By Road to Indy
SPEEDWAY, Ind. – A dramatic overnight temperature change brought significantly cooler conditions as the first green flag fell to commence the Eighth Annual Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Open Test this morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Yet the action on-track was as hot as ever with almost three dozen drivers representing no fewer than 15 different nations vying for early bragging rights in preparation for the 2019 Road to Indy season.
All three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy – Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – experienced three 45-minute sessions on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn track Grand Prix road course, with unofficial lap records posted in each series.
Norman Edges Askew in Indy Lights
Mirroring this year’s Indy Lights season, the competition was supremely tight among nine drivers – an intriguing mix of veterans and rookies – at the test. At the end of the day on fresh Cooper tires, the top four all posted times within 0.2 seconds of each other, well inside both the existing race lap record of 1:15.7230, set in 2016 by Felix Rosenqvist, and comfortably faster than Patricio O’Ward’s pole-winning time of 1:15.4255 in May this year.
In the end it was on-form Ryan Norman (Andretti Autosport) atop the time charts with a best of 1:14.9283, an average speed of 117.184 mph, despite missing virtually the entire first session due to a mechanical issue. Norman, from Aurora, Ohio, has already marked himself as one of the championship favorites for 2019 after gaining his first Indy Lights win last month at Gateway Motorsports Park and following up with his first pole just three weeks ago at Portland International Raceway.
Askew, from Jupiter, Fla., ended the day second fastest, also for Andretti Autosport, at 1:15.0060. Askew was one of three drivers who earned this weekend’s opportunity by finishing in the top three positions of the 2018 Pro Mazda championship. Askew, who finished third in the title-chase after winning the USF2000 crown in 2017, scored his first Pro Mazda win earlier this month at Portland.
Askew narrowly edged both Brazilian Victor Franzoni (Belardi Auto Racing), on 1:15.0306, and recently crown Pro Mazda champion Dutchman Rinus VeeKay (Juncos Racing), on 1:15.1075.
Fellow Pro Mazda graduate Robert Megennis, from New York, N.Y., was fifth fastest for Andretti Autosport, ahead of Team Pelfrey’s Parker Thompson, from Red Deer, Alb., Canada.
Darren Keane Impresses on Pro Mazda Debut
Three different drivers set the fastest lap times during each of today’s three 45-minute test sessions, with Florida teenager Darren Keane emerging on top at the end of the day. Keane’s lap of 1:19.2971 (110.728mph) for RP Motorsport Racing was fractionally quicker than the record of 1:19.3319 set during qualifying earlier this year by Oliver Askew.
Keane, who contested the majority of this season in USF2000, only concluded his deal to join the Italian-run team mere days before the test. He also impressed during a hectic day by posting the second fastest time in USF2000.
Danial Frost, from Singapore, was fastest in the day’s first session for defending champion team Juncos Racing. Frost, who contested a partial season of USF2000 in 2018, improved in every session, ending the day in second place, just over a tenth of a second slower than Keane’s benchmark.
After finishing second in this year’s USF2000 championship, Rasmus Lindh, from Gothenburg, Sweden, was quickest of all in the second session aboard another Juncos Racing Tatuus-Mazda PM-18 with a time of 1:19.4338, good enough for third overall.
Fellow USF2000 grad Julian Van der Watt, from Johannesburg, South Africa, also was within two-tenths of Keane with a best lap of 1:19.4905 for BN Racing.
Versatile Australian Cameron Shields rounded out the top five for Juncos Racing, fractionally faster than teenaged Colombian Mathias Soler-Obel aboard a second RP Motorsport entry.
IndyCar driver Jack Harvey, from Lincoln, England, made a cameo appearance, helping to shakedown a car for Pabst Racing, which is seeking to add a two-car squad to its roster in 2019 in addition to chasing a third straight USF2000 Team Championship.
