One in a series providing an inside look at drivers involved in the Mazda Road to Indy
Felix Juan Serralles IV knew at a young age that he wanted to be a race car driver. He took a circuitous route that included four years of competition in Europe before returning to North America at the beginning of 2015 to contest Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.
Serralles earned his first series victory at Milwaukee – a brand of track Serralles happily terms “scary” – and hopes to use that as a springboard to additional success in 2016.
Serralles, 23, grew up in Ponce, Puerto Rico, home to the Don Q rum distillery founded by his ancestors in 1865. Racing history runs deep in the family. His grandfather raced karts and boats, while his father was a national motocross champion and two-time world champion powerboat racer.
“I like adrenaline,” said Serralles, “so I started off in motocross. I was on a dirt bike when I was 3 years old. My father saw that I was a little too fast and a little too crazy – and I liked to fly – so he bought me a kart to settle me down. I started driving when I was 5 or 6 and never stopped.”
Serralles began racing immediately but his family insisted he finish high school, so that became his primary focus until the high school diploma was in his hands. Success came quickly, and Serralles soon found himself as a Mazda Scholarship Driver, eventually finding his way into the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda. The experience changed the direction of his career.
“I was 14 when I did my first school, to see what it was like,” he recalled. “I really liked it. I did a Jim Russell school and a Skip Barber school, and then won the Skip Barber Shootout in 2009, the same year Spencer Pigot was there. I also did four USF2000 races at Road America and Road Atlanta with Belardi Auto Racing. It was my first experience with a real formula car, one that was fast and had downforce. I finished second at Road Atlanta. The experience changed my mind from going into stock cars. I really liked the way a formula car ran and decided to go in that direction.”
His career took another turn when Serralles earned a spot on the Team USA Scholarship squad, running in the Formula Ford Festival and Walter Hayes Trophy events in England.
“I finished third in the 2010 Skip Barber championship and earned a Team USA scholarship with Spencer to represent the USA in Europe. That was one of the biggest highlights of my career and one that really helped me to follow my dreams. The racing was so competitive. I ended up staying there for the next four years; I never went back home.”
Serralles raced in Formula Renault UK and Formula Renault 2.0 before taking third in the 2012 Cooper Tires British Formula 3 championship, with five wins and 13 podium finishes. He competed in European Formula 3 for the next two years but was sidelined for much of 2013 with a back injury suffered in September of 2012. At the end of 2014, it was time to make a decision regarding his future – and the Mazda Road to Indy re-entered the equation.
“I was looking at options to continue my formula career path so I decided to come back to America. The Mazda Road to Indy is such a good ladder system – it was more attractive to come back and race here. I’ve always wanted to compete on the ovals so I decided to go with Indy Lights. The connection was already there with Belardi so it was a good way to transition.”
Belardi Auto Racing, the 2014 Indy Lights champions, has enjoyed much success on the ovals in the past few years, earning both 2013 and 2014 Freedom 100 victories. Everything came together for both team and driver at Milwaukee. Serralles started from the outside of Row 3 and passed five cars on the racetrack to take his first series win.
“We got it right at Milwaukee, right out of the truck. It felt very comfortable,” he said. “We were third quick in practice and we didn’t really trim the car down for qualifying. The car came alive in the middle of the race and was really fast. That was the most physical of the three ovals we ran on; it’s a short, flat track and you can’t go flat. It required more knowledge so it was really special to get my first win there.”
Serralles hopes to return to Indy Lights in 2016 and go for the $1 million Mazda scholarship that would take him into the Verizon IndyCar Series, as it has for his former Team USA teammate Pigot.
“This is the only ladder system that gives back for all the sponsorship and the money that it takes,” said Serralles. “At the end of the year, if you win the championship and earn the Mazda scholarship, it’s really a reward for all the hard work. In Europe, you jump from one championship to another and hope to get the support to make it to Formula One. Here, every rung gets you closer to IndyCar, which is everyone’s dream. I would love to do another year of Indy Lights and try to win. I’d like to make better choices and have better luck, and then make it into IndyCar in 2017.”