A busy day is on tap for the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires from the 2.439-mile, 14-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
There’s nine sessions – one practice session (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires), five qualifying sessions (two apiece for Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and one for Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and three races (one for each series) – as part of the Mazda Road to Indy Grand Prix Presented by Royal Purple Supporting the Lupus Foundation of America.
Under overcast skies and ambient temperatures in the mid-50s, USF2000 and Pro Mazda kicked off the day with a pair of qualifying sessions for race one. The USF2000 session was only 20 minutes long with the Pro Mazda session 30 minutes.
The new Tatuus USF-17 Mazda was always likely to break the prior qualifying track record, the question being by how much. Last year’s champion Anthony Martin set a qualifying record of 1:26.1053.
Within his first few laps though, Oliver Askew hadn’t just beat the mark but obliterated it. The young Floridian, who is Martin’s Soul Red Mazda scholarship and Cape Motorsports teammate, laid down an early time of 1:24.9033.
And then on his ninth lap after a pit stop, Askew dropped the hammer even further to a best lap of 1:24.6831.
The second time stood for the pole position, and extended a couple different streaks. The pole position is Askew’s third in a row this season, and it’s the fifth in a row for the Capes in USF2000 at the IMS Road Course.
How important is that latter statistic? The polesitter has won this race in USF2000 the last five times. Adrian Starrantino won 2014’s second race, Nico Jamin won both 2015 races and Martin (race one) and Parker Thompson (race two) won both races last year. Starrantino’s win is the last non-Cape USF2000 win at the IMS road course. Will Owen, who won the first USF2000 race in 2014, is the only non pole-winner to win – and he won from 13th in an odd, rain-affected race where an excellent tire strategy call from Pabst Racing helped propel him to the victory.
Askew is looking for his fourth straight win this season, and led the points by 34 points heading into this weekend.
So who are the drivers looking to stop the Askew and Cape streaks? Askew’s Barber nemesis, Kaylen Frederick of Team Pelfrey, was the only other driver in the 1:24 bracket at 1:24.9784. However following qualifying, the 14-year-old was assessed a two position penalty by the Race Director, and drops from second to fourth on the grid with a revised time (blew the checkered flag).
This promotes Indian driver Ricky Donison of Cape to second, after by far his best qualifying run of the season at 1:25.0610, and Pabst’s Calvin Ming will now start third. (1:25.1305). Frederick is fourth with Newman Wachs Racing’s Dakota Dickerson fifth (1:25.2285). Team BENIK driver Callan O’Keeffe impressed in his first qualifying session with sixth, with Robert Megennis, Rinus VeeKay, Lucas Kohl and Ayla Agren completing the top 10.
Thompson struggled to 11th, best of the four Exclusive Autosport cars. O’Keeffe is the first on the grid of three drivers making their debuts. David Malukas is 15th, and Jayson Clunie 23rd.
USF2000 has qualifying for race two from 11:15 to 11:35 a.m., and race one from 2:30 to 3:10 p.m. It’s a 30-minute race.
|17||12||Moises de la Vara||1:26.113|
Victor Franzoni has entered this weekend with a lot of confidence for Juncos Racing following a strong test at the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy test in October.
He backed that up this morning with an authoritative qualifying performance for his first Pro Mazda pole position as he looks for his first win in the series, two years after he made his series debut here.
Franzoni has just under half a second on the rest of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires field in qualifying. A best lap of 1:23.3476 was enough to secure the top spot. The polesitter has won the last five races at the IMS road course in Pro Mazda.
Franzoni has three podiums at the IMS road course in USF2000 and was second in both Pro Mazda races to kick off the season at St. Petersburg.
The Brazilian is well positioned, as he’ll start alongside TJ Fischer of Team Pelfrey. Fischer ran a best time of 1:23.8108 to slot into second right at the end of the session, an impressive effort for the Californian to get onto the front row.
Anthony Martin, who swept the St. Petersburg weekend to open the year, could only manage to qualify third in the lone Cape Motorsports entry. His best time was 1:23.8527.
Fischer’s two teammates from Team Pelfrey, rookies Carlos Cunha and Nikita Lastochkin, rounded out the top five ahead of a trio of World Speed Motorsports entries.
Pro Mazda has qualifying for race two from 11:50 a.m. to 12:10 a.m., and race one from 3:25 to 4:05 p.m. It’s a 40-minute race.
Unofficial qualifying results are below:
|7||14||Sting Ray Robb||1:25.050|
|15||31||Brendan Puderbach||No Time|