Sean Rayhall made his much anticipated return to Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires on Friday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
The 21-year-old Georgia native ran nine races last season, scoring two wins and four podiums, leaving many to believe he would be one of the competitors challenging for this year’s title and $1 million Mazda scholarship prize that grants three Verizon IndyCar Series races, including the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. Unfortunately things did not come together to give for that to happen, but the chance to return to the series has come in a one-off event with Team Pelfrey, which holds many crew members from the old 8Star Motorsports team.
Rayhall certainly made the most of it on during both practice sessions at the 2.238-mile, 11-turn permanent road course, scoring the second best time overall at 1:16.3290 (105.554 mph) and looking to be in top form for the doubleheader weekend.
“It feels good to be back,” the No. 2 Team Pelfrey Mazda driver said. “I love the Mazda Road to Indy and everything it’s all about. This is where the best talent is being fed to IndyCar right now.
“This is where you want to be, in the Mecca, as a young driver. I wish I was in this paddock more, but hopefully this will lead to more opportunities if we can get it done this weekend.”
The 2010 SCCA Pro Formula Enterprises champion scored fourth and second place finishes during last year’s contests in Monterey, Calif., admitted he was “surprised” by how well everything went his first day back.
“I was really surprised today,” Rayhall said. “It was almost like a fluke. I didn’t expect us to be in the top three in both practice sessions, but I’m very happy with it and looking forward to the next two days.
“As we see with tire strategy now, everything could change in qualifying. So I don’t want to take it as we are a top three car now. All the guys (on the team) are working hard. It’s great to be back with these guys and it’s just a pleasure to be here.”
F1600 duo makes USF2000 debut for Pelfrey
Kaylen Frederick and Phillippe Denes enjoyed their Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda debuts during Friday practice at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Both drivers come from successful F1600 Formula F Championship Series campaigns and are just aiming to learn as much as they can for next year.
“It’s a whole new experience than the F1600 car,” Frederick said, driver of the No. 81 Team Pelfrey Mazda. “Downforce makes a huge difference on the track and this track is just so much different than anything I’ve driven on. It’s just an entirely new experience and I’m happy to be here to learn as much as I can for next year.”
Frederick settled for 16th on the combined practice timesheets, while Denes surprised by ending the day ninth overall with a time of 1:28.3833 (91.157 mph).
“The switch from F1600 to USF2000 has been a pretty smooth transition,” Denes said, driver of the No. 82 Team Pelfrey Mazda. “The cars are pretty similar, but the biggest difference was the downforce. You can drive the car a lot harder with the downforce and it’s just a lot of fun. I’m looking to gain as much experience as I can this weekend, just to get ready for next year hope for a good result.”
The stellar showing has the rookie eager to for race day.
“It’s definitely a confidence builder. I know there’s a lot left in the car and there’s a lot more in me, so I think we’re going to have a good weekend.”
Kellett to Return to Andretti Autosport for 2017 Indy Lights campaign
Andretti Autosport announced earlier this week that current Indy Lights present by Cooper Tires rookie Dalton Kellett will return for 2017. The 23-year-old Canadian sits 11th in the championship, with the highlight of his season coming in the thrilling Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, when he finished third.
“The 2016 season has definitely been a learning year for us,” Kellett said.
“Coming back for a second year to work at Andretti Autosport in (Indy) Lights after our first year in Pro Mazda, they’re a great operation. There are a lot of resources there to help you learn and grow. I think that’s been the biggest thing this season, is learning and getting used to these cars at the tracks. Using that for the 2017 season is going to be a big help and let us challenge near the front, with the obvious goal of going for the championship.”