By Road to Indy
SPEEDWAY, Ind. – The Eighth Annual Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Open Test concluded this afternoon after two days of intense running at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix road course. Weather conditions once again proved to be important, with the cool overcast of Saturday replaced this morning by a glorious blue sky and significantly warmer temperatures. Lap times, accordingly, weren’t quite as quick in general, although the leaders in all three series – Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – remained closely matched.
Andretti Autosport Trio Share Indy Lights Spotlight
Just as in the regular season for Indy Lights, Andretti Autosport remained as the team to beat as Oliver Askew, Ryan Norman and Robert Megennis each took a turn at the top of the timing charts during today’s three practice sessions.
Askew, from Jupiter, Fla., who won the 2017 USF2000 championship and finished third in Pro Mazda this year, laid down a marker this morning by posting a best lap of 1:15.0008, an average speed of 117.071 mph for the 2.439-mile road circuit. That time would remain good enough for second overall during the two-day test, fractionally adrift of the 1:14.9283 (117.184 mph) set yesterday in ideal conditions by Norman, of Aurora, Ohio.
Norman bounced back to the top after lunch with a best lap of 1:15.4915 in the heat of the day, narrowly ahead of Askew and Megennis, but it was the young New Yorker, Megennis, who took the final bragging honors during an intense final session – with shadows lengthening as evening approached. His time of 1:15.0749 on new tires was enough to edge out Askew’s 1:15.1076.
All in all, it was an impressive day for the two rookies, Askew and Megennis, taking over the respective cars of Patricio O’Ward and Colton Herta, who finished first and second in this year’s championship.
Victor Franzoni did not drive an Indy Lights car today, but his time for Belardi Auto Racing from yesterday, 1:15.0306, remained good enough for third overall ahead of Megennis and recently crowned Pro Mazda champion Rinus VeeKay (Juncos Racing), from Hoofddorp, Netherlands, who also was well within two-tenths of a second of the benchmark time.
David Malukas (Belardi Auto Racing), from Chicago, Ill., bounced back from a minor incident yesterday to post the sixth fastest time ahead of Canadian Parker Thompson (Team Pelfrey), Brazilian Lucas Kohl (Belardi Auto Racing) and Korea’s Heamin Choi (Juncos Racing). All nine drivers were blanketed by a fraction over 1.5 seconds.
Variety is the Spice of Life for Pro Mazda
For the second day in a row, different drivers took an opportunity to shine during Sunday’s three Pro Mazda test sessions. Former series champion Victor Franzoni laid down a marker by posting the fastest time of the day for Peter Dempsey’s new Turn 3 Racing team, with major assistance from Newman Wachs Racing’s Brian Halahan and “Shaggy” Russell, while Julian Van der Watt (BN Racing), Rasmus Lindh and Cameron Shields, both for Juncos Racing, and RP Motorsport Racing’s Mathias Soler-Obel all showed their paces on a regular basis.
Nevertheless, the warmer conditions ensured that no one approached the fastest time of the weekend, 1:19.2971 (110.728mph), which was set yesterday for RP Motorsport Racing by Florida’s Darren Keane, who today concentrated his efforts on his USF2000 priority with Cape Motorsports.
After showing good speed yesterday in Indy Lights for Belardi Auto Racing, charismatic Brazilian Franzoni reverted his attention this morning to the middle rung on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder and Turn 3 Racing, for which he works full-time as mechanic, driver coach and test driver. The 2017 series champion quickly got to grips with the car in the cooler morning air by turning a best lap of 1:19.6712, edging Van der Watt by a scant 0.0979 second.
Franzoni again was fastest in the session immediately after lunch at 1:20.1703, followed by Shields, from Toowoomba, Australia, who overcame some earlier braking difficulties to edge out Lindh, from Gothenburg, Sweden, who finished second in this year’s USF2000 championship.
Then, later in the afternoon, Colombian teenager Soler-Obel stopped the clocks for the Italian-based RP team at 1:19.9980. Lindh also took advantage of a fresh set of Cooper tires to go second fastest on 1:20.1598, fractionally faster than Van der Watt.
Singapore’s Danial Frost also had another productive day for Juncos Racing with sixth, fifth and fourth in the three sessions to back up his second-fastest time from Saturday.
McElrea, Keane Trade Fastest Times in USF2000
Hunter McElrea and Darren Keane continued the long-time rivalry between Cape Motorsports and Pabst Racing by trading fastest times during today’s trio of 45-minute sessions.
McElrea, who was born in California, carries joint New Zealand citizenship and now hails from the Gold Coast, Australia, continued to turn heads for Pabst Racing. The teenager took advantage of ideal conditions this morning to turn the fastest lap of the weekend at 1:24.5064 – fractionally quicker than his best from yesterday – although college engineering student Keane, from Deerfield Beach, Fla., actually set a slightly faster time, only for it to be disallowed due to a technical infraction.
