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Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire silly season update #1 – January 14, 2016

 

By Steve Wittich

The 2015 edition of the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire championship saw a thrilling three-way duel between Spencer Pigot, Jack Harvey and Ed Jones come down to the final weekend of the year at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and the 2016 championship is shaping up to be even better.

There was a total of 16 different drivers that got behind the wheel of the brand new Mazda powered Dallara IL-15 in 2015, with 11 of those being full season entries. With what TSO is hearing from team owners, both of those numbers should increase this year. There are currently eight confirmed drivers, with 16 expected entries and 21 “possible” best case scenario entries.

After falling to seven and eight car grids only two short years ago, breaking the 20 car plateau would be a huge accomplishment for Dan Andersen and his dedicated staff. TSO had one team tell us that 20 entries would go a long way to solidifying the Mazda Road To Indy as legitimate option among top level European talent. That can only help grid size moving forward.

The next official on-track activity for the teams and drivers is an open test on January 26 and 27 that will occur at Homestead Miami Speedway.

Below are some team and driver breakdowns.

Juncos Racing

Juncos Racing logo

  • Confirmed (2)
  • Total expected (2)
  • Total possible (2)

After a false-start that saw three drivers make six forgettable appearances in 2012, Juncos Racing made a proper leap from their Pro Mazda success into the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire championship in 2015. Leap might not actually be descriptive enough. The two car team led by former driver Ricardo Juncos vaulted into the 2015 Indy Lights championship when Spencer Pigot scored six wins and the championship in his rookie season.

Pigot and fellow rookie Kyle Kaiser were led to six wins, four poles, and 13 podiums by three former drivers: Juncos (team principal), Ernesto Gonella (technical director) and CR Crews (team manager).  Pigot, the recipient of the $1million Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarship has moved onto the Verizon IndyCar Series with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, but Kaiser will return and will be joined by rookie Zachary Claman Demelo.

Kyle Kaiser will be back in the familiar Juncos Racing No. 18 to chase the $1million Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarship (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Kyle Kaiser will be back in the familiar Juncos Racing No. 18 to chase the $1million Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarship (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

The 19 year-old Kaiser will be entering his second Indy Lights and fourth overall Mazda Road To Indy season.  The Santa Clara, California native made a big jump in performance between his first and second Pro Mazda seasons and will look for a similar improvement between his freshman and sophomore Indy Lights campaigns.

After a year spent racing in Europe, Canadian Zachary Claman DeMelo will move back to North America to chase the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire championship with Juncos Racing (photo courtesy of Formula Renault)

After a year spent racing in Europe, Canadian Zachary Claman DeMelo will move back to North America to chase the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire championship with Juncos Racing (photo courtesy of Formula Renault)

After a standout karting career, Claman DeMelo, a 17 year-old spent 2015 in Europe racing in various Formula 3 and Formula Renault 2.0 series.  The Montreal, Quebec native recently participated the Chris Griffis Memorial Test at Circuit of the Americas and turned in an impressive performance that saw him only one tenth of a second off the top time set by his new teammate Kaiser.

Andretti Autosport

Andretti Autosport logo

  • Confirmed (2) – Dalton Kellett – Shelby Blackstock
  • Total expected (3)
  • Total possible (4)

After persevering as a one car team in 2015, Andretti Autosport will be back in 2016 with a more traditional multi-car team. Shelby Blackstock returns to the Indianapolis based team in 2016 and the sophomore will be paired up with Andretti Autosport Pro Mazda veteran Dalton Kellett, who is making the step up to Indy Lights. The two-time Indy Lights championship winning team desires to be a four-car effort this year and believes that goal is still in reach.

Shelby Blackstock waits patiently to head out on track at the recent Chris Griffis Memorial Test at Circuit of the Americas (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Shelby Blackstock waits patiently to head out on track at the recent Chris Griffis Memorial Test at Circuit of the Americas (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Blackstock and the team took two-thirds of a season to get their heads around the new IL-15 chassis but the Nashville, Tennessee native showed improved pace beginning at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course; scoring three top-six finishes in the last four races of the year.

The extra data provided by USF2000 and Pro Mazda grad Kellett, a 22 year-old from the Toronto, Ontario area, in the second car should help the team move forward substantially in 2016. Kellett is a veteran of 58 Mazda Road To Indy starts and recently moved to Indianapolis, Indiana after completing a degree in engineering physics at the prestigious Queens University in Kingston, Ontario.

Dalton Kellett got his first taste of a Mazda powered IL-15 at Circuit of the Americas during the Chris Griffis Memorial Test in November (2015) (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Dalton Kellett got his first taste of a Mazda powered IL-15 at Circuit of the Americas during the Chris Griffis Memorial Test in November (2015) (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Blackstock and Kellett have been engaged in a vigorous off-season testing program that has seen them turn laps at Circuit of the Americas, Phoenix Raceway, Sebring Raceway and Road America.

