By Steve Wittich
Consider tonight’s writings the first of two updates from the ninth annual Chris Griffis Memorial Test. For the seventh time, the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway played host to all three steps on the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder.
TSO Ladder has made this point each time we’ve covered this event, but we’re going to make it again and go one step further. We won’t call testing times meaningless, but we will reiterate that they are one of the last things that we look at when the two days of testing are done.
Need proof? If you take nine previous years of the Chris Griffis Memorial Test and multiply it by three, you come up with 27 drivers that have led the annual end of season test. Of those 27 drivers, only five (that’s 18.5%) have won the championship the next year.
So, what do we pay attention to?
How well does the driver progress from day to day and session to session? How does a driver that is new to the Road To Indy acclimate themselves to the car and tires? How does a driver fit in well with a new team? How ready is a driver that makes the jump to the next level? How does a driver interact with their teammates? How seriously does a driver take the test? These are all questions we attempt to answer before looking at the timesheets.
We will be back with notes from each day along with timesheets tomorrow, but for now, here is a notebook of some of the other things we learned this weekend.
If you haven’t yet, make sure you watch Road To Indy TV Episode 11 from the finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
So, why is Rinus van Kalmthout (VeeKay) testing with Belardi Auto Racing?
It’s a win-win situation for all involved.
From the team side, the experienced VeeKay piloting the team’s car during the test makes sense on two fronts. First, the Dutchman helped move the Juncos Racing program forward last year and should help the Brownsburg, Ind. based team do the same. Second, VeeKay is the perfect driver to showcase how competitive your cars will be against Andretti Autosport.
From the driver’s side, testing is so limited in modern racing that any extra seat time is beneficial.
VeeKay is coming off his second successful test with Ed Carpenter Racing. From all accounts that TSO Ladder has heard, the day-long outing at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was very successful.
Look for news on the Dutch teenager’s future sooner than later.
TSO had a chance to chat with experienced newcomer Raoul Hyman, who is testing in Indy Pro 2000 with Exclusive Autosport.
Hyman was impressed with the PM-18’s torque and enjoyed the welcoming atmosphere in the paddock and especially with Exclusive Autosport. He hasn’t entirely made up his mind on where he will be racing next year but did tell us that he was leaning towards a switch to the U.S.A.
Hyman spent this past season in the FIA Formula 3 Championship, finishing a disappointing 22nd in the championship. TSO doesn’t put much stock into that result. Last year was the first year for the new Dallara F3 2019 car, and the South African’s Sauber Charouz Racing System team didn’t have a handle on a car they’ve never run before.
The 23-year-old won the 2018 F3 Asian Championship, finished fourth in the 2019 Toyota Racing Series, and was a race winner in GP3 and BRDC Formula 4 Championship.
He’d be a great addition to the Road To Indy.
Lights car count and another test for the top rung of the Road To Indy
We’ve had some questions about why the Lights field is only five cars for the Chris Griffis Memorial Test. There are several factors. Brand new team Exclusive Autosport is still prepping their cars. HMD Motorsports is focusing on getting their restarted USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 programs sorted.
Unfortunately, the FIA Formula 3 Championship post-season test is taking place at the same time in Valencia, Spain. That series, with a similar budget to Indy Lights, has 31 drivers entered across the three-days of testing.
Also, there will be another official Indy Lights test in a few months. The top level of the Road To Indy will join the Global MX-5 Cup and the Lucas Oil School of Racing Karting Shootout for a two-day test.
With surface changes, bumps, heavy braking zones, and 90-degree turns, the 1.6-mile, 11-turn short course does a great job of mimicking a street circuit.
Safety addition for the ‘kids’
Before next season, the USF-17, PM-18 and IL-15, will all be fitted with the Advanced Frontal Protection device. The AFP is designed to keep debris from the cockpit of the car and was added to the cars of the NTT IndyCar Series before the Indianapolis 500 last year.
IndyCar driver sighting
NTT IndyCar Series championship contender Alexander Rossi was in the USF2000 paddock on Sunday. Pieter Rossi, the 7-time IndyCar race winners father, helps guide the careers of several Road To Indy drivers. This weekend, the Rossi’s were working with Pabst Racing’s Yuven Sundaramoorthy.
The Oconomowoc, Wisc. is coming off a successful first year of USF2000 action where he was one of only three drivers to complete every lap.
— Alexander Rossi (@AlexanderRossi) October 20, 2019
Road To Indy alum making good
At last year’s Chris Griffis Memorial Test, Igor Fraga spent Saturday wrenching on the Exclusive Autosport program in exchange for an opportunity to get behind the wheel of the Canadian team’s Indy Pro 2000 car.
This year, the Brazilian was at Autodromo Nazionale Monza, where he won the final two races of the 2019 Formula Regional European Championship season. Fraga won four races and stood on the podium in ten races on the way to finishing third in the series that utilizes the Tatuus F3 chassis mated to a 265+ HP Alfa Romeo power plant.
Fraga earned his seat by winning the FIA Gran Turismo Nation’s Cup along with the McLaren Shadow Project by beating over 500,000 contestants around the world.
Fraga, who just turned 21-years-old spent the 2018 racing season with Exclusive Autosport, collecting three podiums and finishing fourth in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship.
New Town of Speedway denizen
Juncos Racing, A.J. Foyt Racing, and Dallara will soon have more racing company in the town of Speedway. The walls are currently going up on the new home of Abel Motorsports. The building is being built by ABEL Construction and is a partnership between team owner Bill Abel and Bob Lazier.
Speaking of Laziers
Third-generation racer Flinn Lazier spent the test in the second Abel Motorsports PM-18 alongside Jacob Abel. The Vail, Colo. native experienced mechanical gremlins on Saturday but rebounded to turn a lap within one-second of the quickest lap of the weekend on Sunday.
The Chris Griffis Memorial Test was the first time the 20-year-old had been behind the wheel of an Indy Pro 2000 car, but he is not short of open-wheel experience. Lazier joined his grandfather Bob as a Formula B/Atlantic champion at the SCCA Runoffs, winning at Virginia International Raceway last weekend. The elder Lazier won the 1971 Formula B championship Road Atlanta in 1971.
Joining Lazier at the historic track where his grandfather, the 1981 Championship Auto Racing Teams Rookie Of The Year and his father Buddy, the 1996 Indianapolis 500 champion.
That’s it for us tonight. I’ll be back with more tomorrow.