SONOMA, California – It’s not uncommon for race car drivers to be partial to a car number for their careers, but for Zachary Claman DeMelo, who is making his Verizon IndyCar Series debut this weekend in the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, the reason takes on more meaning.
Claman DeMelo is driving the No. 13 Paysafe Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing at this weekend’s season finale.
“My grandmother got freed from the Holocaust on Friday the 13th and the (concentration camp tattoo) numbers on her arm all added up to 13, so it's always been a lucky number for me my whole life,” Claman DeMelo said.
“I've always worn it all throughout karting and all the series I've raced.”
The 19-year-old from Montreal, Canada, placed fifth in the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires championship this season, with his lone win coming at Road America.
He is looking to use his maiden performance this weekend at Sonoma Raceway as a steppingstone to a Verizon IndyCar Series ride in 2018.
“My goal is probably to just learn as much as I can, come in with an open mind and prepare as best I can for next year,” he said. “I think it's tough to set a goal as a rookie, so I just want to learn as much as I can and obviously finish as high as I can because I'm very competitive. But if I can learn a lot for next year and progress every session, I'd be happy with that.”
Claman DeMelo was 22nd on the combined practice time sheet Friday with a best lap of 1 minute, 17.9506 seconds (110.147 mph) on the 2.385-mile permanent road course.
Harvey set for first INDYCAR back-to-back weekend
Following an adventurous race at Watkins Glen on Sept. 3, Jack Harvey is set to conclude his whirlwind season at a familiar place: Sonoma Raceway
After making his Verizon IndyCar Series debut in May in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil with Andretti Autosport with Michael Shank Racing, the 24-year-old Brit waited on the sidelines until Schmidt Peterson Motorsports had an opening for the final two rounds of the season.
The chance to run the final two Verizon IndyCar Series races of 2017 is an opportunity Harvey values because it brings some continuity. He’s also eager to compete again at Sonoma, where he swept the doubleheader Indy Lights weekend in 2014.
“I think it makes quite a bit of a difference,” said Harvey, driver of the No. 7 AutoNation Honda.
“Obviously, getting to do Watkins Glen, although I knew the team from before when I did Indy Lights, getting the chance to have the same engineer for another weekend and just the opportunity to get to know the guys a little bit better, and them getting to know me … I think sometimes the continuity of people is worth more than anything.”
Harvey finished on the lead lap in 14th place in the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen, following his 31st-place finish at the Indy 500 three months earlier.
“To be able to do Watkins Glen and shake off some of the cobwebs and so many new things for me to have to deal with, with it being my first Indy car (road course) race, was nice to come to a track that I do know and raced at before in Sonoma, and just trying to build off that and carry it forward.”
The focus for Harvey, a two-time Indy Lights championship runner-up (2014-15), is to simply keep improving and “get closer” with teammate James Hinchcliffe on the time sheets as he attempts to put together a full-season campaign for 2018.
“I think this weekend, we just want to get the checkered flag and keep trying to progress,” Harvey said. “That’s the target, kind of the same as Watkins Glen. In terms of next year, it seems we have some sponsorship to go racing with. I don’t know if it’s enough to do a full season, we’ll work on it.
“Everyone that supports me, AutoNation and SiriusXM, will be here. So if we have a good result and they’re happy, maybe they might do a little more for 2018. I don’t know, I think everyone has been generous enough to already support me into next year, in some capacity.
“We’re still trying to find out what that is. A good weekend here may influence that.”
Harvey was 21st in practice on Friday with a best lap of 1:17.6168 (110.620 mph).
Indy Lights champion Kaiser takes in INDYCAR season finale
Fresh off earning the Indy Lights crown and $1 million Mazda scholarship that awards him at least three races in the Verizon IndyCar Series next season, including the Indianapolis 500, Kyle Kaiser can’t stay away from the racetrack. Besides, Sonoma Raceway isn’t far from his home on Santa Clara, California.
“It’s been nice, definitely the best offseason experience I’ve had so far,” Kaiser said Friday at the track. “It’s busy, though, a lot of work still to do to get ready for next year.”
The 21-year-old returned home to take part Monday in the inaugural INDYCAR Celebrity Go Kart Challenge, which helped raise $40,000 for the SEAL Legacy Foundation. Kaiser is now enjoying his time at the 12-turn, 2.385-mile road course.
Kaiser admitted that Spencer Pigot, one of his former teammates at Juncos Racing and Indy Lights champion in 2015, prepped him in the weeks leading up to earning the title and what to anticipate as he readies for next year.
“Maybe not a ton of advice, because it’s a different year, different situation, different opportunities available, but he did give me a lot of information about going through the process even before I won the championship,” Kaiser said. “So I was already aware of what to expect with a lot that stuff it involves.”
Kaiser said he’s not ready to announce his plans for 2018 just yet.
“This whole experience has been very positive and it’s worked out really well so far, but no real big decisions have been made yet.”