Although the weather was very cold, M1 Racing was all fired up after one of its rookies, Tristan DeGrand of Eureka, Mo., finished fourth in the finale of the Pro Mazda Series’ Cooper Tires Winterfest Feb. 26 at Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Ala.
In addition to almost making the podium in his first Pro Mazda event, DeGrand definitely was the hard-charger at Barber. He moved up six positions in both races held on the 2.3-mile road course that will host the third event of the 2015 Pro Mazda season.
DeGrand started 15th and finished ninth in the first 15-lap race that morning, and then took what he learned to go from tenth to fourth in the second 17-lap race that afternoon.
DeGrand, who will turn 19 on March 11, was only 1.2234 seconds off a podium finish in the finale.
“Tristan’s race craft is phenomenal,” said M1 Racing engineer Remi Lanteigne, who also worked with DeGrand at Exclusive Autosport when he won 18 races in 24 starts enroute to the Toyo Tires F1600 championship and the Formula Tour 1600 championship last year. “He doesn’t have the speed in Pro Mazda yet, but that will come. You never would have known this was his first time in a Pro Mazda car. He got more and more comfortable every lap.”
Lanteigne and M1 Racing owner Paul Mata are known for their ability to spot talent and nurture it, and they have high hopes for DeGrand.
“He’s a very experienced, young American driver,” Lanteigne noted. “He has a strong background in karting in both North America and Europe and in Skip Barber. He proved himself in F1600 too, and he’s definitely a rising star.”
DeGrand was the Skip Barber Rookie of the Year in 2012 and the World Karting Association Grand National champion in 2007, among many other accomplishments.
Another M1 Racing driver, Nicholas Latifi, had two podium finishes in the first half of the Cooper Tires Winterfest Feb. 19-20 at NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, La., as he prepared for a season of racing in Europe.
He started seventh and finished second to Weiron Tan in the second race at NOLA, setting his fastest lap on the 14th and last lap of that race.
Latifi started tenth in the third race and finished third to Jack Aitken and Tan, setting the third-fastest lap of the race in the process.
Unfortunately Latifi had bad luck at Barber. He qualified fourth for the first race, but he and the third-place starter, Will Owen, made contact in Turn 14 on the first lap. Luckily the young Canadian was not hurt, but his car was withdrawn from the nightcap due to the damage it sustained.
Carlos Conde of Scarsdale, N.Y. also represented the team at NOLA as he prepares to make a run for the Pro Mazda series’ Expert class championship. Although he will probably miss the event at Barber Motorsports Park in April due to another commitment, he and M1 Racing driver Jay Horak of Mesa, Ariz. should make plenty of headlines in that class this season. Horak won the Expert class championship in 2013 driving for M1 Racing.
The Pro Mazda season opener is a doubleheader on the street course in St. Petersburg, Fla. March 27-29.