It should come as no surprise that 18 year-old sophomore RC Enerson was the quickest driver in today’s testing. The Phoenix International Raceway has been kind to a pair teenage Indy Lights drivers in the past, as Paul Tracy and Greg Moore both took their inaugural oval wins in the desert, and when the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire series returns to Avondale, Arizona in April, the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian teenager will be the favorite to win his first oval race.
Slotting in almost a full mile per hour behind the sophomore’s top lap of 168.214mph were his rookie teammates, Santiago Urrutia and Andre Negrao. The pair were the only other drivers to top 167mph.
What made Enerson’s top speed even more impressive is that ballast has not yet been adjusted by the Indy Lights Series, which should benefit the New Port Richey, Florida native.
Rounding out the top five were Felix Serralles, who is looking to make a successful switch from Belardi Auto Racing to Carlin, and Dean Stoneman, Andretti Autosport’s recent rookie signee.
The 16 drivers turned a total of 2598 laps, with Negrao covering 232 miles, the most of any driver.
The sunny and warm day began with a 40-minute rookie session that saw nine Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire oval rookies turn laps. Three of the top five times in the session were turned by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian drivers, with the No. 55 Mazda powered Dallara of reigning Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire champion Urrutia leading the way. The Uruguayan’s top lap was clocked at 166.823 mph, almost 10mph over the Indy Lights track record of 157.295mph set by Greg Moore in 1995.
He was joined in the top five by teammates Andre Negrao (2nd) and Heamin Choi (5th). Andretti Autosport’s most recent signee Dean Stoneman (3rd) and Carlin’s Neil Alberico rounded out the remainder of the top five.
A total of 324 laps were turned with Heamin Choi and his No. 77 completing 49 circuits, the most of any driver.
After a fifteen minute break, the one-mile Phoenix International Raceway opened for the first all-skate of the day that saw all 16 drivers turn laps in anger. It was once again a Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian driver that led the way, but this time it was Enerson, the sophomore pilot of the No. 7 Lucas Oil sponsored machine that raced to the top of the time sheet with a blistering lap of 168.214mph.
Enerson was joined in the top five by fellow veterans Felix Serralles and Kyle Kaiser and rookies Stoneman and Negrao.
After the clean rookie session, the all-skate was interrupted twice by stoppages and unfortunately it was mechanical issues with Team Pelfrey drivers that caused the delays. Both the No. 2 (Juan Piedrahita) and the No. 3 (Scott Hargrove) had engines “let go.” At the time of writing, it was not yet determined what the problem was and if the failures were connected.
Somewhat surprisingly, the afternoon session found three rookie drivers in the top five. Urrutia led the way with a top lap at 167.341mph and he was followed by his rookie teammate at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian, Negrao. Carlin veteran Serralles, Andretti Autosport rookie Stoneman and Juncos Racing veteran Kaiser made up the rest of the top five.
The field was slow to take to the track for the afternoon session, and once they did, the yellow flag flew for Dalton Kellett, who made contact with the wall and damaged his No. 28 enough that he could not make it out for the rest of the four hour session.
After that early incident the track remained green and teams and drivers spent the majority of the four hour session working on their race set-ups.
Here is the complete combined time-sheet.
|RANK||DRIVER||TOP SPEED||TOTAL LAPS||SESSION||TEAM|
|1||RC Enerson||168.214||198||Practice 2||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|2||Santiago Urrutia||167.341||204||Practice 3||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|3||Andre Negrao||167.139||232||Practice 3||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|4||Felix Serralles||166.681||198||Practice 3||Carlin|
|5||Dean Stoneman||166.450||162||Practice 3||Andretti Autosport|
|6||Kyle Kaiser||165.995||213||Practice 2||Juncos Racing|
|7||Ed Jones||165.518||125||Practice 3||Carlin|
|8||Shelby Blackstock||165.210||125||Practice 3||Andretti Autosport|
|9||Dalton Kellett||165.124||76||Practice 2||Andretti Autosport|
|10||Heamin Choi||164.879||208||Practice 3||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|11||Neil Alberico||164.823||200||Practice 3||Carlin|
|12||Felix Rosenqvist||164.773||172||Practice 3||Belardi Auto Racing|
|13||Zach Veach||164.768||176||Practice 3||Belardi Auto Racing|
|14||Zachary Claman De Melo||164.560||190||Practice 2||Juncos Racing|
|15||Juan Piedrahita||160.492||68||Practice 3||Team Pelfrey|
|16||Scott Hargrove||160.127||51||Practice 2||Team Pelfrey|
So how about those five things TSO was watching for?
1) The initial reaction of oval newbies.
- Unfortunately TSO was not on-site for the Lights test, so we need to rely on social media to gauge the reactions of the rookie’s first taste of ovals. Checking Twitter and Instagram reveal absolutely nothing (I’ll blame the lack of data plans so early in the season). Thankfully NBC Sports Tony DiZinno was on site and was able to capture the following reaction form Rosenqvist:
I love @FRosenqvist first description of @PhoenixRaceway. "It's… how do you say, gnarly?" @BelardiRacing @IndyLights #MRTI
— Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno) February 25, 2016
2) How close to the edge teams and drivers are willing to go.
- Considering the teams and drivers turned a combined 2,598 laps and there was only one minor incident (Kellett) the drivers comported themselves very well.
3) How adding extra cars impacts Andretti Autosport.
- Considering where Shelby Blackstock was on the ovals in 2015, it appears that the Indianapolis, Indiana based team has already made great strides as all three of their drivers were in the top 10.
4. Who asserts themselves in the “team leader” roles at the multi-car teams.
- It’s probably a little early to determine this, but the intra-squad battles at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian, Carlin, and Belardi Auto Racing should be fun to watch develop as the season progresses.
5. Where Team Pelfrey slots in on a short oval.
- Ugh. I don’t think the Gary Neal led squad could have come up with a worse nightmare scenario if they tried. Both drivers lost engines in the morning session and while the team was able to get Piedranhita’s replaced in time for some afternoon practice, they were only able to complete a total of 119 laps combined. Certainly not an ideal situation for a team that does not have much testing time and data on ovals.
- While it might appear that Belardi Auto Racing is behind the eight-ball early on, the Brownsburg, Indiana based squad is one of the only teams that has not already tested at Phoenix.
- While Enerson was certainly in a class of his own, the rest of the field was extremely tight with positions two through 14 separated by only 3 mph or three-tenths of a second.
The Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire is back on track for one more test day at Barber Motorsports Park on March 5th.