Thursday is a busy day for teams in all three rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder, in preparation for this weekend’s six-pack of races on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
The official name of the race weekend is the Mazda Road to Indy Grand Prix Presented by Royal Purple Supporting the Lupus Foundation of America. It’s a long name but stems from an extended partnership between Royal Purple Synthetic Oil and the Mazda Road to Indy during May, which is Lupus Awareness Month. All cars are carrying a special decal and there’s also a hashtag, #RaceToEndLupus.
Prior to official track activity, there were six test sessions held on the cloudy, overcast day – two apiece per series – before USF2000 and Pro Mazda are set to hold their official first practice sessions of half an hour each. Quick notes from those and a couple other preliminary notes are below.
In Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the best times were set in the only fully dry session for the series, held from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. ET and local time this morning.
Nico Jamin, in the newly revised DuraMAX Powered by Reladyne liveried No. 27 Dallara IL-15 Mazda for Andretti Autosport, was first at 1:15.064. Kyle Kaiser was second for Juncos Racing with Neil Alberico third for Carlin, and Colton Herta and Zachary Claman De Melo completed the top five.
Jamin enters the weekend after a run of winning five of his last six overall race starts in three entirely different types of cars. In a Ligier JS P3, he won both IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda races at Sebring in March, the week after his Indy Lights debut at St. Petersburg. Then he won his first Indy Lights race last time out Barber. Lastly a week after Barber, he won both GTS class races in Pirelli World Challenge in a KTM X-BOW GT4. Both sports cars he raced were entered by ANSA Motorsports.
With rain spritzing during the second session, very few cars took the opportunity to run on a damp track. Only five of the 14 drivers entered ventured out on the circuit, and Neil Alberico posted a best time of 1:25.484. Alberico and all three of his teammates, Claman De Melo, Garth Rickards and Matheus Leist, plus Juncos Racing’s Nicolas Dapero were the only drivers to venture onto the circuit.
1 27 Nico Jamin 1:15.064
2 18 Kyle Kaiser 1:15.093
3 22 Neil Alberico 1:15.194
4 98 Colton Herta 1:15.252
5 13 Zachary Claman De Melo 1:15.280
Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires saw two drivers not named Anthony Martin top the timesheets in the pair of sessions. TJ Fischer of Team Pelfrey paced the opening hour session with a best time of 1:24.015, while Victor Franzoni of Juncos Racing was fastest in the second session at 1:23.446. Martin was second in both sessions, and Carlos Cunha was third in both.
Both Fischer and Franzoni, who were third and second in the two St. Petersburg races to Martin, come into Indianapolis having been busy in the near two-month break.
Fischer completed a 63-flight climb of the Aon Center in Los Angeles in the American Lung Association’s Fight For Air Climb in Los Angeles, as part of Project O2’s #Race2TheRescue for asthma awareness.
Franzoni, meanwhile, comes to Indianapolis after racing old stock cars in his native Brazil. Franzoni made his Pro Mazda debut here for M1 Racing two years ago but last year was back in USF2000, and he also tested with Juncos at October’s Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy test. Franzoni told TSO there wasn’t a need to run too much this morning as he feels confident in the team’s setup and dynamic heading into this weekend, as he seeks his first Pro Mazda victory.
1 82 TJ Fischer 1:24.015
2 8 Anthony Martin 1:24.097
3 81 Carlos Cunha 1:24.672
4 23 Victor Franzoni 1:24.729
5 80 Nikita Lastochkin 1:24.995
1 23 Victor Franzoni 1:23.446
2 8 Anthony Martin 1:23.800
3 81 Carlos Cunha 1:23.811
4 82 TJ Fischer 1:24.185
5 15 Phillippe Denes 1:24.411
In a surprise to almost no one, Cape Motorsports’ dynamic rookie Oliver Askew led both Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda on top of both test sessions.
The driver of the No. 3 Tatuus USF-17 Mazda posted a best time of 1:25.784 in the morning’s first one-hour session, which was the first session of the day, and then went nearly a second faster in the afternoon at 1:24.703. With the official track and qualifying record of Anthony Martin coming last year at 1:26.1053, the track record will be set this weekend if conditions remain dry.
Askew made his USF2000 test debut here at the Griffis test in October, a week after winning last year’s Team USA Scholarship. But he tested then in Cape’s previous generation Van Diemen chassis, as the combination of the older Van Diemens joined the fresh-out-of-the-box Tatuus cars.
Dakota Dickerson was second for Newman Wachs Racing in the opening session, as the team’s only entrant this weekend, with series debutante Callan O’Keeffe of South Africa third for Team BENIK. Kaylen Frederick of Team Pelfrey and Parker Thompson of Exclusive Autosport were second and third in the second session. Pelfrey’s Ayla Agren was fifth in both, as she seeks her first top-five finish of the year this weekend.
1 3 Oliver Askew 1:25.784
2 36 Dakota Dickerson 1:25.963
3 31 Callan O’Keeffe 1:26.114
4 90 Parker Thompson 1:26.254
5 82 Ayla Agren 1:26.335
1 3 Oliver Askew 1:24.703
2 81 Kaylen Frederick 1:25.159
3 90 Parker Thompson 1:25.211
4 22 Calvin Ming 1:25.329
5 82 Ayla Agren 1:25.369
Other pre-race notes from the Mazda Road to Indy paddock:
- The paddock layout is changed from previous years here into just one main dividing road with teams from all three series split vertically on either side. Previously, it had been laid out horizontally, with more zigging-and-zagging between rows if you will.
- Indy Lights’ car count drops by one to 14 as Pato O’Ward, who swept Pro Mazda here last year for Team Pelfrey, isn’t here. TSO understands O’Ward, who was only officially confirmed for St. Petersburg and continued into Barber, was unable to gather the necessary budget to offset crash damage from the opening two weekends.
- Pro Mazda’s car count grows by one to 15 with the additions of Bob Kaminsky (Kaminsky Racing) and Steven Ford (World Speed Motorsports) to the National Class. It would have gone to 16, but Max Hanratty (ArmsUp Motorsports) is withdrawn as he is racing in a European Le Mans Series event this weekend in an LMP3 car for Eurointernational.
- Incidentally, Hanratty is in the same field as past MRTI IMS road course winners Sean Rayhall (2015, 8Star Motorsports, Indy Lights) and Will Owen (2014, Pabst Racing, USF2000), both of whom won the ELMS opener in Silverstone in the LMP3 and LMP2 classes with Zak Brown and Richard Dean’s United Autosports team.
- The USF2000 field drops by one to 23 following several changes from Barber. Newman Wachs, as noted, is at only one car with Dakota Dickerson. Neither Andre Castro nor Flinn Lazier is here. Callan O’Keefe replaces Toby Sowery at Team BENIK. Colin Kaminsky’s car continues under the John Cummiskey Racing banner, after initially being entered as Kaminsky Racing; Bayley Mickler, the Australian driver, is not here this weekend. Exclusive Autosport expands to a fourth car with Canadian Jayson Clunie, while BN Racing makes its first start of 2017 with Chicago native David Malukas.