By Road to Indy
A little more than a month after the conclusion of a hard-fought 2017 season, teams and drivers from all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires will officially begin preparations for the 2018 campaign this weekend. At least 40 drivers representing more than 16 nations and 11 different teams will grasp an opportunity to drive on the 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix road course located in Speedway, Ind., during the seventh annual Chris Griffis Memorial Test on October 21/22. The two-day test is held in honor of the well respected former team manager of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports who died unexpectedly at the age of 46 in 2011.
Among the highlights will be a first public opportunity to glimpse the new Mazda-powered Tatuus PM-18 chassis, which will complete the revitalization of all three levels of the highly acclaimed open-wheel development ladder by being introduced to next year’s Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. In addition, a new prize for this year will see the top three finishers from the Pro Mazda title-chase, including series champion Victor Franzoni, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, gain their first taste of the Dallara-Mazda IL-15 which has helped to rejuvenate Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires since its introduction in 2015. And a host of talented young newcomers will make their MRTI debuts in the Tatuus USF-17, which has provided some spectacular action this year in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
In keeping with the Mazda Road to Indy’s tradition of supporting drivers off the track with a series of initiatives aimed at educating competitors on marketing/business, media training, fitness and wellness and social media, PitFit Training – the leader in training high performance athletes – will be on site Saturday at the test performing free neck strength testing.
“Raising awareness of physical fitness to young drivers is one of our primary goals,” said Jim Leo, President PitFit Training. “Showing MRTI drivers how their neck strength compares to our stringent driver standards should provide the proper motivation to incorporate neck training, a key element, into their preparation.”
Herta and Jamin Set to Continue Their Rivalry in Indy Lights
Seven Indy Lights veterans are included among the entry list, headed by Colton Herta and Nico Jamin. Herta, from Valencia, Calif., and former USF2000 champion Jamin, from Rouen, France, won five races between them as rookies en route to finishing third and seventh, respectively, in this year’s championship.
Herta, 17, will return for a second year with Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, a collaboration between Michael Andretti’s hugely successful team and George Michael Steinbrenner IV, the 20-year-old grandson of the former owner of the New York Yankees baseball team.
Andretti Autosport also will field cars for regular 2017 teammates Ryan Norman, from Cincinnati, Ohio, who claimed a best finish of fourth during his rookie year, and Dalton Kellett, from Stouffville, Ont., Canada, who claimed two podium finishes, plus Australian Anthony Martin, who won the 2016 USF2000 championship and earned his maiden Indy Lights test by finishing a close second in this year’s Pro Mazda series.
Jamin, meanwhile, who preceded Martin as the 2015 USF2000 champion, will switch over to defending Team Championship winner Belardi Auto Racing for this test. He will be joined by rising Dutch star Rinus VeeKay, 17, who finished a close second as a rookie in this year’s USF2000 championship.
Pro Mazda champion Franzoni, 22, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, will remain with Juncos Racing for his first test at this level. Countryman Carlos Cunha also will join Ricardo Juncos’ team, which guided Kyle Kaiser to this year’s Indy Lights crown, as part of his prize for finishing third in the Pro Mazda points table. Veterans Nicolas Dapero, from Argentina, and South Korean Heamin Choi, also will test for Juncos Racing.
Talented 18-year-old Mexican Patricio O’Ward, who scored a podium finish at St. Petersburg, Fla., before going on to win the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the PC category, will return to his open-wheel roots with Team Pelfrey alongside Californian TJ Fischer, who is seeking to make the step up from Pro Mazda.
Pabst, BN and Exclusive Teams to Debut With All-New Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18s
Up to a dozen of the highly anticipated new Tatuus-Mazda PM-18 cars are set to make their bow at Indianapolis this weekend, including entries from no fewer than three teams which are looking to field cars alongside their proven USF2000 programs in 2018. The Tatuus will represent a big step forward in terms of speed by comparison with the older Elan/Van Diemen/Crawford chassis which had provided the category’s basis since 2004.
