By Steve Wittich

Rinus VeeKay, the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda vice-champion led 29 of 50 laps, stood on the top step of the podium twice and scored 62 of a possible 66 points to leave the season-opening pair of races in St. Petersburg.

Rinus VeeKay and Arie Luyendyk take a selfie together after the Juncos Racing driver grabbed his second Pro Mazda win (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

The Dutchman, who holds a 19 point lead headed into this weekend’s Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Alabama Presented by Cooper Tires doubleheader kept busy during the six weeks between events.

The 17-year-old took care of some school work and exams during his downtime, but also had time to test a Euro Formula 3 car.

VeeKay will be making his third and fourth start at Barber Motorsports Park, finishing third and fourth in a pair of Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda races last year.

The points situation headed into Pro Mazda Rounds 3 & 4 at Barber Motorsports Park

1 Rinus VeeKay – R 62
2 Parker Thompson – R 43
3 Carlos Cunha 42
4 David Malukas – R 39
5 Sting Ray Robb 35
6 Oliver Askew – R 33
7 Robert Megennis – R 27
8 Nikia Lastochkin 27
9 Harrison Scott – R 21
10 Lodovico Laurini – R 21
11 Andres Gutierrez – R 20
12 Antonio Serravalle – R 18
13 Rafa Martins – R 17
14 James Raven – R 17
15 Kris Wright 16
16 Charles Finelli 14

The middle rung of the Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires will be making the trip to Alabama to join the Verizon IndyCar Series for the sixth time, and will be contesting race #10 and #11 in the rolling hills east of Birmingham.

Previous Pro Mazda Presented By Cooper Tire winners at Barber Motorsports Park

2016 Race #2 Patricio O’Ward Team Pelfrey
2016 Race #1 Patricio O’Ward Team Pelfrey
2015 Race #2 Neil Alberico Cape Motorsports
2015 Race #1 Weiron Tan Andretti Autosport
2014 Race #2 Spencer Pigot Juncos Racing
2014 Race #1 Spencer Pigot Juncos Racing
2012 Race #2 Jack Hawksworth Team Pelfrey
2012 Race #1 Martin Scuncio Juncos Racing
2011 Tristan Vautier JDC Motorsports

Juncos Racing and Team Pelfrey both have three wins on the 2.3-mile, 17-turn road course, but with a brand new engine and chassis package, it will be interesting to see which team has it figured out.

The series tested with the new package on March 2nd, a week before the race weekend in St. Petersburg, and it was a pair of new teams that led testing.

New team, BN Racing with driver David Malukas, turned 70 laps with a best lap of 77.068 seconds to lead the test. Malukas, who is currently fourth in points was only a tenth of a second ahead of fellow rookie Parker Thompson (2nd in the championship) and new team Exclusive Autosport.

The 20-year-old Thompson has won twice, stood on the podium three times and has failed to finish outside the top five in six career Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires starts at Barber.

Finishing the March test with the third, fifth and sixth quickest times during the test in March were the Team Pelfrey trio of Sting Ray Robb, Rafa Martins, and Andres Gutierrez. The three drivers will attempt to join Patricio O’Ward (twice) and Jack Hawksworth as drivers who wheeled the yellow and black of Team Pelfrey into victory lane in Alabama.

The Pro Mazda Presented By Cooper Tire field were all afforded a one-hour test session this morning after the series impounded their engines to make upgrades. Sources tell us that Rafa Martins was speedy this morning.

VeeKay’s teammates Carlos Cunha (third in the championship) and Meggenis (seventh in the championship) both had terrific pace in St. Petersburg, Fla., but will first need to beat their championship-leading teammate VeeKay.

Oliver Askew, who was in for a comfortable podium in Sunday afternoon’s race in St. Petersburg until he made an uncharacteristic mistake by tapping the wall and damaging his suspension.

Barber Motorsports Park was where the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda scholarship winner first asserted himself last year. The four-time Mazda Motorsports scholarship winner took both pole positions by over three-tenths of a second and won both races with relative ease.

Harrison Scott, the 2017 Euroformla Open Champion, was quick in his first two Pro Mazda Presented By Cooper Tire starts. But, the Althorne, England driver needs to finish both races this weekend. The fast and flowing Barber Motorsports Park road course should remind him more of the circuits he’s raced on in Europe, and a visit to the podium this weekend would not be surprised.

We’d be shocked if qualifying track record (80.249 seconds) and race track record (80.441 seconds) that were set in 2014 by current Verizon IndyCar Series driver Spencer Pigot didn’t quickly fall. The Mazda 2.0L powered Tatuus PM-18 should be much quicker around the 2.3-mile, 17-turn, Barber Motorsports Park natural terrain road course.

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