Carlin

carlin-logo1

  • Confirmed (2) – Ed Jones – Felix Serralles
  • Total expected (3)
  • Total possible (4)

European junior formula stalwarts Carlin didn’t waste any time making their mark in America with the trio of Ed Jones, Max Chilton and Nelson Piquet scoring score four wins, seven poles and 13 podiums during the teams debut Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire season.

Trevor Carlin did tell TSO at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca that he would like to field four cars in 2016, and with two cars already confirmed that scenario certainly becomes a stronger possibility, although a three car team is also a possibility.

Ed Jones will return to a brilliant blue Mazda powered Carlin car for his second season in the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire series. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Ed Jones will return to a brilliant blue Mazda powered Carlin car for his second season in the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire series. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

After spending the first four years of his formula car career in Europe, Jones will return to Carlin for a sophomore Indy Lights season and a chance to win the championship that the Dubai born driver missed by only 33 points in 2015. After three wins, seven podiums, three poles, 148 laps led and four quickest race laps in 2015, the 20 year-old will be join RC Enerson as one of the early favorites for the $1,000,000 Mazda Motorsports advancement scholarship in 2016.

Felix Serralles will move to Carlin for his sophomore season in the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire championship (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Felix Serralles will move to Carlin for his sophomore season in the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire championship (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Joining Jones in Carlin brilliant blue will be fellow Indy Lights sophomore Felix Serralles. The Ponce, Pueto Rico native got his racing start in the U.S.A. (USF2000 and Skip Barber), but in 2011 made the move to Europe where he remained until coming back to race in the Indy Lights championship for Belardi Auto Racing. The 23 year-old had an up-and-down rookie campaign that included one win, two podiums and more often than not, pace that did not equal results. If the Milwaukee Mile winner can cut down on DNF”s, he should find himself in the championship hunt.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports logo

  • Confirmed (1) – RC Enerson
  • Total expected (4)
  • Possible (5)

The seven-time Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire championship winning team will be aiming to win their first overall crown since Sage Karam won the title in 2013. TSO has learned that the team who won three races in 2015 is once again planning on a four car assault in 2016.

The No. 7 Lucas Oil sponsored Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian car of RC Enerson will open the 2016 Indy Lights championship as one of the favorites (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

The No. 7 Lucas Oil sponsored Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian car of RC Enerson will open the 2016 Indy Lights championship as one of the favorites (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

The team will be led by confirmed sophomore driver RC Enerson who scored a win and five podiums on the way to a fourth place championship finish as an 18 year-old rookie in 2015.  The New Port Richey, Florida native and his engineer Doug Zister have formed a cohesive unit and will start the season at St. Petersburg as one of the favorites to win the $1,000,000 Mazda Motorsports advancement scholarship and a seat in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The team is expected to announce their remaining drivers very soon and have tested Santiago Urrutia, Henrique Baptista, Heamin Choi and James French for the remaining seats.

Belardi Auto Racing

Belardi Auto Racing logo

  • Confirmed (1)
  • Total expected (2)
  • Total possible (3)

Blaredi Auto Racing had a mixed results in 2015, but were still able to extend their consecutive seasons with a win streak to three when Felix Serralles won the oval event at the Milwaukee Mile.  The Brownsburg, Indiana based team joined the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire series for the first time in 2011, and won their first race with Peter Dempsey at the wheel of a thrilling Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2013.  The Brian Belardi owned and John Brunner managed team, who captured the 2014 Indy Lights crown with Gabby Chaves, has one confirmed entry and are expected to field a second car, with a third car being a long shot.

Joining the team, rejoining the Indy Lights series, and becoming an automatic championship contender will be Zach Veach.  The 21 year-old has three wins, five poles and 10 podiums in two previous Indy Lights seasons with Andretti Autosport.

Zach Veach returns to the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire series with Belardi Auto Racing after a one year hiatus. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Zach Veach returns to the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire series with Belardi Auto Racing after a one year hiatus. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

The Stockdale, Ohio native was forced to miss a season open wheel competition when a potential Verizon IndyCar Series ride failed to materialize at the last minute, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t keep busy.  The avid rock climber contested an TUDOR United SportsCar Championship race, served as an instructor at the MINI Performance Motoring School at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, drove an IndyCar two seater, and served as a driver analyst on the INDYCAR Radio Network. (it must be nice to be young)

 

Team Pelfrey

Team Pelfrey logo

  • Confirmed (0)
  • Total Expected (2)
  • Total Possible (2)

With the announcement in October that they would be absorbing the 8Star Motorsports Indy Lights program, Team Pelfrey will become the only Mazda Road To Indy team currently competing on all three steps of top level American open wheel ladder.

Team Pelfrey principal Nigel Tuckey did confirm to TSO that their plan was to enter two cars in the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire championship in 2016.

The Indy Lights program will be based out of the former 8Star Motorsports shop in Pompano Beach, Florida, while the Pro Mazda and USF2000 operations will continue to be operated out of the team’s current home base in Palmetto, Florida. Team manager Gary Neal, engineer Yves Touron and an experienced team of mechanics from the 8Star operation that won two Indy Lights races in 2015 have remained with the new organization and they should be competitive from the first practice in St. Petersburg.

