Eighteen drivers representing seven different countries and six different states are entered for the season opening Allied Building Products Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The twin races will be contested on the 1.8 mile 14-turn street circuit in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida.
The field will consist of ten rookies, five sophomore, and two expert class drivers representing a total of seven different teams.
The Pro Mazda (formerly Star Mazda) series has been in existence in one form or another since 1991 and boasts an impressive list of past champions that includes: Joey Hand, Guy Cosmo, Michael McDowell, Raphael Matos, Dane Cameron, John Edwards, Conor Daly, Tristan Vautier, Jack Hawksworth, Matthew Brabham and 2014 title holder Spencer Pigot.
The Pro Mazda car features a carbon fiber monocoque which is built to FIA standards. It is powered by a 260 Mazda Renesis rotary engine utilizing Sunoco Fuel. The boots it wears are slicks made by Cooper Tires.
The winner of the season long Pro Mazda championship is award a Mazda Motorsprots advancement scholarship to move a rung up the Mazda Road To Indy ladder to the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire series.
Handicapping this field is pretty tough. Neil Alberico should have a leg up, but Weiron Tan, Will Owen, Raoul Owens, Dalton Kellett and Garett Grist all showed some speed at Cooper Tires Winterfest. Add in the talent at championship caliber Team Pelfrey and you have an extremely wide open field.
The championship came down to the final race in 2014 and with a mix of veterans and quick rookies don’t be surprised to see a number of drivers battling for the trophy at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in September.
The weekend schedule is as follows:
Spencer Pigot won the 2014 drivers championship and MazdaSpeed Scholarship while helping Brownsburg, Indiana based Juncos Racing win their second driver championship and first team championship. The Ricardo Juncos led team will be fielding two sophomore drivers and two rookies.
Jose Gutierrez returns to the Juncos Racing squad for a second season. He will be piloting the Prisma sponsored No. 7. The Monterrey, Mexico native’s 2014 was an up and down affair that saw him get quicker as the season progressed. The 18-year old scored four top 5 finishes, including a win at the season ending race at Sonoma Raceway. He showed decent pace during the recently contested Cooper Tires Winterfest, but a 5th place finish in race three was his best result. Anything outside of a top five championship finish, while contending for podiums would be considered a disappointment.
After scoring two wins while driving for Andretti Autosport in 2014, Garett Grist makes the move to Juncos Racing to pilot the Lander Property Management sponsored No. 5. The 19 year-old posted a top three quickest race lap seven times in 2014, but on many occasions couldn’t turn his blinding pace into ultimate results. During the recently held Cooper Tires Winterfest, the Grimsby, Ontario native didn’t have the results or speed that was expected of him. Expect to see Grist contending for wins, and if he can improve his consistency, he should be threat for the championship.
Texas Christian University student Will Owen will be making the jump from the Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda series to Pro Mazda. He will pilot the No. 23 and be sponsored by American Medical Response. A surprise race winner in USF2000, the Plano, TX native had steady but not spectacular results and pace while driving for Pabst Racing. The 20 year-old was one of the pleasant surprises of Cooper Tires Winterfest, where he scored one pole, two podiums and exhibited consistent speed throughout. If his impressive growth as a driver is any indication of what will happen this year, he should be a regular fixture in the top five.
Rounding out the Juncos Racing quartet is Montpellier, France driver Timothé Buret. The 19 year-old has spent the past two season competing in the VdeV European Challenge, where he scored six wins in the Formula Renault based series. Buret had a steady Cooper Tires Winterfest, doing exactly what he needed to do. Log laps and get familiar with the team and car. If the careers of recent French drivers, like Latorre and Jamin are any indication, don’t be surprised to see Buret take a measured approach, but watch for him to get quicker as the season goes along and he becomes more familiar with racing in America.
Cape Motorsports with /WTR
Dominating the USF2000 competition is nothing new for Cape Motorsports with /WTR, so it should come as no surprise that they made a very successful first foray into the Pro Mazda series in 2014, with drivers Scott Hargrove and Neil Alberico snagging second and third in the championship. This year, the team led by the Cape brothers will expand to a three car effort.
