By Steve Wittich

I apologize for the lack of photographs. The Amazon S3 outage impacted the photo repository. They will be added to the story a little late. Thanks.

If you spent any amount of time in the pit boxes of Cape Motorsports, Newman Wachs Racing, and Team Pelfrey during the final Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda practice session, it quickly became obvious by the overt displays of emotion, that despite this only being a test session, ending the first official day of USF-17 testing at the top of the timesheets could help set the tone for the entire 2017 season.

The four quickest drivers ended the day separated by under two-tenths of a second. Rinus Van Kalmthout, who is testing this week with Newman Wachs Racings, led much of the session, but at the end of the session, a last-minute new tire run of 1 minute 24.562 seconds by MRTI $200K Scholarship Shootout winner Oliver Askew meant that the 20-year-old and his Cape Motorsports team would head to their hotel in a fantastic mood.

Van Kalmthout ended the day only five-hundredths of a second behind Askew and was followed closely by the Team Pelfrey duo of Robert Megennis and Kaylen Frederick, who ended the day only a tenth of a second behind Askew.

“It means a lot for sure,” explained a smiling Askew. “We’ve been testing in the offseason, and we’ve had five or six days now in the car before today. We’ve made a lot of progress, and I feel very comfortable in the car, but we came into this test with a little bit of question mark to see how we stacked up against the rest of the teams. Now, I’m extremely confident with the car and I’m happy to work to with Cape Motorsports.”

The first dozen drivers on the combined timesheet all ended the day within one second of Askew. Those 12 drivers represent seven of the 10 teams present for testing on the 2.21-mile, 14-turn Homestead-Miami Speedway road course.

The first session of the afternoon and second session of the day featured two red flags for cars that needed assistance. The safety team was able to get them restarted and both drivers were able to make it back to their pit stalls and continue the session with no damage.

Dev Gore and his No. 92 Exclusive Autosport Mazda/Tatuus did not make it on track for the final session of the day due to mechanical issues. Gore was disappointed to miss out on a session and was looking forward to having plenty of fresh Cooper Tire slicks to use on Wednesday.

Tuesday’s combined Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda timesheet:

1 3 Oliver Askew Cape Motorsports 1:24.562 70
2 38 Rinus VeeKay Newman Wachs Racing 1:24.612 80
3 80 Robert Megennis Team Pelfrey 1:24.675 72
4 81 Kaylen Frederick Team Pelfrey 1:24.712 74
5 22 Calvin Ming Pabst Racing 1:25.006 76
6 37 Andre Castro Newman Wachs Racing 1:25.014 74
7 90 Parker Thompson Exclusive Autosport 1:25.043 61
8 31 Kyle Kirkwood Benik 1:25.186 63
9 82 Ayla Agren Team Pelfrey 1:25.203 76
10 36 Dakota Dickerson Newman Wachs Racing 1:25.268 78
11 9 Victor Franzoni ArmsUp Motorsports 1:25.422 67
12 23 Lucas Kohl Pabst Racing 1:25.508 80
13 2 Ricky Donison Cape Motorsports 1:25.770 75
14 12 Moises de la Vara DEForce Racing 1:25.855 69
15 91 Luke Gabin Exclusive Autosport 1:25.869 67
16 11 Kory Enders DEForce Racing 1:26.005 68
17 34 Kris Wright John Cummiskey Racing 1:26.242 79
18 7 Devin Wojcik ArmsUp Motorsports 1:26.734 67
19 20 Chandler Horton RJB Motorsports 1:27.638 76
20 92 Dev Gore Exclusive Autosport 1:27.647 37
21 8 Bruna Tomaselli ArmsUp Motorsports 1:29.398 79

What do TJ Fischer, Nikita Lastochkin, and Carlos Cunha all have in common? Two things. All three drive for Team Pelfrey and all three led one of the three test sessions for the Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire series on Tuesday.

Veteran driver TJ Fischer led the first session this morning and ended up with the quickest lap of the day. The 1 minute 24.442-second lap topped the time charts but was only 3 hundredths of a second quicker than Lastochkin’s best lap in the second session of the day. Cunha and Cape Motorsports’ Anthony Martin were both only two-tenths of a second off of Fischer’s pace.

“It was a good first day of testing. I’ve never been to Homestead and we aren’t racing here, so we get what we can out of the test,” explained Fisher. “It was positive. The group of guys we have around us right now. These guys are really quick teammates. Constantly working at it and you really have to be pushing the whole time because everybody is getting quicker. As the sessions go on, the gaps are going to come down. For u, we’re just going to keep plugging away with it. We did the qualifications runs and the race runs afterwords, so we got the whole spectrum. For me, I’m still learning. There is a ton to learn out there.”

The seven drivers combined for a total of 554 laps with Jeff Green’s 89 circuits leading the way. Both sessions ran green with no stoppages.

Tuesday’s combined Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire timesheet:

1 82 TJ Fischer Team Pelfrey 1:24.442 85
2 80 Nikita Lastochkin Team Pelfrey 1:24.471 75
3 81 Carlos Cunha Team Pelfrey 1:24.622 60
4 8 Anthony Martin Cape Motorsports 1:24.652 74
5 13 Bobby Eberle World Speed Motorsports 1:25.742 88
6 14 Sting Ray Robb World Speed Motorsports 1:26.0877 83
7 5 Jeff Green Green Racing 1:26.8749 89

The schedule for tomorrow is:

  • 9am – 10am — Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda test session #4
  • 10:15am – 11:15am — Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire test session #4
  • 11:30am – 12:30pm — Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda test session #5
  • 1:30pm – 2:30pm — Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire test session #5
  • 2:45pm – 3:45pm — Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda test session #6
  • 4pm – 5:15pm — Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire test session #6


  • Each of the teams are allocated two sets of sticker Cooper Tire slicks for each day of the test, so they do have to judicious in their use. Most teams spent the majority of the first session on tires left over from testing before putting on sticker tires to end the session. Tire “strategies” for the remaining two session varied.
  • The last time that the Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda series officially took to the 2.1 mile, Homestead-Miami Speedway 14-turn road course was during winter testing in preparation for the 2015 season. The quickest lap in that event was a lap at 1:24.8059 by Victor Franzoni, meaning that that the brand new car is already quicker than the venerable Van Diemen that had over a decade of development.
  • The 2.1 mile, Homestead-Miami Speedway 14-turn road course has hosted a number of different road racing series including: ACCUS Florida Winter Series, F4 United States Championship Powered by Honda, FIA GT, Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series, SCCA US Road Racing Championship, Trans-Am, and US F2000 Winterfest. The 14-turn circuit features nine left-hand turns and six right-hand turns.

The 2.21-mile, 14-turn Homestead-Miami Speedway road course (Photo courtesy of Homestead-Miami Speedway)

  • Johnny Unser has been named the new race director for the Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire series. Unser, an IndyCar, IMSA and 24 Hours of Le Mans veteran, is the son of racer Jerry Unser and cousins of Al Unser, Jr. and Robby Unser. Unser was the Champ Car Atlantic Championship race director in 2008 and has extensive experience in IndyCar race control.
  • The National Class will feature 2001-2009 Van Dieman and 2010-present Elan Motorsports Technologies DP-08s with components provided by Andersen Promotions, an authorized manufacturer or supplier. So essentially the previous generation USF2000 car.
  • Tatiana Calderón, who had two podiums in two seasons of Pro Mazda (2010 and 2011) signed a deal to become a development driver for the Sauber F1 Team and also to compete with Dams Racing in GP3.