The team has not confirmed any drivers, but have recently tested with Juan Piedrahita, Scott Hargrove, and Felix Rosenqvist.

 McCormack Racing

McCormack Racing logo

  • Confirmed (0)
  • Total possible (1)

McCormack Racing and team namesake Jack McCormack have a long history in open wheel racing dating from the late 1960’s when the 73 year-old began a long association with Sam Posey. The Cohasset, Massachusetts born McCormack was crew chief for Posey in everything from Can-Am to F5000 to Indy Car before going on to work as a chief mechanic for names like Dan Gurney, Warner Hodgdon, John Menard, George Bignotti and Dick Simon. Based in California, McCormack Racing was a part of the Indy Lights series in the mid-90’s with driver Rob Wilson before McCormack started his own business and scaled back on racing.

In 2014, the Indianapolis, Indiana based team set up a their race shop and procured a previous generation Indy Lights chassis and also purchased a brand new Dallara IL-15. Over the past year, Davey Hamilton, Jr. (D.J.) has been testing in the old chassis and has recently started to test the IL-15 at Buttonwillow Raceway Park in Southern California.  D.J., who recently graduated from high school in Indiana has had some success in high horsepower, high downforce race cars, winning a number of winged sprint car races on the West Coast.

At the same time Hamilton, Jr. was testing the IL-15, Pete Callaway got his first taste of an open-wheel car while testing the previous generation Dallara.  Callaway, who has an engineering degree from Northeastern University is the General Manager of California operations for Callaway Cars. Callaway Cars are known for: creating high performance packages for the Chevrolet Corvettes, Camaro and Silverado, providing advanced engineering solutions to automotive OEM’s and building and racing the GT3 Chevrolet Corvette in Europe.

Potential Drivers;

After finishing second in the 2015 Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire championship, Neil Alberico is focused on moving up to Indy Lights in 2016 (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

After finishing second in the 2015 Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire championship, Neil Alberico is focused on moving up to Indy Lights in 2016 (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Over the course of his four year Mazda Road To Indy career, Neil Alberico has proven that he certainly has what it takes to step-up the ladder to Indy Lights. The Rising Star Racing sponsored 23 year-old will be getting a chance to show-off his skills behind the wheel while testing with a front-running team next week. Quick hands, a heavy right foot and a positive attitude have led the Los Gatos, California native to 10 wins and 21 podiums in USF2000 and Pro Mazda.

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Daniel Burkett, a 20 year-old and a veteran of three season in Mazda Road To Indy recently announced that he would be joining sports car team C.J. Wilson Racing on a full-time basis in 2016.  From Winnipeg, Manitoba, Burkett has been tabbed to share a Porsche GT4 Cayman in the Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge GS Class. But… TSO would not be surprised to see him in a few non-conflicting Indy Lights races.

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Brazilian native Henrique Baptista tested with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports at Palm Beach International Raceway in December. The 23 year-old has been racing in Europe and has spent the last two years racing in various Formula 3 series.

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Heamin Choi gets ready to test with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian at Circuit of the Americas during the recent Chris Griffis Memorial Test (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Heamin Choi gets ready to test with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian at Circuit of the Americas during the recent Chris Griffis Memorial Test (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

After contesting a partial Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda season in 2012, Heamin Choi spent the next two season successfully racing sports cars in Asia. The South Korean born driver rejoined the Mazda Road To Indy while piloting a Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian Indy Lights car in the 2015 finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The 32 year old has tested with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian during the off-season, and is hoping to put together a full-season deal to run with the Indianapolis, Indiana based team.

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James French, an IUPUI Engineering Motorsports major, was the second driver to test a Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian machine during the Chris Griffis Memorial Test at Circuit of the Americas this past November and was immediately on pace, finishing the test only one second off experienced Indy Lights pilot Kyle Kaiser. The 23 year-old’s name will be a familiar one for fans of the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship where he will once again contest a full Prototype Challenge season with Performance Tech. However, the Sheboygan, Wisconsin native did tell Dave Kallmann of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he will at minimum be taking part in the Indy Lights races at his home track of Road America, with an eye to adding more races if the budget can be found. Some sort of ride share with Scott Anderson would make a lot of sense.

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After getting a taste of an Indy Lights car with Juncos Racing during the recent Chris Griffis Memorial Test at Circuit of the Americas, it appears that Pro Mazda veteran Jose Gutierrez will be making the switch to the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.  The 19 year-old announced that he would be joining PRI Motorsports to contest the Tequila Patron North American Endurance Championship in Prototype Challenge machinery.

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Canadian Scott Hargrove made his Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire debut and St. Petersburg in 2015, and is working hard to get back in a car for the 2016 season. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Canadian Scott Hargrove made his Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire debut and St. Petersburg in 2015, and is working hard to get back in a car for the 2016 season. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Scott Hargrove, the 2013 Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda champion and 2014 Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire vice-champion began the 2015 Indy Lights season with a one-off appearance at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg with 8Star Motorsports where he ended the weekend with a solid fourth and sixth. Hargrove could not find the funding to continue for the rest of the season, but did keep himself busy by taking part in the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Michelin championship.  The 20 year-old has 13 wins in 18 races in the last two seasons of the popular one-make championship that utilizes the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup. The British Colombia driver did share with TSO that he had a very successful December test with Team Pelfrey and that he is working every angle to get back in an open wheel car for 2016.