Leading the way will be returnee Alberico, who will be piloting the Rising Star Racing/Mobe sponsored No. 3. The 22 year-old stood on the podium four times and four times scored the quickest race lap, which he turned into a third place championship finish during his rookie season in 2014. The Los Gatos, California native did not take part in Cooper Tires Winterfest, but has been conducting private testing with the team. It took the Cape team a few races to get the Pro Mazda chassis sorted but when they did they contended for race wins at every type of track. Expect Alberico to be in the championship chase all season long.
After moving to Cape Motorsports with /WTR part way through the 2014 USF2000 season, Florian Latorre piled up 10 poles and six podiums on the way to winning the championship and the Mazda Motorsports advancemnt scholarship. The 17 year-old is using his scholarship to stay with Cape, while moving up to Pro Mazda to pilot the No. 10 sponsored by MazdaMotorsports.com/AcSent du Sud-Ouest/ COGNY/LATORRE Menuiserie/VISEZ/K1. The Libourne, France native has shown outstanding patience and poise for his age and those valuable traits were on display during Winterfest where he kept improving session after session. Don’t be surprised to see the No. 10 contending for podiums and wins this season.
The third member of the Cape Motorsports with /WTR Pro Mazda squad is Daniel Burkett, who will be piloting the No. 2 sponsored by Granite Financial Group Inc.. Burkett spent two years in USF2000, where the Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada native showed he had good pace, but didn’t lacked the overalll results to back up his speed. Burkett also spent 2014 dominating the Atlantic Championship, which features higher horsepower and higher downforce cars. That experience should translate well to Pro Mazda. The 20 year-old had a forgettable Winterfest full of bad luck. Hopefully all of his bad luck is out of the way and he can contend for top fives. A top eight championship finish should be considered a successful season.
Winners of the 2013 Pro Mazda championship, Andretti Autosport are entered with a two car squad. Weiron Tan and Dalton Kellett will replace Shelby Blackstock and Garett Grist at the Indianapolis based team. The duo of Tan and Kellett also won the 2015 Cooper Tires Winterfest team championship.
Kellett, a series sophomore, who spent the 2014 season with Team Pelfrey, will pilot the No. 28 and be sponsored by K-Line Insulators USA, Inc.. The 21 year-old Engineering Physics major at Queen’s University scored nine top tens in his rookie season on his way to a tenth place championship finish. During Winterfest, the Stouffville, Ontario native, proved that he would be force to be reckoned with in 2015 as he used heady race craft to come home third in the 18 car championship. If he can show the same form that he did during Winterfest, Kellett will contend for podiums and a top five championship finish.
The second member of the Andretti Autosport squad is Weiron Tan, who will pilot the No. 22. The native of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia has spent his racing career in Europe, most recently contesting the competitive German Formula 3 series in 2014. The former Caterham F1 Academy pilot scored three wins and five podiums on the way to a 5th place finish. The 19 year-old was certainly the biggest surprise during Winterfest. He used two victories and three seconds to come home in second place, narrowly missing out on the championship by a single point. If he shows the same pace and ability to learn new circuits that he has shown so far, he should be a contender for the championship.
Minnesota based JDC Motorsports has three Pro Mazda championships on their mantle and they enter the 2015 season with four chances to add to that total. Sophomore Pro Mazda drivers Michael Johnson and Kyle Connery will join rookies Raoul Owens and Parker Nicklin in a four car assault on the championship.
Johnson returns for his fourth overall season with the team to pilot the Universal Coating Inc./BraunAbility sponsored No. 54. The 22 year-old finished his rookie Pro Mazda season in 13th place. The Flint, Mi native who is paralyzed from the mid-chest down controls his car utilizing solely his arms and hands. This incredible onboard view shows how Johnson can control the entire car with his upper body. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LVr1SH3SaE Johnson had a very consistent Winterfest, gaining a total of eleven spots in the two races. Expect to see Johnson fighting for top tens this year.
After an impressive partial season in 2014, Connery is back with JDC Motorsports for a full time program in 2015. He will be piloting the Hi-Tide Boat Lifts/Connery Concrete sponsored No. 91. After three seasons and 10 wins in the F2000 Championship Series, the 23 year-old made the move to the Mazda Road To Indy where he took home four top ten finishes in nine races. A native of Vero Beach, Florida, Connery also earned the season-long Quarter Master Hard Charger Award for capturing the most positions during the season. If his qualifying improves in 2015, expect to see the mechanical and aeronautical engineering major fighting for top five races results. A top six championship finish shouldn’t be out of the question.
