By Steve Wittich
With three different winners and the top-five drivers in the chase for the Mazda Motorsports scholarship only separated by 27 points. The first season of Pro Mazda Presented By Cooper Tire action with the brand new Tatuus built, Mazda powered PM-18 has had a thrilling start.
Parker Thompson, a top-three championship finisher in the last two Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda seasons comes to Central Indiana and the “Month of May” with a slim four-point lead over fellow Pro Mazda rookie Rinus VeeKay.
The 20-year-old Canadian and his all-Canadian Exclusive Autosport team will be looking to continue on the momentum they built at Barber Motorsports Park. They had one win, two poles, a pair of podiums and one quickest lap of the race.
“In complete honesty, leading the championship right now at this stage doesn’t mean much to the team or me,” said the Albertan. “We’re focused on racing for wins, and the points will come secondary. What satisfies me the most is that a team on the Mazda Road to Indy gave me a shot in Pro Mazda, and I returned the favor with a solid performance in Barber. That’s a special feeling when someone puts their faith in your abilities, and you go out and prove that they made the right decision. I’ll be looking to carry that confidence through the rest of the season.
“I can’t wait to step foot on the ground of the greatest spectacle in racing,” he continues. “Indy has treated me well in the past, with a win in USF2000. On top of that, we had a very successful Chris Griffis test here last October, so I think we’re looking pretty good for the weekend.”
Thompson, who will be making his 50th Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires start in Friday’s first Royal Purple Synthetic Oil Grand Prix of Indianapolis Supporting the Lupus Foundation of America Pro Mazda race of the weekend, has made six previous starts on the 2.439-mile, 17-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and has one win, one pole, two podiums and four top 10 finishes.
After winning both races in the season-opening event in St. Petersburg, Fla., VeeKay struggled for pace in qualifying at Barber Motorsports Park but was able to salvage top-five finishes in both races.
The 17-year-old currently has an amazing streak of 18 straight Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires starts where he has finished no worse than where he qualified. An incredible show of race-craft.
The native of Hoofddorp, Netherlands has 14 podiums in his 18 Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires starts, but his worst career finish across USF2000 and Pro Mazda came on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course when he finished sixth in the first race of the weekend.
BN Racing rookie David Malukas is still looking for his first Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires win, but a pair of podiums and two other solid finishes have put the 16-year-old in a great spot heading to the track where he made his Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires debut last year.
“We had a great test at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test back in October of last year,” adds Malukas. “I love the Indy track, and it really suits my driving style. The BN Racing car has been on point this year and I believe that this coming weekend I will be able to fight for the win.”
The winner of Sunday’s Pro Mazda race at Barber Motorsports Park shook off a rocky start in the season-opening event and matched Thompson with one win and one-second place.
The 22-year-old, who won the 2017 Euroformula Open Championship, along with team RP Motorsport are only going to get better as they learn the ins-and-outs of racing in “The States.”
Juncos Racing teammates Carlos Cunha (5th in points) and Robert Megennis (9th in points) have three podium finishes between them and have shown similar pace as teammate VeeKay, but need to make sure they finish races to move up the championship table.
Perhaps two of the most prominent surprises so far this year currently reside in sixth and seventh place.
Team Pelfrey sophomore Sting Ray Robb was one of the quickest drivers in pre-season testing, and has had decent pace during the races, but needs to improve his qualifying to jump onto the podium in the deep field.
Askew, the reigning Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda champion began the 2018 season on pole, and it appeared that he was going to attempt to repeat the dominant start he had in 2017. However, the 21-year-old pilot has not yet stood on the podium in the first four races and finds himself in an unfamiliar position.
“It’s no secret that we haven’t had the same blinding start to this season as we did last year, but there is still no reason why we can’t make the comeback and sweep the IMS Grand Prix this year as we did last year in USF2000,” said the Jupiter, Fla. resident. “It is one of my favorite tracks in the world and my team, Cape Motorsports, and I know exactly what we need out of the car to compete at the front. All we can do is focus on ourselves and continue to work hard. I believe I have the best people working around me to be successful, so it’s just a matter of putting everything together.”
Andres Gutierrez, who was devastated after throwing away a sure victory in Sunday’s wet Pro Mazda race at Barber Motorsports Park (make sure you read this excellent interview on the Motorsports Tribune site with the young Mexican https://motorsportstribune.com/andres-gutierrez-devastated-after-lost-victory-in-barber/), will have the opportunity make amends at a track he is not seeing for the first time. The 17 year-old cousin of Indy Lights driver Patricio O’Ward was the quickest USF2000 driver at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test last October.
Askew’s Cape Motorsports teammate Nikia Lastochkin will look to move up the championship table at a track he has run well on before. The Russian has finished inside the top eight on four different occasions.
Pro Mazda Presented By Cooper Tire point standings headed into the three race “Month of May”
|6||Sting Ray Robb||58|
For the second straight year, Royal Purple will team up with the Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires to raise money and awareness about lupus.