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Juan Piedrahita is always smiling and could turn up at his third Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire team in three seasons (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Juan Piedrahita is always smiling and could turn up at his third Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire team in three seasons (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Although Juan Piedrahita has contested an impressive 82 Mazda Road To Indy races across the three series, he is still only 23 years-old. The steady Columbian native who started his Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire career with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian but moved to Belardi Auto Racing last year scored one podium on the way to an eighth place finish in the championship. The driver who is popular among his peers and is always smiling has been testing this offseason with Team Pelfrey and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him end up with the Gary Neal led squad.

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After sitting out of top level competition for almost two full seasons, former GP3 driver Ethan Ringel stepped back into the fray by contesting the full 2015 Indy Lights season with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian. It took a while, but by the end of the season, the 21 year-old had begun to get the rust knocked off on the road and street course circuit. However, rust was certainly not a problem on the ovals. The Orlando, Florida resident made a stunning oval debut at the Freedom 100 in May, taking the pole and just missed out on a win by placing second to his more experienced teammate. Rob Howden’s very informative Road To Indy Insider blog reported that Ringel’s family has still not made a decision on whether to return to Indy Lights in 2016. This does confirm what TSO has also been hearing.

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Reigning FIA Formula 3 European Championship and two time Macau Grand Prix winner Felix Rosenqvist recently tested a Mazda powered Dallara IL-15 with Team Pelfrey. The 24 year old who is managed by former F1 and Indy Car driver (and Scott Dixon’s manager) Stefan Johannsen has scored a remarkable 41 (yes, that reads 4-1) Formula 3 victories over the past four seasons. The native of Varnamo, Sweeden will be contesting the Rolex 24 at DAYTONA in the Prototype Challenge class. A move to the U.S.A. by one of the best European formula car drivers would be a big deal, and that he is even considering it shows the impact that Andersen Promotions is having on the Mazda Road To Indy and the Verizon IndyCar Series.

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After winning four races in Pro Mazda, including two oval races, Weiron Tan is trying to find the budget to move up to Indy Lights (Photo Courtesy of IndyCar)

After winning four races in Pro Mazda, including two oval races, Weiron Tan is trying to find the budget to move up to Indy Lights (Photo Courtesy of IndyCar)

Andretti Autosport Pro Mazda driver Weiron Tan made an immediate splash upon joining the Mazda Road To Indy at Cooper Tires Winterfest in February 2015, as the former Caterham F1 Academy driver won twice and came home second three more times. Tan, from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was one of the quickest drivers all year in Pro Mazda, but got off to a bit of a rocky start before settling down and scoring four wins, including the series only two oval races, on the way to a fourth place championship finish. The 20 year-old’s manager informed TSO that Tan is planning on staying in U.S.A. for 2016 and would like to move up to Indy Lights if the budget can be found, but that a return to Pro Mazda for a championship assault isn’t out of the question.

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After four years racing in Europe Santiago Urrutia made the most of his first season in the U.S.A., winning the 2015 Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire championship. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

After four years racing in Europe Santiago Urrutia made the most of his first season in the U.S.A., winning the 2015 Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire championship. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Not much was known about Uruguayan pilot Santiago Urrutia going into the 2015 Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire championship, but that won’t be the case when the smooth and consistent pilot moves up to Indy Lights. After missing Cooper Tires Winterfest, the Eliseo Salazar mentored driver won three times and stood on the podium 10 times on the way to winning the Pro Mazda Championship and Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarship that comes with it. The 19 year-old has been testing with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian and is expected to be confirmed as a teammate to RC Enerson in the very near future.

We’ll be back soon with Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire and Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda silly season updates.

Felix Serralles joins Carlin for his second Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire season

Serralles joins Carlin for Indy Lights

Carlin Logo
Felix Serralles will race with Carlin’s Indy Lights team for the 2016 season, joining already announced driver Ed Jones for the British squad’s second year in the USA.  Serralles is already a race winner in the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires Series, taking a total of two podiums including a race win in his rookie season.
Carlin’s first season in the series was an exciting one, with the team taking victory in the first three races of 2015, challenging for the championship title with Ed Jones right up to the season finale.
Puerto Rican born Serralles competed in his first season of Indy Lights in 2015, but had previously long been on the British team’s radar, having competed alongside Carlin drivers in the FIA Formula 3 European Championship and the British F3 Championship.
Felix Serralles will be joining Carlin for his second season in the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire championship.  The 23 year-old from Puerto Rico scored one Indy Lights victory in 2015. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Felix Serralles will be joining Carlin for his second season in the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire championship. The 23 year-old from Puerto Rico scored one Indy Lights victory in 2015. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Speaking about the year ahead, Serralles commented, “I have wanted to be a part of this great team for a number of years while I was racing in Europe. I am really pleased this opportunity has now presented itself for me and I look forward to bringing home trophies with Carlin this year.”
Trevor Carlin added, “We’ve raced against Felix for many years now, both in Europe and last season in Indy Lights.  He’s a driver we’ve long admired and I know from watching his career the potential he has.  It’s fantastic that instead of racing against him we now have the opportunity to work with Felix and see what we can achieve together.  With Felix and Ed we have a very strong team.  Race wins should be the aim from the outset.”
Official testing in the Indy Lights series will get underway at the end of January.