McElrea, Keane Dip Beneath USF2000 Lap Record
One year ago, California-born, New Zealand-raised, Australian-based teenager Hunter McElrea turned plenty of heads at the Chris Griffis Open Test by posting the fourth fastest time in his first taste of a USF2000 car with Pabst Racing. Today, McElrea, who has continued to gain experience in Australia and currently leads his national Formula Ford Championship with just two rounds remaining, continued to impress by returning to Indianapolis and dipping below Oliver Askew’s 2017 track record with a day-topping time of 1:24.5411, an average speed of 103.860 mph.
McElrea lost very little time in reacquainting himself with the demands of a slicks-and-wings Tatuus-Mazda, which requires a different style of driving to the Formula Ford Mygale car with which he has become so familiar this year. He ended the first session this morning a scant 0.0618 second shy of the fastest time set by series veteran Darren Keane, driving the same Cape Motorsports car with which Kyle Kirkwood dominated this year’s championship.
McElrea then found almost a half-second to jump to the top of the charts in the second session before making another incremental improvement in the final outing of the day.
Keane, from Deerfield Beach, Fla., also circulated underneath the lap record established last year by Askew. He ended the day less than a tenth of a second away from McElrea’s best. James Raven, from Portsmouth, England, ended the day third fastest for DEForce Racing, followed by two-time 2018 USF2000 race winner Alex Baron, from Narbonne, France, who enjoyed an extremely promising first day for the brand-new and locally based Legacy Autosport team.
Andre Castro, from New York, N.Y., also impressed for Legacy Autosport on his return to racing after an 18-month absence, posting the fifth fastest time of the day.
Local Indianapolis driver Zach Holden, driving for another brand-new USF2000 team, Jay Howard Driver Development, ended the day sixth fastest, while Yuven Sundaramoorthy (Pabst Racing), from Oconomowoc, Wis., and fellow F1600 Championship Series front-runner Tyler O’Connor (Cape Motorsports), who was making his debut in a slicks-and-wings car, also circulated within a second of the fastest time of the day.
The Chris Griffis Memorial Test, run as a salute to the former Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team manager who passed away suddenly in 2011, will continue tomorrow for another full day of on-track action.
Ryan Norman (#48 Andretti Autosport Dallara-Mazda IL-15): “Overall, today went very well. We weren’t able to get out in the first session due to a mechanical issue, but the guys did a great job and we came out and hit our marks straight away. We carried the momentum that we had in Portland and the last couple of weekends into this test, so I feel really good. The car feels great and I am feeling pretty confident in my driving so we’ll hopefully come back strong tomorrow as well.”
Darren Keane (#10 RP Motorsport Racing Tatuus-Mazda PM-18): “It was a busy day for sure, but a great day. I really enjoyed it. This has been one of my most enjoyable days driving in a long time, especially with the challenge of driving two cars. I topped the first session in USF this morning and ended up second overall for the day, so we are close there and where we want to be. It was an amazing day in Pro Mazda. I had never driven the car before until this morning and I finished the day P1 overall. It was a great experience. It was really easy to make the transition. The gears are the same for all the corners and the braking is slightly different. I was just amazed at how easy the transition was. Obviously, Tatuus and Elite are doing something right because it is meant to be a ladder system and I think that is exactly what it is.
“Huge thanks to the Capes, to RP Motorsport and Ozz Negri, my driver coach, for an awesome day.”
Hunter McElrea (#22 Pabst Racing Tatuus-Mazda USF-17): “It was a really good day today getting back into a USF2000 car for the first time since last year. We ended the day P1 and I am really happy with that. A massive thanks to the guys and girls at Pabst for the amazing car. I really enjoyed myself here at this incredible circuit.
“The car is actually very different from what I am driving this year. It the same kind of objective, but the way you achieve it is very different. There is so much more grip, particularly on high speed corners. At this track there is a good range of corners. You have to train yourself to drive the car differently and achieve speed in a different way but, again, it is a race car and it is kind of just adapting to that and the rest takes care of itself.”