles rounded out the top three.
“It’s been nice to get our Carlin car built up,” said Chilton. “I’m more comfortable here than I was at Homestead. It has challenging corners, high speed and slow speed, and it’s all coming together nicely. But for me, all the circuits are new. It’s taken a bit of time to get used to the car but at the end of these two days, the car has really grown on me. It’s a fun car to drive.”
“We learned a lot from the previous tests, so I think we’re going in the right direction,” said Serralles, who joins the Indy Lights circuit after three seasons in European F3. “The team is doing a good job. It’s different from Europe but I’m having fun. The more we develop the car, the better it will be. The old car had 14 years of development, so we’re working hard and finding new things. Everything we learn is good and what we learn here can be applied at other tracks.”
“It’s really been about getting acclimated, making a bunch of changes and learning as much as we could about the car,” said Kaiser, 18, who topped the charts at the recent oval test at Homestead and at the Palm Beach International Raceway road course outing. “We just need to see how the car responds. It’s about learning here, but going into Barber it will be a different game plan, to really attack the track and get some data we can use in April. The team did a good job. I’m happy with the amount of progress we’ve made over the last couple of tests.”