CAPE MOTORSPORTS ADDS LASTOCHKIN TO USF2000 SQUAD

CAPE MOTORSPORTS ADDS LASTOCHKIN TO USF2000 SQUAD

Russian-born pilot confirmed for second Mazda Road to Indy championship seat, third driver still to be announced

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA.(December 23, 2015) Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing is thrilled to announce that driver Nikita Lastochkin will join the team to compete in the 2016 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda. The young driver from Moscow, Russia, who now resides in Los Angeles, California, had a successful rookie USF2000 season in 2015 and will look to improve on his rookie efforts. Lastochkin earned 12 top-ten finishes throughout the year, including a fifth place finish in the final race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, which capped a very strong second-half run of performance improvement. Nikita will drive the team’s No. 3 entry.

“When I got the news that I would be driving for Cape Motorsports, I was extremely happy,” Lastochkin enthused. “Without a question, it is a team that has a very impressive record as champions, and it is now up to me as a driver to deliver. I’m sure that with my teammates, we will be pushing each other very hard, and I am ready to fight for every pole, every race win and eventually, the title. Having said that, I will do my best to never stop improving and learn as much as I can from the team in order to keep evolving as a driver.”

Russian born, but Los Angeles based pilot Nikita Lastochkin testing for Cape Motorsports with /WTR at COTA during the Chris Griffis Memorial Test. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Russian born, but Los Angeles based pilot Nikita Lastochkin testing for Cape Motorsports with /WTR at COTA during the Chris Griffis Memorial Test. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Cape Motorsports has produced the last five consecutive Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series title winners (2011-2015). The team is working extremely hard to extend the streak to six in 2016. The Capes ran two USF2000 cars last season, but team has run three cars in the past and will do so again next year. They will announce their third driver shortly.

“We are all really excited to have Nikita compete on behalf of our team in 2016,” said team owners Dominic and Nicholas Cape. “ Nikita’s performance during the Chris Griffis Memorial Test at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin really opened our eyes. You never really know how good someone is until you put them in your own car. If Nikita can keep producing those kinds of performances he should be a real force to be reckoned with.”

The USF2000 season begins on the March 11-13 weekend in St. Petersburg, Florida at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.  For more information on Cape Motorsports, please visit www.capemotorsports.com.

Canadian Zachary Claman Demelo Joins Juncos Racing for 2016 Indy Lights Campaign

Canadian Zachary Claman Demelo Joins Juncos Racing for 2016 Indy Lights Campaign

Indianapolis, Indiana (December 15, 2015) – Juncos Racing is pleased to announce Zachary Claman Demelo will join the team for the 2016 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires. Claman is the second driver to join the regaining 2015 Indy Lights Champions line up for the 2016 season.

 

The 2016 Indy Lights season will mark Zachary Claman Demelo’s (Montreal, Canada) first run in the Mazda Road to Indy ladder series. The Canadian native recently made his official debut with Juncos Racing at the fifth annual Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy test. Claman proved to be a strong contender in the Indy Lights series leading the field in the final session and finishing third overall.

 

“I’m very happy about being given the opportunity to work with Juncos Racing,” said Claman. I get along very well with all the guys and I think we work well together. I’m looking forward to a strong season and showing everyone what we are capable of as a team.”

Claman joins the Mazda Road to Indy ladder series with Juncos Racing after competing in the 2014 F3 Cup and Formula Renault 2.0 series in Europe. Claman has also recorded many championships in karts throughout North America including Canadian National Champion and four Eastern Karting Championships. The young Canadian took third in the World Finals, won the Florida Winter Tour Tag Senior Championship, and was the runner up in the Florida Winter Tour Rotax Senior Championship.

Team Principle Ricardo Juncos has been very impressed with Claman’s preseason results and is confident the young Canadian will be a stand out driver in his rookie Indy Lights season.

“I am pleased to be able to announce that Zach Claman will be joining our organization for an assault on the 2016 Indy Lights Championship,” said Juncos. “Zach has been extremely impressive in preseason testing thus far, everyone is excited to see what he can do come St. Petersburg. I have to personally thank Mike Wilson for organizing the first test between Zach and Juncos Racing. Mike has been a huge supporter of Juncos Racing for over a decade and we will be putting our full effort behind Zach.”

