INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (October 8) – The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda took center stage today as the sixth Annual Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test began at the hallowed Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix circuit. No fewer than nine different teams took advantage of perfect fall weather conditions to debut their brand-new Tatuus USF-17 cars and gain a jump-start on preparations for the 2017 season.
USF2000 represents the first rung on the acclaimed three-step Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires. The two higher levels, Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, also were in action with at least 42 drivers from 13 nations scheduled to take part during the two-day test which concludes tomorrow.
Four sessions were held today for each of the three series. In USF2000, it didn’t take long for drivers to dip beneath the existing lap record unofficially of 1:26.1053 (101.973 mph), established by 2016 champion Anthony Martin during qualifying for the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis in May.
Matthew Brabham, the 2012 USF2000 champion who was invited to help the six-time and defending champion team Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing get to grips with the new car, dipped beneath the old standard early in the third session this afternoon, only to be eclipsed by 15-year-old phenom Neil Verhagen, who recently clinched both the F1600 Championship Series and the SCCA Formula F National Championship. Verhagen, driving for Pabst Racing, ended the session fastest at 1:25.5962 (102.579 mph).
Lap times continued to tumble in the final session of the day with 2016 Rookie of the Year Robert Megennis, from New York, N.Y., eventually topping the charts for Team Pelfrey with a best lap of 1:25.3194 (102.912 mph). Brabham ended the day a scant 0.0589 second slower, with Verhagen, from Mooresville, N.C., Dakota Dickerson (Pabst Racing), from San Diego, Kaylen Frederick (Team Pelfrey), from Potomac, Md., and New Zealander Brendon Leitch (Newman Wachs Racing) rounding out the top six.
Oliver Askew, from Jupiter, Fla., set the fastest time among those running the older Van Diemen cars for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing.
A total of 1,116 laps (2,721.924 miles) were completed during the day by 20 different drivers, with no significant problems reported.
Brazilian Victor Franzoni, who won the final two races of the 2016 USF2000 season, was fastest today in the Pro Mazda ranks, leading the way in all four sessions and posting a best of 1:23.0975 (105.664 mph) for Juncos Racing with just five minutes remaining.
Teammate Jorge Cevallos, from Tijuana, Mexico, and TJ Fischer (Team Pelfrey), from Vacaville, Calif., completed the top three.
Thirteen Indy Lights drivers representing five teams were in action, with 2015 USF2000 champion Nico Jamin, from Rouen, France, impressing with the quickest lap time at 1:15.0702 (116.963 mph) for Andretti Autosport. Series veteran Andre Negrao, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, was second fastest for Juncos Racing, followed by recently crowned Pro Mazda champion Aaron Telitz (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian), from Birchwood, Wis., Juan Piedrahita (Team Pelfrey), from Bogota, Colombia, and Californian Neil Alberico (Carlin).
Testing will continue all day tomorrow from 8:30 a.m.
Robert Megennis (#82 Team Pelfrey): “I am loving the new car. You have the paddle shifts, bigger tires, bigger brakes – it is just overall more fun to drive. It is nicer to be in – it’s bigger and it’s cooler looking. The racing is going to be great. We have a lot less aero than this year so we’ll be able to run closer together. It should be tons of fun.”
Matthew Brabham (#3 Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing): “I think it is a big improvement over the old car and it is definitely going to bridge the gap for the younger guys stepping up into an open-wheel car with wings and slicks better than the old car did. It drives and handles a little bit more like a go-kart and it kind of slides and has that car control aspect similar to a Formula Ford so I think it’s fantastic for teaching young drivers. The aero wash is almost completely gone. I was behind a couple of guys out there and I tucked up right underneath their rear wing and went though a couple of those quick corners here at Indy and there was almost no aero wash so I think the racing will be a lot closer next year. They are certainly going to be dicing it out and having to apply some race craft for sure.”
Neil Verhagen (#22 Pabst Racing): “The first session out, I just enjoyed the car as much as a little boy at Christmas. Everything felt good and there were no issues at all. I was quick right out of the box with a P1 so I couldn’t complain at all. From the F1600 with no downforce, it is definitely a step up and I definitely like the power upgrade. The old USF2000 car has a little bit more grip but this is definitely more fun to drive. This track is so impressive. You drive in and you just get a smile on your face; you’re at the Brickyard! Many legends have driven here, so it’s great to be here.”
Augie Pabst (Owner, Pabst Racing): “We love the new car. It’s fantastic. Tatuus, Dynamic, Elite Engines – everyone has done a great job putting together this package. This is obviously a huge departure from the old design, but it’s better in every respect. The playing field is also being reset here. I think it is going to be great for all of the teams and for the series and hopefully produce some great racing.”
Brian Halahan (Team Manager, Newman Wachs Racing): “The new car has been great so far. We had a few small issues, just part of the learning curve, but the build quality that Tatuus has provided is awesome. We did strip it all the way down when we received it and I don’t think we really needed to do that. We probably could have put gas and oil and ran the thing so it was very impressive to begin with. This has been one of the most user-friendly cars to assemble. Everything actually fit when we got it and so far, great.”
Road to Indy