By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
Wisconsin’s Aaron Telitz tested for Team Pelfrey late in 2015 before signing with the defending champions of the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires. By the end of the year, he was the champion of the series after a season which encountered a beginning that could have been discouraging.
Telitz had spent 2014 and 2015 in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda and after winning one race in each season and contending for the championship in 2015, he moved up the ladder and made an immediate impact with a second and a win on the streets of St. Petersburg.
After St. Petersburg, the 24-year-old got used to a familiar sight in front of him: teammate Pato O’Ward. Telitz finished second behind O’Ward in the two races at Barber Motorsports Park, the first of those races after Telitz had led the majority of the race and O’Ward got around him on a late race restart.
At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Telitz went off track on the first lap and ultimately finished seventh in the first of two races there. The 24-year-old fought back to finish second again in race two but could only manage fifth at the only oval race of the season at Lucas Oil Raceway.
The script was flipped entirely once Telitz found his way back home to Wisconsin. The Rice Lake native pulled off a sweep at Road America while O’Ward would only manage two fourth place finishes and the points lead was cut from 55 to 28 points as the series headed north to Toronto, Canada.
Telitz mirrored his performance from Road America by winning both races but got some major assistance in the form of Nico Jamin. Jamin and O’Ward had contact, sending the Mexican driver into the barrier on the first lap of the race. O’Ward’s pain in the first race was halted in the second race as O’Ward managed to get second place, and by doing so the Pro Mazda points battle was tied between the Pelfrey pair.
Mid Ohio would throw a wrench into the championship battle as neither Telitz nor O’Ward would taste victory at the legendary Lexington road course. Instead, it was Jamin who swept the weekend in his Soul Red entry while Telitz had a second and a third while O’Ward had a seventh and a fourth. Telitz had a points lead of 14 heading into the triple header season ending race weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
O’Ward would win the first race over Telitz after a dramatic late race restart but race two would be completely different. Coming out of the Andretti Hairpin, Telitz and O’Ward had contact with O’Ward’s car having suspension damage and Telitz being penalized with a drive-thru penalty. O’Ward lost several laps in the pits getting his car fixed while Telitz fought back to a fifth place finish and Juncos Racing’s Nicolas Dapero scored his first win of the season.
Telitz would win the final race of the season as O’Ward would finish sixth and the 2016 Pro Mazda title was Telitz’s. Despite O’Ward winning seven races to Telitz’s six, Telitz had only one finish outside of the top five while O’Ward had four and that’s what made the difference.
Telitz tested at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test in an Indy Lights car for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and also for Belardi Auto Racing and has yet to make up his mind on a 2017 campaign. He would be a major force to be reckoned with at either team should he pick from those two.