Keane bounced back to set the fastest time in each of today’s subsequent two sessions, including being the only driver to dip below the 1:25 bracket in the warmth of the afternoon. Keane wound up with the second quickest time of the weekend, 1:24.6246, from yesterday’s second session.
Alex Baron, from Narbonne, France, also ensured a productive weekend for the new Legacy Autosport team. Baron, who won two races this year during an abbreviated campaign – and was the only man to beat runaway champion Kyle Kirkwood – joined McElrea and Keane in the sub-1:25 club with a best of 1:24.9831 this morning.
Englishman James Raven, driving for DEForce Racing, ensured that four different teams would be represented among the top four positions. The former Formula Ford Festival champion was third quickest in each of today’s sessions.
Yuven Sundaramoorthy, who, coincidentally, was born in Oconomowoc, Wis., where Pabst Racing is based, enjoyed another strong day for the team, among the top five in every session, while Andre Castro, from New York, N.Y., capped an impressive – albeit tiring – return to the sport after an 18-month absence by rounding out the top six for Legacy Autosport.
Oliver Askew (#27 Andretti Autosport Dallara-Mazda IL-15): “My first Indy Lights experience is over here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was an amazing experience working with Andretti Autosport and that is the biggest thing to take away from this. What I learned from these guys will definitely help me and I think I made a huge stride in my career this weekend. And we showed good pace too. We were quickest on the day which is great. I was jogging back and forth with my teammates throughout most of the sessions so that shows just what kind of job these guys do. I can’t thank Andretti Autosport enough for the opportunity and I hope I get to do some more of this in the future. Now the off-season officially starts and I’ll be focusing on a drive for next year and where we are going to be. It has been a great weekend overall and I am extremely happy with how it went.”
Robert Megennis (#98 Andretti Autosport Dallara-Mazda IL-15): “It was a great day, top three all day. It was really encouraging for my first time in a Lights car to be as competitive as we were and as quick as we were. Andretti gave me an awesome car. They were great to work with and I really enjoyed the atmosphere in the team. It has just been so much fun. This car is a blast to drive. Oliver (Askew) is a really talented driver and so is Ryan (Norman), who has a lot of experience in this car so he helped me out a lot. I couldn’t have asked for a better test to be super honest. I am really happy with how everything went.”
Victor Franzoni (#92 Turn 3 Racing Tatuus-Mazda PM-18): “Today was really good. I was driving the Pro Mazda with Peter Dempsey’s team. It was our first time putting the car in the official test and it was unbelievable. We led the first session, we led the second session and the third session we didn’t put on new tires so we were a half-second off. If we had new tires, we would be there again, top three at least. The car felt really good. I am working for Peter full time as his mechanic, coach, everything. We work a lot at Autobahn. It is good and I am really happy. We were expecting to be fast and really didn’t think we would be fastest. Indy Lights was really good as well. I led the first and second sessions, and the third session we tried some different stuff and it didn’t work really well but we were still fast. I was with Belardi this time so it was a bit different for me – a different car from Juncos – so I had to adapt myself with how the team works but it was great. It was a new experience for me and I’m really happy with the weekend.”
Julian Van der Watt (#79 BN Racing Tatuus-Mazda PM-18): “The weekend was really good. It was the first time ever for me in a Pro Mazda car. It was a big step up in the beginning but through all of the sessions we were top four or top two. The team did a really good job. The car had some serious pace and I think we showed that this weekend. The team did such a good job with the car’s set up. I am really happy with that and it is good to go into the off-season showing some good pace in Pro Mazda. We are going to try to make the step up next year and we’ll see what happens.”
Hunter McElrea (#22 Pabst Racing Tatuus-Mazda USF-17): “First, many thanks to everyone at Pabst. It was an amazing experience to be driving with these guys. We ended up P1 overall and I am really happy with that. Obviously, that’s where you want to be. There are a few things that I need to work on, but overall I’m very happy and it’s an amazing experience to be driving a USF2000 car here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. My dream is to be an IndyCar driver and I would obviously start here on the Mazda Road to Indy. You start off in USF2000 with the aim of progressing through into IndyCar and that is for sure what I want to do. I am massively happy for this opportunity and want to thank all my supporters who made it possible for me. I didn’t have any expectations coming into the weekend. I just wanted to make sure I did my best and I knew I was in really great hands with these guys.”
Darren Keane (#2 Cape Motorsports Tatuus-Mazda USF-17): “This has been a great weekend for me, RP Motorsport and Cape Motorsports. I posted the fastest time of the weekend in Pro Mazda yesterday and the second fastest time of the weekend in USF2000 today so it really can’t get much better than that. We worked really hard and the results paid off. It was a great weekend for me especially coming off a relatively rough season. This is just a great confidence booster that I can be fast in USF2000 and fast in Pro Mazda, especially as yesterday was the first time I drove in Pro Mazda. I’m super happy and a special thanks to Cape Motorsports, RP Motorsports, Ozz Negri and my family for their support.