HOMESTEAD, Fla. – After a long offseason, it is finally official: Aaron Telitz is taking his talents to Belardi Auto Racing for the 2017 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season.
The 25-year-old Wisconsin native will pilot the No. 9 Mazda Dallara IL-15 equipped with the iconic Soul Red livery after claiming last year’s title in the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires.
The Mazda scholarship awards program has been pivotal in developing young drivers along the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder, which Telitz has now earned twice. The prior scholarship came in a Mazda competition in 2013 that earned him an opportunity for the 2014 season in Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda, the first rung of the MRTI ladder sanctioned by INDYCAR.
Ranking 10th on the all-time Pro Mazda wins list with eight, Telitz admitted that a chance to see the Belardi team perform last year at Watkins Glen International was something that helped him understand how its dynamic worked and made the decision to join Belardi this year that much easier.
“John Brunner, the team’s general manager, and (team owner) Brian Belardi invited me to the Indy Lights race at Watkins Glen last fall before the Pro Mazda season ended,” said Telitz. “I had a head start in knowing the guys and seeing how the team works and knowing their cars are fast. They won that weekend and then again at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
“I just really enjoyed how the Belardi guys worked. They were really professional and Brian is from Wisconsin. It’s great to have that home-state connection, as most of my personal supporters are from Wisconsin.”
The chance to run the Soul Red colors once more was appealing as well.
“It’s a total honor to represent Mazda in 2017. I had the honor in 2014 and it’s an incredible feeling,” said Telitz.
Telitz became acclimated to his new team quickly Monday during MRTI spring training around Homestead-Miami Speedway’s 1.5-mile oval. He ran 74 total laps with a best time of 28.7459 seconds (185.974 mph), just 0.0468 of a second off the benchmark set by Andretti Autosport rookie Nico Jamin.
Next up Thursday for Telitz and the remainder of Indy Lights drivers is a full day of testing on the 2.21-mile road course at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The season for all three MRTI levels opens March 10-12 with doubleheader races at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
MRTI rookie Askew stout in final day of USF2000 testing
Cape Motorsports driver Oliver Askew was fastest in two of the three USF2000 spring training test sessions on Homestead’s road course today and was only edged out by 0.1046 of a second by Rinus VeeKay of Newman Wachs Racing in the final session. A Florida native from just up the road in Jupiter, Askew was the only driver to turn a lap under the 1-minute, 24-second mark with a 1:23.9142 lap (94.811 mph). Askew was the winner of the first Mazda Road to Indy Scholarship Shootout worth $200,000 toward a USF2000 ride this season.
Team Pelfrey’s Robert Megennis and ArmsUp Motorsports driver Victor Franzoni enjoyed representing the USF2000 veterans on the back end of the top three, each finishing third in the first and third sessions, respectively.
Pro Mazda powerhouses begin on display
Team Pelfrey dominated 2016 Pro Mazda competition by winning 13 of 16 races. However, reigning USF2000 champion and Cape Motorsports driver Anthony Martin tossed his name into the hat of 2017 title favorites hoping to upset that balance after setting the quickest pace in both the first and last test sessions today on the Homestead road course. Team Pelfrey’s TJ Fischer led the second practice.
A 22-year-old Aussie looking to follow the path of countryman Matthew Brabham, who captured USF2000 and Pro Mazda championships in consecutive seasons (2012 and ’13), Martin set the fastest overall time on the day at a 1:23.6329 (95.130 mph).