Gabin, Rickards Knocking on the Door of Top-Five Pace as USF2000 Team Gathers Momentum

Palmetto, Fla. (April 28, 2015) – Team Pelfrey’s Santiago “Santi” Urrutia continued to impress in last weekend’s pair of races that comprised the Mazda Grand Prix of Alabama at the scenic and challenging Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. Urrutia, 18, from Miguelete, Uruguay, moved to within a point of the lead in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires following a third-place finish on Saturday, and even though he lost a little ground in Race Two on Sunday, finishing second to series leader Neil Alberico, he lies just eight points in arrears with five of 16 races now in the books.

Teammate Pato O’Ward, from Monterrey, Mexico, also showed good pace, claiming a fifth and a seventh from the two 30-minute races.

Team Pelfrey’s newest foray onto the first rung on the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, also continues to bear fruit. Garth Rickards, 22, from Mechanicsburg, Pa., brought home the team’s best finish, sixth in Race One, while fellow rookie Luke Gabin, from Perth, Australia, displayed impressive speed before being involved in a couple of incidents which hindered his results. Ayla Agren, 21, from Norway, and 24-year-old Los Angeles-based Russian Nikita Lastoshkin also claimed top-10 finishes.

After struggling to match the leading pace both in Thursday testing and official practice on Friday morning, Urrutia and O’Ward worked with their engineers to make some setup changes to their Pro Mazda cars for the lone qualifying session later in the afternoon. The improvements enabled them to snag third and fourth places on the starting grid for Saturday’s first race. The pair were split on the opening lap by points leader Alberico, and with overtaking opportunities at a premium on the 2.3-mile, 17-turn track, both drivers were content to maintain their positions until the finish.

A messy start to Race Two on Sunday morning saw Alberico leapfrog from fourth on the grid into the lead ahead of Urrutia, while O’Ward found himself bundled down the order from fifth to 11th. Urrutia couldn’t quite match Alberico’s pace but still brought home another second-place finish – his fourth visit to the podium in just five Pro Mazda starts – while 15-year-old O’Ward once again displayed his maturity by fighting his way to seventh by the checkered flag.

The two USF2000 races – one held in dry conditions on Friday, the other in the rain on Saturday – saw Gabin running among the leaders on both occasions. A fine start to Race One saw the young Aussie rise from sixth on the grid to fourth, pursued by countryman Anthony Martin. The pair remained in close company until a small mistake saw Gabin run briefly off the road. It was enough to damage his car’s nosecone and end his race. Rickards (right) made up two places on the first lap, then passed young German Keyvan Andres Soori before finishing hot on the heels of Canadian Parker Thompson. Agren and Lastochkin, who started from the back of the grid following an incident earlier in the day, finished ninth and 10th.

Gabin again ran well in Race Two, chasing Friday winner Aaron Telitz for fifth in extremely wet conditions before sliding into the gravel. Rickards also slipped off the road, leaving Lastochkin as the highest-placed Pelfrey driver in eighth.

All three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy, which offers scholarships to help drivers progress from the grassroots of the sport to the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, will race next at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 7-9. A third Pro Mazda race will be held as a make-up for the event that was postponed by inclement weather recently at NOLA.

WHAT THE DRIVERS SAID:
Santiago “Santi” Urrutia (#81 Team Pelfrey/Ancap/BSE/Antel/Corporacion de Maquinaria/AgroLavalle/Fadisol Pro Mazda) – Race One, started third, finished third; Race Two, started third, finished second: “I am really happy because we were not so fast at the beginning of the weekend but we did a really good qualifying and secured two podiums. It was excellent points for the championship and we need to keep it this way. Now we head to Indianapolis for the month of May, so let’s push for the victory there! I must thank my fans, my supporters and also Team Pelfrey for the great car.”

Patricio “Pato” O’Ward (#82 Team Pelfrey/Octane Energy Drink/POW Motorsports Pro Mazda) – Race One, started fourth, finished fifth; Race Two, started fifth, finished seventh: “This weekend did not go as planned. I did not know it was very, very difficult to pass until Race One, so our starting position did not favor us. Race One we ended P5 giving Alberico a good fight for fourth. Race Two I had many problems in the start and got shuffled back from fifth to 11th and then made my way back up to seventh. It’s amazing how hard it was to pass but I just needed to put my head down and keep moving forward for maximum points. Thanks to everyone that supports me and I’m very excited for Indianapolis GP which is a track I like and I know I am quick there.”

Ayla Agren (#81 Team Pelfrey/Energima/BVR/Alt I Asfalt/Salming Hockey/KNA/CoForce/Women’s Sports Foundation Van Diemen-Mazda) – Race One, started 11th, finished ninth; Race Two, started 11th, finished 10th: “A bit of a tough weekend for us – top-10 finishes but I know we have more to work with so we can get the results we are capable of doing. We are getting all the pieces together and will come back stronger at the GP of Indy.”

Luke Gabin (#82 Team Pelfrey/MAZDASPEED/Skip Barber/Mandurah Panel and Paint/Colbyson Van Diemen-Mazda) – Race One, started sixth, finished 15th; Race Two, started fifth, finished 14th: “A really up-and-down weekend for me at Barber. We had top-five pace the whole weekend until bad luck struck me in both races. The car is definitely where I want it and my driving is better than ever. I’m hoping to continue this pace into the Indy GP weekend and grab some good results.”

Garth Rickards (#83 Team Pelfrey/Rahal Automotive Group/Snap 21 Van Diemen-Mazda) – Race One, started 10th, finished sixth; Race Two, started eighth, finished 11th: “I want to start off by saying how much fun Barber Motorsports Park is to race on and how much I enjoyed the weekend as a whole. I seemed to struggle in a few areas in testing on Thursday and the early part of Friday but really felt like I figured it out in the race Friday afternoon. Saturday was a different beast and I was improving every lap but with two to go I made another mistake and ended up toward the back of the pack. Overall I think myself and the team are getting better and I’m so exited to finally drive in Indy! The focus will be on eliminating the mistakes I’ve been making and to maximize myself in qualifying.”

Nikita Lastochkin (#84 Team Pelfrey/Russkaya Mekhanika) – Race One, started 15th, finished 10th; Race Two, started 12th, finished eighth: “It was a good weekend overall. We had some ups and downs. After the incident in practice I had to miss qualifying and start from the back of the grid. It was a good experience and I was able to make up a few spots and finish 10th. The second race gave us yet again more of the valuable seat time in the wet. As a team overall, we have seen great improvement in pace even though the results don’t reflect that yet. I am very excited to carry on the momentum into Indy and start off on a high and finish that way.”