By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
As the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires wrapped up their spring testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway, several drivers emerged as contenders and other announcements were made that would help shape the different series for 2017. Let’s take a look at each series.
Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires
- Colton Herta will be a driver to watch. The second generation driver was in the top three in every practice session on both the oval and road course in his first drive in America since a partial USF2000 season in 2014.
- Belardi Auto Racing has a strong chance of scoring their first Indy Lights championship since 2014. Santiago Urrutia and Aaron Telitz were the fastest pair from Belardi and both are Pro Mazda championship winners. Telitz will be driving the Soul Red Mazda car indicative of his championship season last year.
- Kyle Kaiser will lead Juncos. In his third season in Indy Lights, Kaiser will be the team leader over Indy Lights rookie Nicolas Dapero. The Californian led the first road course test session and was third in the second one.
- Pato O’Ward announced that he will be with Team Pelfrey in the first race weekend of the season on the Streets of St. Petersburg. This is very good news for the Mexican driver who dominated the first half of the Pro Mazda championship last year. Should he do well, we might just see him continue on and race for the title.
Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires
- Anthony Martin announced he will be with Cape Motorsports for the 2017 season and he led two of the Pro Mazda practice sessions. For Martin, his biggest benefit re-signing with Cape is that he is familiar with the team and how they operate. The team has a benefit of not having to repaint their Pro Mazda car as they also had Nico Jamin with them in 2016 running the iconic Soul Red Mazda car.
- With only seven cars testing, the field size is less than ideal and there might be only one or two more cars racing. Pro Mazda is struggling in the final year of the current car before the Tatuus PM-18 takes over.
- Team Pelfrey has three cars on the grid again with TJ Fischer being flanked by Team Pelfrey veteran Nikita Lastochkin and Brazilian Carlos Cunha. Each driver led a session with Fischer leading two of the six sessions.
- The fastest Pro Mazda lap time was only 0.2813 seconds faster than the new Tatuus USF-17 USF2000 car. Considering that Pro Mazda is supposed to be a step up from USF2000, something might need to change in the week before St. Petersburg.
Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda
- Assuming he keeps up the form he had in testing, the only car part other drivers will see of Oliver Askew this season is his rear wing. The Mazda scholarship recipient is driving for Cape Motorsports and was fastest in five of the six practice sessions in his Soul Red Mazda car.
- Team Pelfrey has their USF2000 program sorted out. Robert Megennis, Ayla Agren and Kaylen Frederick were consistently in the top half of the field with Megennis and Frederick consistently being near the top of the time sheet.
- Newman Wachs Racing had the top of the time sheet in the final session as Rinus VeeKay led by just over a tenth of a second over Askew. NWR has Dakota Dickerson and Andre Castro as their full season drivers and VeeKay might be confirmed after a late offseason shuffling of drivers.
- One car at the test was an older Van Diemen belonging to ArmsUp Motorsports with Bruna Tomaselli behind the wheel. Tomaselli will be driving in the national class for ArmsUp this season.
- Last year’s championship runner up Parker Thompson has a veteran teammate in Luke Gabin and a rookie in Dev Gore at Exclusive Autosport. Thompson and Gabin will have a tough mountain to climb with a new team but St. Petersburg will be an interesting litmus test.