In 2011, Team Pelfrey, a rebirth of the Verizon IndyCar Series operation, decided to venture back into professional racing with one important goal: “help and develop new talent.”
To start the 2016 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires season, Team Pelfrey is doing exactly what it set out to do, thanks to hot starts from up-and-coming drivers Patricio “Pato” O’Ward and Aaron Telitz. In the season-opening St. Petersburg doubleheader last month, the duo finished 1-2 both races, O’Ward claiming the victory just ahead of Telitz in Race 1 before they swapped the order Race 2.
Pro Mazda has another doubleheader on its schedule at the Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park this weekend.
Telitz, a 24-year-old Wisconsin native, moved up the Mazda Road to Indy ladder this year to Pro Mazda from the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, where he finished third in the 2015 standings with one race win and an impressive 11 podium finishes in the 16 races.
“I was seriously ecstatic about (the St. Pete weekend results),” Telitz said. “In 2015, I didn’t really have a lot of race wins. To come back in 2016 and immediately win races in the first weekend, that really boosted my confidence. And I was really pleased with the whole Pelfrey gang.”
O’Ward is the “veteran” of the duo, though at just 16 years of age (he turns 17 on May 6), it’s difficult to consider him a veteran at much. The native Mexican who now lives in San Antonio finished sixth in last year’s Pro Mazda championship with three podium finishes and sees brighter days ahead for the Team Pelfrey effort that also includes Weiron Tan in its Pro Mazda stable.
“The whole team was the team to beat,” O’Ward said of St. Pete. “We were super-fast, it felt great, and I’m just so happy for the team and I’m looking forward to keeping the streak going.”
Both drivers felt they could never quite get over the hump in 2015. There was more to be had and Team Pelfrey is out to prove that the dominance in the first two races wasn’t a fluke.
“It was a lot of hard work and we never got to capitalize on what we had (last year),” Telitz said. “There was no way I was letting that happen again this season, and I was really pleased with myself for coming back strong.”
“I’ve been doing a lot of training and watching on-boards to learn from the mistakes I made last year,” O’Ward said. “It’s been a different approach this year: I’m racing for my career since I’m not signed for a full season. Every weekend, I know it could be my last, so I’m doing my best to maximize what I have.”
O’Ward has always been a resilient racer, evidenced by just last season, when he was awarded the Pro Mazda’s “Spirit Award" given to the driver or team that embodies the "heart of a champion" as they aspire to reach their goals.
O’Ward’s goals for the remainder of the year are simple: to secure a ride for the entire season and to “end each race on the podium and win the championship.”
Telitz was a bit more cautious with the lofty aspirations, though he seemed confident in the team and what it could accomplish.
“We just have to continue what we’ve been doing, my team and myself, we’re in a good place right now,” Telitz said. “We looked strong at Barber (during an open test last month), I was quickest last test. I just have to keep doing my thing and not over-think anything. Winning the championship would be great, but that’s a long ways away.”
Even though the two have been teammates for a short of time, there is already a chemistry building.
“It’s been great with Pato, he’s a lot of fun,” Telitz said. “He’s a bit younger than me, but he’s a great kid. We have a lot of fun Snapchats back and forth. I knew he was really fast the first day he was out testing with us, and he’s great to have on the team.”
“It’s been great, we get along really well,” O’Ward added. “We’ve been smart with what we’re doing on the track and I think that showed in St. Petersburg. I think it will continue to show the rest of the season.”