By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
The Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires recently concluded their first official test after the 2017 season at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. The seventh annual Chris Griffis Memorial Test was a chance for several drivers and teams to get acquainted with one another and with their machinery, as well as giving everyone a reason to see cars run at IMS. Here’s some observations about the weekend.
Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires
Victor Franzoni, Anthony Martin and Carlos Cunha got their first taste of Indy Lights machinery at IMS. Franzoni and Cunha tested with Juncos Racing, while Martin was with Andretti Autosport. Franzoni and Cunha were in the top four in the final session and Franzoni was in the top five for six out of eight sessions. Cunha was in the car for Sunday and shaved about eight tenths of a second off his fastest lap time from the first session of the day.
Martin, meanwhile, had a little bit less track time than Franzoni after a brief issue Sunday. However, the test gave the Australian valuable experience working with a larger organization.
Rinus VeeKay tested with Belardi Auto Racing both days and was in the top five in all eight sessions, leading two of them. It’s a big step to go from USF2000 to Indy Lights machinery, but VeeKay handled the transition well. He would be a good pick for a Pro Mazda ride.
Nicolas Dapero was testing for Juncos Racing on Saturday and it was great to catch up with him. A theme noticed among many drivers is that before coming to America, they had no oval experience but when asked about his thoughts on ovals, Dapero was very candid,”I love the ovals.”
It was refreshing to see Pato O’Ward back in an Indy Lights car. The Mexican driver led the first session on Sunday and tested alongside fellow Team Pelfrey driver TJ Fischer. Fischer’s looking to move up into Indy Lights and one of his biggest positives was that he actually fit decently in the car as both the Pro Mazda and USF2000 cars were too small for him.
Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires
Oliver Askew tested with Cape Motorsports and was on top in four of the eight sessions including three of the four Sunday sessions. A dominant force in USF2000, Pro Mazda having a similar baseline might only help the Jupiter, Florida native.
Kaylen Frederick tested a Team Pelfrey Pro Mazda car. While many share a belief that he is too young for Pro Mazda, the Maryland native was in the top five in seven of eight sessions, his only blemish being the final session of the weekend. He might be ready for Pro Mazda, who knows.
Juncos Racing had a rotation of drives in its cars with Robert Megennis, Sting Ray Robb and Carlos Cunha testing for them. All three drove for other teams last year and Megennis wasn’t even in Pro Mazda except for the last race weekend of the year.
It was interesting to see David Malukas in the top five in seven of eight practice sessions. He was a standout in USF2000 in 2017 and with an expected full year in Pro Mazda next year it will be interesting to see how he would do.
Canadian Parker Thompson tested both the USF2000 and Pro Mazda cars for Exclusive Autosport. Given that the Alberta native has been in USF2000 for three seasons, it would be a great step to see him in Pro Mazda for 2018.
None of the Pro Mazda cars were painted. That was an interesting sight to see.
Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda
It was pretty cool to see Aaron Telitz driving RJB Motorsports’s Tatuus USF-17. The Indy Lights winner and 2016 Pro Mazda champion was helping the team sort out a new car.
Newman Wachs Racing and BN Racing both had possible new drivers driving their machines with Jake Craig and Elliott Finlayson among them. Craig was the winner of the ekartingnews.com entry to the Mazda Road to Indy Scholarship Shootout in December.
Darren Keane was in the top four in every session for Newman Wachs Racing. He finished 11th in last year’s championship despite missing three races and could be an interesting force if his race pace is as good as his testing pace.
USF2000 cars turned the most laps of any class of cars. It was good to see so many drivers getting experience.