The difficult to diagnose chronic autoimmune disease has no cure, and the silent illness impacts the daily lives of 1.5 Million Americans, including some people close to the Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires paddock.
“My mom has lupus, and it really does impact your life,” said Pro Mazda driver Oliver Askew. “Not many people understand the disease so to use racing to raise awareness by having the Lupus Foundation of America as part of the INDYCAR GP weekend is so important. I’ll be doing my part to help spread the word. Last year was the first year that Royal Purple joined with the Foundation for this weekend to promote what they do and we saw a huge involvement, so if we can build on that and keep spreading the word about this disease, it will really help us fight it.”
Belardi Auto Racing, spearheaded by team owner Brian Belardi and team manager John Brunner, has been a staunch supporter of the Lupus Foundation of America for some years.
“It’s awesome to be able to bring the awareness of lupus to racing,” explained Brunner. “That’s how I got involved. The daughter of a friend in racing, Dave Hunt, was diagnosed and I had no idea what it was. From that moment on, I tried to educate myself. Brian (Belardi) has a connection as well, and we ran a decal for the Lupus Foundation of America on our cars years ago. To see the relationship between Royal Purple and the Lupus Foundation of America last year was great and we look forward to continuing that and growing.
“We raised over $6,000 last year, and I think we can double that this year. Our hope is that this brings awareness and needed funds – it’s a mystery disease, but it’s amazing how many friends I have who have a personal connection, with family members or friends who have been diagnosed with this disease. We’re proud to do what we can to help.”
Watch for all of the entries across the three series to have this special on the nose of their race cars this weekend.
You can show your support by using the #RaceToEndLupus hashtag this weekend, or better yet you can donate at this special page on the Lupus Foundation of America website.
The same driver has won both races on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course the three times the event has included a pair of races. In 2015, the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course played host to three races, which were won by three different drivers.
Juncos Racing and Team Pelfrey are the winningest teams, with three wins apiece and Cape Motorsports trails them by a single victory.
Pro Mazda race winners on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course
|2017 Race #2||Victor Franzoni||Juncos Racing|
|2017 Race #1||Victor Franzoni||Juncos Racing|
|2016 Race #2||Pato O’Ward||Team Pelfrey|
|2016 Race #1||Pato O’Ward||Team Pelfrey|
|2015 Race #3||Santiago Urrutia||Team Pelfrey|
|2015 Race #2||Timothe Buret||Juncos Racing|
|2015 Race #1||Weiron Tan||Andretti Autosport|
|2014 – Race #2||Scott Hargrove||Cape Motorsports with /WTR|
|2014 – Race #1||Scott Hargrove||Cape Motorsports with /WTR|
In each of the last seven races at this event, the pole sitter has gone on to end up in victory circle, and in nine races the winner has not started worse than second.
With passing prevalent in USF2000 and Indy Lights, that might have had something to do with the previous generation of Pro Mazda car. TSO will be interested to see if a driver can pull away in the PM-18 era. With more power and less drag, the Mazda powered Tatuus should provide better racing at the front of the field.
Of the active teams, Juncos Racing leads the way with five poles and Team Pelfrey has started inside the front row on three occasions.
Other nuggets of info
- The Royal Purple Synthetic Oil Grand Prix of Indianapolis Supporting the Lupus Foundation of America doubleheader will be the 10th and 11th visits that the Pro Mazda series has made to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Six different drivers have visited victory lane in the first nine races.
- There was a caution on the first lap of each of the first four Pro Mazda races on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, but the last five races have gone caution free.
- All nine races have finished under green flag conditions.
- Victor Franzoni’s 13.0798-second victory over T.J. Fisher in last year’s second race was the largest margin of victory.
- In the first race in 2015 (a makeup race for a race canceled at NOLA Motorsports Park), Weiron Tan crossed the finish line only 0.5689 seconds ahead of Timothe Buret, the closest Pro Mazda finish on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
- The second race in 2016 had an average speed of 104.825mph, the fastest of the nine races.
- The first race in 2015, which had eight laps of caution, had the slowest average race speed at 70.942mph.
- The longest Pro Mazda race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course race was 70.731 miles (29 laps), and the shortest race was 36.585 miles (15 laps).
Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires schedule
Friday, May 11
|8:40 AM – 9 AM||Pro Mazda Qualifying #1|
|11:50 AM – 12:10 PM||Pro Mazda Qualifying #2|
|1 PM – 1:25 PM||Pro Mazda Autograph Session (Fan Village)|
|3:35 PM – 4:15 PM||Pro Mazda Race #1|
Sautrday, May 12
|10:10 AM – 11 AM||Pro Mazda Race #2|
Don’t miss any of the action:
- live timing – Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, USF2000, and IndyCar Race Control
- on twitter –Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, USF2000, Cooper Tire, Mazda Racing and TSO Ladder
- via the Road To Indy TV app – Android or Apple iOS
- on all social media channels via the #TeamCooperTire and #MRTI hashtags