HOMESTEAD, Fla. – The more things change in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, the more they stay the same.
Team Pelfrey, which has won the last two Pro Mazda Championship drivers titles, led each of the three sessions despite an all-new driver lineup as the two lowest rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder took to the 2.21-mile road course at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Tuesday.
Each of Team Pelfrey’s three drivers, TJ Fischer, Nikita Lastochkin and Carlos Cunha, found themselves at the top of the timing charts following each of the day’s sessions.
“We were constantly working at it today, pushing the whole time because everyone is going to be quick in this field,” said Fischer, the only driver who competed in Pro Mazda in 2016. “We worked a lot on brake zones and making sure everything is there, rather than being quick on one part of the track but losing time somewhere else. We did qualifying runs and race runs so we had the whole spectrum.
“There’s still a ton for me to learn – how to manage the car, how to manage the tires. It’s night and day compared to last year. Being in just one series this year is good: I can build a foundation and use this as a springboard. I’m actually getting a footing under me this year. The whole team is meshing well and all the drivers at Team Pelfrey are really quick.”
Los Angeles-based Russian Lastochkin, who is stepping up to Pro Mazda after two years in USF2000, was quickest in the opening stanza this morning at 1:24.4710, while Fischer, from Vacaville, Calif., set the fastest time of all in the first session this afternoon at 1:24.4417 (94.219 mph).
Rookie Cunha, from Campinas, Brazil, topped the times at 1:25.1641 in the final period. Earlier, Cunha, who is enthused about racing for the first time in North America after two years in the Brazilian F3 Championship, set a best time of 1:24.6217.
“I was a little concerned going into today because I’d never even sat in the car before,” said Lastochin, who was announced as a full-season driver prior to the day’s activity. “To be able to do some good times gives me a lot of confidence. The morning was great but I got a little tired by the end of the day because the car is a lot more physical than the USF2000 car. It has more downforce and more grip and it’s more lively to drive. To be honest, I’m a bit overwhelmed after the first day! But I couldn’t be happier to be back at Team Pelfrey. I worked with them for the first two years of my racing career and I love the atmosphere and the way they go about doing their thing.”
Anthony Martin, from Perth, Australia, last year’s USF2000 champon, was the only contender to split up the Team Pelfrey juggernaut, posting the second fastest time in this morning’s session at 1:24.6523.
Veteran Bobby Eberle, from Houston, Texas, who won the 2016 National Class Championship, completed the top five for World Speed Motorsports on 1:25.7417.
Askew Fastest as New Tatuus USF-17 Sparkles at MRTI Spring Training
The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda boasts a brand-new look this year with the introduction of a sleek new Mazda-powered Tatuus USF-17 chassis, but it was also ‘situation normal’ for Cape Motorsports, which has won each of the past six USF2000 championships, as Oliver Askew, 20, from Jupiter, Fla., set the pace in all three sessions.
Askew, a multiple karting champion who won both a Team USA Scholarship and the inaugural Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout to ensure he will be able to compete in his first-ever full season of car racing in 2017, posted the fastest time of 1:24.518, an average speed of 94.085 mph, in the third and final session this afternoon.
“I came here with a question mark over how we stack up against the rest, so I’m really happy,” Askew said. “We’ve tested four or five times and the car has been fantastic: this just solidifies that. We’ve worked on qualifying runs, because the balance changes so much depending on the tires, and we’ve worked on the car in traffic. We’re making changes every session, so we’ll keep working on that tomorrow. It’s hard to realize that St. Pete is a week away. As soon as I won the scholarship, my mindset was to be the best I could right now. I’ve been training every day and, when we are testing, working to get the most out of the car. I’m ready now!”
Dutch teenager Rinus VeeKay, another karting standout, ended up less than half of one-tenth of a second slower with a time of 1:24.6115 on his debut with Newman Wachs Racing which is making an eagerly anticipated return to the sport following a seven-year hiatus.
“It was a very good day, being in the top three in every session,” VeeKay said. “I think if we can put everything together tomorrow we can be ready to earn pole positions this season. It’s been good learning the new car; after a couple of tests, I knew where the car was going. We’ve been working on balance in the corners and in the mid points. It was busy on the track today with most of the field here, but it’s very good to get the comparison to other teams and drivers. It’s a preview of how the season is going to be so if I’m top three often, that will be
Four different teams were represented among the top-five fastest times during the first two of two days of testing. Robert Megennis, 16, from New York, N.Y., edged out impressive 14-year-old Team Pelfrey teammate Kaylen Frederick, from Potomac, Md., for third, while fellow rookie Calvin Ming, from Guyana, rounded out the top five for Pabst Racing.
The USF2000 and Pro Mazda teams will continue testing Wednesday before the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires contenders gain their first taste of the road course to wrap up Spring Training on Thursday. The teams will then pack up and head northward up the coast to St. Petersburg, Fla., for the opening races of the season next week on March 10-12.