Andersen Promotions Unveils New USF2000 Car Renderings

Mazda-Powered Tatuus USF-17 to Begin Prototype Testing in 2016

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (December 10, 2015) – Andersen Promotions today revealed designs of the new Tatuus USF-17 chassis during a press conference at the INDYCAR stage on the opening day of the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Trade Show. The state-of-the-art race car will serve as the foundation for a rejuvenation of the first two steps on the highly acclaimed Mazda Road to Indy – the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – beginning in 2017.

Tatuus, headquartered in Concorezzo, Italy, has been producing top-quality open-wheel junior formula cars since 1980. Its FIA-approved composite chassis currently form the basis for the popular and successful Formula Renault 2.0 and Formula 4 categories.

The Tatuus USF-17 will replace the tube-frame Van Diemen/Elan chassis which has formed the backbone of USF2000 since its introduction in 1999. It will be mated to the proven Mazda MZ-R engine and Cooper racing tires and augmented by other modern features including a six-speed paddle-shift gearbox, a revised damper package, custom aluminum American Racing wheels, Cosworth data system, LCD steering wheel and ECU, a revised PFC brake package, and IndyCar-specific quick jack and roll hoop attachments.

The prototype car, which will meet all the latest FIA safety requirements, will be unveiled next May, prior to the historic 100th Indianapolis 500, and will undergo a rigorous test program before being released to teams in advance of the 2017 USF2000 season. The cost of the USF-17 chassis – not including engine, wheels and dampers – is $51,400. As an additional cost-benefit to teams and drivers moving up the Mazda Road to Indy, the same chassis will be used as the basis of the new Pro Mazda car which will race for the first time in 2018.

“Although the current USF2000 car has performed well for so many years, it’s time to turn the page and provide our teams and drivers with something even better,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “The Tatuus USF-17 will offer exceptional value and performance, and we are delighted to partner with this great car company to launch the next generation of USF2000 race cars. This car is unmatched in quality, safety and performance for its cost, and we expect it to be well-received by our teams and drivers. With the next generation Pro Mazda race car following this design, the value is further enhanced for teams and drivers. It’s an exciting time for the Mazda Road to Indy.”

In addition to project manager Scot Elkins (USF2000/Pro Mazda race director, founder of TEG Motorsports Consulting and COO of the Motorsports Safety Foundation), key partners in the USF-17 project attending the conference included John Doonan, Director of Mazda Motorsports in North America; Casey Ackerman, Motorsports Activation Manager for Cooper Tires; Darrick Dong, Director of Motorsports for PFC; Rob Kirk, Global Sales Manager of Cosworth; Bruce Hendel, Director of Sales for VP Racing Fuels; Kraig Pechenino, President of Racing Communications; Todd Hayes, Motorsports Sales/New Business Development Manager of American Racing; and Greg Wrzesinski, Vice President of Operations at Carl Haas Automobile Imports Inc.

“We talk a lot about the Mazda Road to Indy being the premier open-wheel ladder system in the world, and the USF-17 chassis will only add to the many benefits for teams and drivers,” said Doonan. “We commend the long-term approach from Dan Andersen and his team as they unveil a race car that will be affordable, fast and safe for ovals and road courses. We can’t wait to see it and hear it in action with Mazda power.”

Mazda Road To Indy blog – Garth Rickards at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test.

Garth Rickards will spend his sophomore USF2000 season behind the wheel of the Pabst Racing No. 22.  (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Garth Rickards will spend his sophomore USF2000 season behind the wheel of the Pabst Racing No. 22. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Trackside Online would really like to thank Garth Rickards for taking the time to blog about his experiences at the recent Chris Griffis Memorial Test.  

The Mechanicsburg Pennsylvania native, who has only been racing for four years, began his racing career at the Skip Barber Racing School. After one season of “Skippy”, the Bobby Rahal Automotive Group sponsored driver progressed to the F1600 Formula F Championship Series, where his nine podiums, one win, three poles equaled a second place championship finish while driving for Team Pelfrey.  

Moving up the open wheel ladder to USF2000 with the Palmetto, Florida based team, Rickards found himself in a season long scrap for sixth place in the USF 2000 championship. Preparing to be a professional race car driver is a career in itself, however like his sponsor Rahal, Rickards has found the time to go to College; just finishing his coursework at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania.   

His mother, who unfortunately passed away after a long battle with lung cancer in 2012, was the inspiration for him making the decision to pursue a professional racing career. Rickards recently signed with Pabst Racing for a second assault on the USF2000 championship, but is still looking to complete his budget. You can help him out by donating to the Come Ride With Me to Sop Cancer drive,  where 10% of all money raised goes to the American Cancer Society.

Here is Garth’s blog: 

“The Chris Griffis Memorial Test at Circuit of the Americas was absolutely awesome to say the least. This was my first visit to the facility and it was truly amazing to see it in person. As we drove closer to the track and I saw the enormous viewing stand it all sank in that I was going to be driving on a track that some of the best drivers in Formula one race at.

I rode in with a few of the Pabst Racing guys who I was testing with both days and was truly exited to be testing with them. I think I may have told them how pumped I was to be back in a car and testing with them just a few times…. or ten. Once we got there and the guys were unloading I took some time to check the place out only to realize we were going to set up camp in the Torro Rosso garage!