Owens, hailing from Pembury, Kent, in the United Kingdom, spent the past four years competing in the European junior open wheel ranks. The 20 year-old will be piloting the Brightspark Ventures sponsored No. 19. The past two seasons have seen him score two podiums, 10 top tens, and two top 10 championship finishes in the very competitive Formula Renault 2.0 Northern European Championship. Owens made his U.S.A. debut at Winterfest and was up to speed right off the bat. He had two fourth place finishes and also had the third quickest race lap on two occasions. As he becomes more familiar with the car, Owens should be competing for top fives and podiums.
Nicklin, an 18 year-old who is a Schmidt Peterson Motorsports development driver, contested two Pro Mazda Races in 2014, gaining a total of ten spots in two contests at Sonoma Raceway. The Henderson, Nevada native has also spent 2014 competing in the Pro Formula Mazda category of the west coast based Formula Car Challenge, and took home one victory, and 11 podiums on the way to a second place championship finish. Nicklin also has experience competing in Skip Barber seasonal series. This will be a learning year for Nicklin as he prepares to further his racing career. Top ten race finishes would be a very worthy goal at this point in his development.
Team Pelfrey will be fielding a two car Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire team in addition to a four car Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda effort. The Palmetto, Florida based team recently took home the top spot in Cooper Tires Winterfest with guest driver Jack Aitken, and also scored the 2011 and 2012 Pro Mazda team championships. Their drivers for the Pro Mazda season will be Santiago Urrutia and Pato O’Ward.
Urrutia who will be at the wheel of the Ancap/BSE/Antel/Corporacion de Maquinaria/AgroLavalle/Fadisol sponsored No. 81, is a Miguelete, Uruguay native who has spent the past four seasons honing his craft in Europe. The 18 year-old spent two years in Formula Abarth, one season in Euro F3 Open and 2014 racing in GP3. His record includes eight wins and 28 podiums. It will be interesting to follow his progress as he makes the switch from GP3 to Pro Mazda. The last driver to make the switch started off a little slowly but came on strong to finish second in the championship. That drivers name? Verizon IndyCar Series rookie Gabby Chaves. Expect to see Urrutia competing for top fives once he becomes accustomed to his new Mazda powered machine.
The No. 82 sponsored by Octane Energy Drink will see 15 year-old Patricia “Pato” O’Ward behind the wheel. The Monterrey, Mexico who won his first of eight major karting championships at only eight years-old spent the 2014 season in Europe. He brought home one win and two podiums on the way to a seventh place finish in the hotly contested French F4 championship (the same series that produced Florian Latorre and Nico Jamin). O’Ward got his first taste of a Pro Mazda machine during the Chris Griffis Memorial Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in September, where he shocked everybody by turning in the quickest lap time during the two day test. Don’t be surprised to see O’Ward contesting for podiums against much older drivers as the season rolls along.
World Speed Motorsports
Latif will be making the transition from sports cars to open wheel cars, not something you see happen too often. The 19 year-old spent most of last year driving an Audi R8 LMS Ultra, that included eight wins in ten races to take home the Pro-Am Trophy in the GT3 based Blancpain Sprint Series. His adventures also included a turn at the historic Le Mans 24 Hours in an LMP2 class car for Greaves Motorsport. The London, England native made his American open wheel debut at Winterfest, where he showed patience (he completed all but one lap) and consistent improvement that included two top tens in the last two races. Expect Latif to get off to a slow start as he gets accustomed to the Pro Mazda car, but with his past pedigree don’t be surprised to see him closer to the pointy end of the field as the season progresses.
Expert class driver Bobby Eberle will be in the second World Speed Motorsports car. This will be his third season contesting Pro Mazda after getting involved in Skip Barber in 2012. The 48 year-old and Jay Horak waged a back and forth battle for the Pro Mazda class championship that should be fun to watch this year.
Based just southwest of Forth Worth, Texas, M1 Racing was formed from the ashes of Team GDT. Experienced Pro Mazda expert class driver Jay Horak will be competing for the team in 2015.
Horak, the owner of Star Race Cars (the basis for the Pro Mazda car) will be contesting his third Pro Mazda season, where the 44 year-old will get a chance to renew his expert class rivalry with Bobby Eberle.
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