By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG, Florida — It’s back to school time for the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires and the streets of St. Petersburg, Fl showcases the drivers on a grand stage. Let’s take a look at random tidbits from Friday.
For the IndyCar guys, it was an interesting situation on top of the time sheets in the two practice sessions. Matheus Leist was quickest, the first year driver for A.J. Foyt Racing going around the 1.8 mile street circuit with a lap of 1 minute, 01.7231 seconds averaging nearly 105 mph (104.985 to be exact).
Robert Wickens was sixth in his first session as a full time driver which was a big boost to the Canadian’s confidence.
However, in the second session it was Ryan Hunter-Reay on top of the time sheet with Wickens’s teammate James Hinchcliffe second. Hinchcliffe was the biggest improver from session to session as he was 19th in the morning session.
Several drivers had minor offs but the moment of the day went to Juncos Racing’s Rene Binder. Binder spun his car coming out of Turn 3 but slammed on the brakes hard enough to avoid sliding into the wall by about the width of an external hard drive.
Binder was last in both sessions but improved his fastest lap time by over 2.5 seconds.
The Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires has a smaller field than normal this year but despite the reduced car count, the quality of drivers is good.
Aaron Telitz bookended the 2017 season with victories and won the pole for Saturday afternoon’s race. His 2016 Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires rival Pato O’Ward was second, just over .15 seconds behind. Colton Herta qualified third while Santi Urrutia and Victor Franzoni were respectively fourth and fifth.
Franzoni is driving the Soul Red Mazda car for Juncos Racing after winning the 2017 Pro Mazda title. O’Ward’s second place on the time sheet is very good considering he hasn’t raced an Indy Lights car since last April at Barber Motorsports Park.
With the new car for Pro Mazda, we knew the lap record would fall but by nearly two seconds was a surprise. Oliver Askew put his car on pole with Parker Thompson second. It was an impressive effort.
Harrison Scott and RP Motorsports had a great debut and Juncos Racing did well to have fourth, fifth and eighth on the grid. Cape Motorsports were the only other team to have multiple cars in the top half of the field with Nikita Lastochkin in seventh.
The 2018 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda had their second season with the USF-17 and DEForce Racing scored their first pole ever with Jose Sierra behind the wheel.
As impressive was Kyle Kirkwood’s performance. The Cape Motorsports rookie hails from the same hometown as 2017 USF2000 champion Askew. Third was Kaylen Frederick for Pabst Racing.