After spending two seasons with Team Pelfrey, Rickards works hard to get comfortable with his new Pabst Racing team. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

After spending two seasons with Team Pelfrey, Rickards works hard to get comfortable with his new Pabst Racing team. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Towards the end of the day, Tonis (my engineer for both days) and I went on a track walk so that I could see each corner and take some more notes. It was a really productive track walk and I really enjoyed his comments, we even got to talk about how squeaky my shoes were down the long back straight. I knew at this point I was going to have a hard time sleeping because I was so exited even though I had been traveling sense 3am eastern. The team and I grabbed some traditional Tex Mex before heading back to the hotel and resting up for the saturday morning test session.

This test was much different than my first USF2000 test because I didn’t need to spend any time learning the car and was focused straight away on the track, my driving, and working with my engineer. It was difficult to gauge where we stood after the first session because it was full wet when we went out and then almost dry when the session was over, so tire plans played a major role in lap time. I wasn’t to concerned because our goal was to simply make sure my seat fit was ok and to get up to speed on a new track.  Over all the first day was very productive. I felt comfortable right away with the guys at Pabst and was really happy with our progression throughout the whole test. It was quite different than being with Pelfey because at Pelfrey I was used to having four cars under the tent. It was definitely a change going to a smaller two car team, but I really enjoyed testing with Pabst because they are so focused and really made me feel at home.

Rickards and his familiar U.S.A. themed red, white and blue helmet wheel around Circuit of The Americas during the Chris Griffis Memorial Test. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Rickards and his familiar U.S.A. themed red, white and blue helmet wheel around Circuit of The Americas during the Chris Griffis Memorial Test. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Everyone always asks how the learning curve has been since my first time ever racing was in 2013 with Skip Barber. To be honest, Its been challenging.  But since I’m still new to the sport compared to my competition, I really don’t know any differently. I’ve been raised and taught that if you really work hard for something and are truly passionate about it, you can make it happen. Of course I’m realistic with my thoughts and know it is extremely hard to make it in this sport but I don’t want to look back and say to myself ” man I could of put more into it”.

Also, my mother is a huge inspiration to me, watching her fight cancer for four years after her first doctor told her to go dig a grave, sticks with me every day. She was fighting for her life and unfortunately cancer beat her but in my eyes she won and proved that even given months to live she fought it for four more years.   Thats the kind of focus I want to have in my racing. Of course I have had a lot of challenges the past couple seasons but it’s all starting to come together, and I’m really excited for the 2016 season because I have a really good feeling that I will be fighting for the championship.”

You can follow along with Garth’s career on his website, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.  

RJB Motorsports to Field Two-Car USF2000 Team in 2016, Clint McMahan is first confirmed driver.

STURGIS, Mich. (December 7, 2015) – RJB Motorsports today confirmed it will field a two-car team in the 2016 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda. The long-term commitment follows an exploratory USF2000 outing at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in August and participation in the recent Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test at Circuit of The Americas.
After getting their feet wet at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 2015, the RJB Motorsports squad recently took part in the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road To Indy Test at Circuit of the Americas ((Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

After getting their feet wet at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 2015, the RJB Motorsports squad recently took part in the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road To Indy Test at Circuit of the Americas ((Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Former pro hydro boat racer Ryan Barth established RJB Motorsports in 2011 when he made the switch toward four-wheel racing in the SCCA’s Formula 600 category. He quickly formed a partnership with fellow F600 racers and brothers Fred and Tom Edwards, whose company, Metalloid Corporation, produces a range of environmentally friendly fluids to the metalworking industry. The association quickly led to the formation of the F600 Challenge Series, a cost-effective, entry-level championship featuring motorcycle engines and six-speed sequential transmissions, and more recently to a long-term goal of assisting talented young drivers via the proven Mazda Road to Indy Development ladder.
“After looking at all the different racing series we felt that USF2000 and the Mazda Road to Indy provided the best opportunity for us to make an impact on young racers,” said Fred Edwards, CEO of Metalloid Corporation. “There is no other development ladder where someone can start at the lower levels, such as USF2000, and make it all the way up to the Verizon IndyCar Series. We have had several young competitors in the Formula 600 Challenge that have the talent to be in this series. Our team is new to USF2000 but we plan on giving our drivers cars that can win.”
RJB acquired a pair of ex-Belardi Auto Racing Van Diemen-Mazdas earlier this summer and fielded them at Mid-Ohio for SCCA regulars Clint McMahan and Alex Mayer. McMahan, the 2014 F600 champion, also drove at the recent Chris Griffis Memorial test in Texas, sharing a car with USF2000 veteran Aaron Telitz, who posted the second fastest time during the Sunday morning session.
“We were grateful to Aaron for his time and commitment to our fledgling program,” said Edwards. “He plans to move up the Mazda Road to Indy ladder to Pro Mazda in 2016 and we wish him well. His input was extremely valuable both to Clint and our team as we work toward finalizing our arrangements for next season.”
McMahan, from Covington, Ga., will drive for the Sturgis, Mich.-based team in its inaugural USF2000 campaign.
“I am grateful to have the opportunity to drive in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda,” said McMahan. “This opportunity will help me reach a lifelong dream of being able to compete with the best talent on the planet. I was very pleased to be chosen to represent the Formula 600 Challenge Presented by Metalloid and RJB Motorsports. I’ve had to go up against the top talent in the country on a club level to have this opportunity so needless to say I’m very excited.”
Clint McMahan is the first driver to be announced for RJB Motorsports (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Clint McMahan is the first driver to be announced for RJB Motorsports (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

