Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire preview
Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire sophomore Neil Alberico made quite a statement at the first event of the year in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Rising Star Racing backed driver dominated both races and built up a 20 point championship lead heading to the second event of the year.
The same field (minus Michael Johnson – see below for an injury update) that took to the streets of St. Pete is entered for the two races at 2.75 mile, 13-Turn NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, Louisiana.
All the drivers in the field this weekend (excepting Alberico, Santiago Urrutia, Kyle Connery, and Jay Horak) raced at NOLA a month ago during the Cooper Tires Winterfest. Jack Aitken, who is racing in Europe this year, won two races, while Weiron Tan scored one victory and two second place finishes. Other podium finishers in those three races were: Will Owen (twice) and Nicolas Latifi (who is also racing in Europe in 2015).
During Winterfest, most of the passing occurred in Turn 1, at the end of the front straight and Turn 10, at the end of the back straight. However, some brave drivers were also able to make a move by a competitor going into Turn 3.
While not taking part this year, Alberico did compete here during Winterfest in 2014, although most of the track has undergone changes to make it compatible for the Verizon IndyCar Series. Alberico’s closest competitor, Urrutia was also absent for Winterfest, which could hand the advantage to Juncos Racing sophomore Jose Gutierrez. Gutierrez had a solid run of two races at St. Pete and currently sits third in the championship standings, only a single point behind the Uruguayan, Urrutia.
Before the season started, I had picked Andretti Autosport’s Tan as a championship contender. The 19 year-old was blindingly quick at NOLA during Winterfest, but suffered through a horrendous opening weekend in St. Pete. The Malaysian driver has dug himself a deep hole, that while not insurmountable, will take time to climb out of. He’ll need to show patience and restraint while seeking out podium finishes, as he can’t afford too many more DNF’s.
The Cape Motorsports with /WTR “ginger-duo” of Daniel Burkett and Florian Latorre will be looking to keep up with their championship leading teammate. Both of them were able to score podiums in their maiden Pro Mazda weekends, but both also suffered DNF’s due to contact.
With rain in the forecast, look for European trained pilots Urrutia, Tan, Timothe Buret and Allesandro Latif to shine.
The schedule for Pro Mazda is as follows:
- 9:20 AM-9:50 AM – Testing 1
- 12:45 PM-1:10 PM – Testing 2
- 3:00 PM-3:40 PM – Testing 3
- 8:55 AM-9:25 AM – Practice 1
- 2:45 PM-3:15 PM – Practice 2
- 10:40 AM-11:10 AM – Qualifying
- 5:50 PM-6:20 PM – Race 1
- 12:50 PM-1:20 PM – Race 2
Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda preview
Jake Eidson, a Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda sophomore, just missed out on a perfect points scoring race weekend at St. Petersburg. The Destin, Florida native scored 64 of a possible 65 points, missing out on points perfection, when Aaron Telitz pipped him by only a tenth of a second for the quickest lap during race #2.
A total of 18 cars are entered in USF2000 this weekend, one more than took to the track in St. Pete. The additional entry this week comes from M2 Autsoport, who will be fielding the No. 79 for USF2000 sophomore Santiago Lozano.
The majority of this weekends field visited NOLA for Cooper Tires Winterfest in the middle of February. The three races were won by current USF2000 Championship leader Eidson (twice) and Victor Franzoni (once), with Nico Jamin (twice), Aaron Telitz, Jordan Lloyd and Anthony Martin all making trips to the podium.
It’s not a surprise that the top three spots in the championship are currently held by experienced USF2000 sophomores. Is this the weekend where the quick John Cummiskey Racing rookies Anthony Martin and Jordan Lloyd start to make inroads on their “elders”? If the weather turns out as predicted and the races are run in the wet, this might not be the weekend the two Australians make their move. Racing in the rain in Australia is a fairly rare occurrence.
If it is wet, look for Jamin to have a bit of a leg up on the rest of the field. His best race in 2014 (his sole podium) came in the wet at St. Petersburg, where he moved from his tenth starting position to finish third.
The schedule for USF2000 is as follows:
- 8:40 AM-9:10 AM – Testing 1
- 10:35 AM-11:00 AM – Testing 2
- 2:10 PM-2:50 PM – Testing 3
- 8:20 AM-8:50 AM – Practice 1
- 2:00 PM-2:30 PM – Practice 2
- 9:50 AM-10:20 AM – Qualifying
- 3:30 PM-4:00 PM – Race 1
- 10:15 AM-10:45 AM – Race 2
Michael Johnson injury update
According to Amy Koler, MD, FACS and Trauma surgeon at Bayfront Medical Center, Pro Mazda driver Michael Johnson is still in the critical care unit, but is improving daily.
The 22 year-old Flint, Michigan native suffered fractures to his hip and pelvis after a hard crash in Turn 3 while practicing for the Allied Building Products Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Friday, March 27, 2015.
Johnson’s father Tim also released the following statement:
“First of all, I am truly humbled by the outpouring of support for our family during this difficult time and appreciate the continued concern. Michael remains in critical condition but is comfortable and stable.”
All of us at TSO wish Michael the best in his recovery and are looking forward to seeing him back at the track.
Checking out the IMSA ladder series
It’s not very often that the Verizon IndyCar Series and Mazda Road To Indy is paired with the International Motor Sports Association ladder series, but this weekend at NOLA includes: Mazda MX-5 Cup, Porsche GT3 Cup and Cooper Tires Prototypes Lites.
While the Mazda Road To Indy has done a great job of producing our next generation of IndyCar stars, it has also provided the sports car scene with many driving stars. The transition from open wheel racing to sports cars begins in the three series mentioned above, and all three of them have former MRTI drivers that I will be watching this weekend.
Mazda MX-5 cup features three former Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda drivers. Timothy Paul, Peter Portante and Patrick Gallagher all got their start in open wheel racing. After two races Gallagher sits second in the championship.
Porsche GT3 Cup features two Canadians who got there start in the MRTI. Former Indy Lights driver and 2013 Porsche GT3 Cup Canada champion David Ostella, and USF2000 grad Jesse Lazare will be taking part in the races at NOLA. After two race Lazare is leading the points.
Clarke Toppe (USF2000), Matt McMurry (USF2000), Kenton Koch (Skip Barber) and Skylar Robinson (Skip Barber) are all part of the Cooper Tires Prototypes Lites field. Koch and Toppe are currently tied for the championship lead