South American Calvin Ming, from Guyana, will make the step up with Pabst Racing after securing four podium finishes in USF200 this year, while BN Racing has entered a pair of PM-18s for David Malukas, from Chicago Ridge, Ill., who showed promising form in a partial season of USF2000 in 2017, and 17-year-old Dutchman Leonard Hoogenboom, who competed alongside Malukas in this year’s German-based ADAC Formula 4 Championship.
Canadian-based Exclusive Autosport also will run a pair of PM-18s for former USF2000 front-runner Parker Thompson, from Red Deer, Alb., Canada, and Los Angeles-based Russian Nikita Lastochkin, who finished fourth in his rookie Pro Mazda campaign in 2016.
Juncos Racing, which guided Franzoni to the 2017 championship, has entered a trio of cars for series veterans Cunha, from Campinas, Brazil, and Sting Ray Robb, from Payette, Idaho, plus proven USF2000 race winner and fellow teenager Robert Megennis, from New York, N.Y., who made his Pro Mazda debut in the final race of this season at Watkins Glen.
Team Pelfrey, winner of the Pro Mazda championship with current Indy Lights front-runners Santi Urrutia and Aaron Telitz in 2015 and 2016, seeks to continue its run of success with two new cars for Kaylen Frederick, from Potomac, Md., who finished third in USF2000 this year, and Kris Wright, from Pittsburgh, Pa., who split his time between USF2000, Pro Mazda and sports cars this year.
After bursting onto the scene by winning the USF2000 championship in his first season of car racing, former karting star Oliver Askew, 20, from Jupiter, Fla., rounds out the entry list by stepping up to Pro Mazda with Cape Motorsports.
Veterans, Rookies Line Up for USF2000 Taster
Drivers from as far afield as Brazil, New Zealand, Singapore, Sweden and South Africa are set to join a high quality field of young North Americans in early preparations for a second season with the impressive new-for-2017 Tatuus-Mazda USF-17s.
Reigning Team Champion Pabst Racing has entered three cars for the Chris Griffis Memorial test. Returning Brazilian driver Lucas Kohl will lead the way alongside newcomers Hunter McElrea, the Gold Coast, Australia-based New Zealander who has shone in F1600 events on both sides of the Tasman Sea, and Mexican Andres Gutierrez, who impressed in a trio of outings toward the end of this season.
No fewer than five young hopefuls will join Newman Wachs Racing in Indianapolis. Darren Keane, from Boca Raton, Fla., will continue at the wheel of the No. 36 car for both days after a promising rookie campaign, while F1600 graduate David Osborne, from Cincinnati, Ohio, F4 regular Max Peichel, from Edina, Minn., and karting standouts Jake Craig, from Mission Viejo, Calif., and Oscar deLuzuriaga, from Singapore, each will test for one day.
Other highly rated karters stepping up to USF2000 for the first time in the public domain include Michael D’Orlando, from Hartsdale, N.Y., who will be joined at Team Pelfrey on Day Two by Osborne; Zoey Edenholm, from Scottsdale, Ariz., at BN Racing alongside South African Callan O’Keeffe, who impressed in occasional USF2000 appearances this season, and Elliot Finlayson, from Yorkville, Ill., who was a dominant force this year in SCCA Formula Enterprises/GPFour Series competition; Sabré Cook, from Grand Junction, Colo., and Myles Rowe, from Atlanta, Ga., who impressed during some Lucas Oil Formula Car Series events in 2017, with John Cummiskey Racing; and Sweden’s Rasmus Lindh alongside Californian Jaden Conwright, who has been racing in this year’s Italian F4 Championship, at Team Benik, which showed well in several exploratory outings in USF2000 this season and intends to field at least two cars full-time in 2018.
One year after making its USF2000 debut at the Chris Griffis test, Exclusive Autosport will return after an impressive rookie season with veteran Parker Thompson, who won three races this year, fellow Canadian and series veteran Jayson Clunie, and 18-year-old Justin Gordon, from Lake Worth, Fla., who will be stepping up from the GPFour Road Racing Series.
Live timing of all sessions will be available on the series’ respective websites – indylights.com, promazda.com and usf2000.com – as well as on indycar.com and the Road To Indy TV App.