Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MRTI Reflections: St. Petersburg

By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer

Now that we’ve had a week to digest all of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires action from the streets of St. Petersburg, it’s time to reflect on some interesting observations.

Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires

Aaron Telitz won the first Indy Lights race of the season with nearly the largest margin of victory for an Indy Lights car ever at St. Petersburg, in what was an impressive showing for the Wisconsin native. J.K. Vernay’s winning margin in 2010 was 0.2 of a second larger.

I commend Juan Piedrahita’s willingness to make that move at the first turn, and he would have been a hero had his car stayed on the inside of the track, but that didn’t quite happen the way it was thought out, obviously.

Matheus Leist had no luck for Carlin. While running in the top five in the Race 1, a mechanical failure put him behind the wall and an 11th place finish in Race 2 pushed the Brazilian to last in points.

I feel as bad for Neil Alberico and Santiago Urrutia. Alberico scored his first Indy Lights podium in Race 1, but finished last in the second race after being involved in an accident. For Urrutia, he finished 13th in the first race but came back to finish second in the Race 2. Urrutia and Alberico are sixth and seventh in points, respectively.

Pato O’Ward did amazingly well under pressure. Not knowing if he’d have a ride for Barber, the 2016 Pro Mazda runner-up got a fifth and a third to vault him to third in the points. Winning this past weekend in the 12 Hours at Sebring surely helped boost the confidence, and perhaps Dale Pelfrey’s faith in another Indy Lights opportunity as well.

Colton Herta leads the points with a runner-up finish and a win. Amazing job for Bryan Herta’s son and for Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing. Although he is 16-years-old, the kid already looks like a veteran with how he handled restart after restart.

Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires

If someone would’ve told me we would have 14 cars on the Pro Mazda entry list at St. Petersburg I would’ve asked for a sip of whatever they were drinking. With only a handful of cars at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test and a few more at Spring Training at Homestead-Miami Speedway, my thoughts were if we see 10, we’re lucky.

It was a major surprise to see Victor Franzoni move up to Pro Mazda, and an even bigger surprise to see Juncos Racing make the jump back down to Pro Mazda, too. Franzoni did a great job given that it was only his second time in the Juncos car after the CGMT back at Indianapolis and his first time racing a Pro Mazda car since running half or 2015 with M1 Racing.

Anthony Martin is a title frontrunner given his flag to flag victories at St. Petersburg. Staying with Cape Motorsports was the right move for Martin.

TJ Fischer’s half season in Pro Mazda last year helped him with his pace, but it will be difficult to hold off Carlos Cunha if his car holds together. Nikita Lastochkin did a good job as well with two top fives.

Sting Ray Robb. Best name in the MRTI. Enough said.

FatBoy Racing! has the best attitude of any team in the paddock. With their inflatable tent awning and their recliners in the corner of their area, the team is there to have fun and quite frankly, they’re refreshing to talk to.

Interesting to see ArmsUp Motorsports move up to Pro Mazda with Max Hanratty, who had been confirmed with Leading Edge Grand Prix, but something must’ve happened for stir the move.

Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda

Oliver Askew finished second in his first street race, won his second street race, and those were only his 15th and 16th races in cars. Pretty impressive, right? He’s the real deal.

Robert Megennis scored his first USF2000 win in the first race Saturday morning but in the afternoon tagged the wall with the right rear of his car as Rinus VeeKay went by for second place. Megennis is a championship contender as is teammate Kaylen Frederick if the latter is confirmed for the whole season.

VeeKay (phoenetic of Van Kalmthout) did a fantastic job in his American racing debut. He was slated to drive for Benik-Carlin, but a recent name change to Benik on the series’ USF-17 team list indicates something might’ve changed behind the scenes and thus signed with Pabst Racing.

Parker Thompson had a ton of pressure on him in Florida and despite not winning from pole in the second race, he did a very good job despite the numerous variables of having a new team to drive for.

Lastly, the National Class needs some reworking, especially with only having one car competing in it.

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A 2012 graduate of LSU, Christopher DeHarde primarily focuses on the NTT IndyCar Series and the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. DeHarde has actively covered motorsports since 2014.