The team’s second driver will be announced in due course, and a full test program is being planned in advance of the first races of the 2016 season on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series, on March 1213.
You can follow the new team on Twitter at @rjbmotorsports

BELARDI AUTO RACING CONFIRMS VEACH FOR INDY LIGHTS SEAT

BELARDI AUTO RACING CONFIRMS VEACH FOR INDY LIGHTS SEAT

Multi-race winner returns with focus on Mazda Road to Indy championship title

BROWNSBURG, IN (November 25, 2015) – Belardi Auto Racing is thrilled to confirm driver Zach Veach for the 2016 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship.  Veteran Mazda Road to Indy driver and three-time Indy Lights race winner Veach will be back behind the wheel this coming season, as Belardi has confirmed that the Indianapolis, IN driver will begin the season in one of their Dallara IL-15 race cars. Veach spent two years in the top level of the MRTI ladder system, winning three times as a sophomore in 2014 as he battled Gabby Chaves and Jack Harvey every weekend for the championship. Veach and his management team worked tirelessly last winter to step up to IndyCar in 2015, but when they were not able to put together a program, Veach remained trackside every weekend working with the IndyCar Radio Network as a driver analyst for IndyCar and Indy Lights events. The team will continue their efforts to fully fund this Indy Lights program, as well as other potential rides next year, but the effort with Belardi is their primary focus for 2016.

“We’re really happy to have Zach confirmed with us for next year, and we’ll work closely with him to make sure that we can get the funding we need to run him all season,” offered Brian Belardi, Team Principal for the 2014 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champions. “He’s a supreme talent both in and out of the car, and his initial test outings in the car were just as we expected.  Zach was on-pace very early in Sebring after familiarizing himself with the new Indy Lights car, and I know that we’ll challenge for race wins and the championship next year.”

Zach Veach recently got his first taste of Belardi Auto Racing's IL-15 at Sebring International Raceway and was immediately up-to-speed.  (Photo courtesy of Belardi Auto Racing)

Zach Veach recently got his first taste of Belardi Auto Racing’s IL-15 at Sebring International Raceway and was immediately up-to-speed. (Photo courtesy of Belardi Auto Racing)

Veach, 20, tested with the Belardi squad at Sebring International Raceway in late-October, which was his first opportunity to drive the Dallara IL-15, which debuted at the start of the 2015 Indy Lights season. After getting acclimated with the speed and dynamic nature of the new car, Veach was quickly up to speed during the test and he was among the fastest of the seasoned drivers both days at the private test.

“I’m very thankful for this opportunity that Brian Belardi has given me,” offered Veach, who has been a star on all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy. “After racing against his team for so many years, I’ve always had a ton of respect for him, his crew, and of course, his cars. Belardi Auto Racing competes to win championships and I would love to give them their second Indy Lights title. Right now, we only have a partial program in place, but with a great amount of effort on both sides. We will be doing everything possible to try to get funding together for an entire season, so we can put a championship fight in place. I look towards winter testing, and 2016, with a lot of hope and excitement.”

Veach will test on multiple occasions before the season-opening race at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in Florida on the March 11-13 weekend.  In 2014, Belardi Auto Racing’s Chaves lost its pole position to Veach in turn 1 of the first lap of the race.  Veach went on to win the race with Chaves coming in second.  The team will be focused on getting out of the gate strongly to begin their attack on the series championship.

Indy Lights has now proven itself to be the leading entry into IndyCar.  With the last five Indy Lights champions all expected to occupy seats in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series, the program is now fully proven as the vital step to a professional racing career.

You can follow Zach’s career on his Website or his social media channels: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

You can follow Belardi Auto Racing’s season on their website or their social media channels: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

My Mazda Road to Indy: Garett Grist

Grist’s MRTI career totals:

  • Races: 44
  • Wins: 6
  • Podiums: 10
    Top 5’s: 18
    Poles: 6
    Fastest Laps: 7

PALMETTO, Fla. – Garett Grist decided five years ago to graduate from the karting ranks and pursue a formula car career. Now, three years into his tenure on the Mazda Road to Indy, Grist, who counts fellow Canadian James Hinchcliffe as a friend and mentor, hopes to emulate “Hinchtown’s” success all the way to the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Born in Grimsby, Ontario, less than an hour east of Toronto, Grist virtually grew up at karting tracks all over the province with his father Jeff, an author of several racing related books and a partner at the Derek Daly Academy.

Garett Grist, a 20 year-old from Grimsby, Ontario, just completed his third season in the Mazda Road To Indy  (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Garett Grist, a 20 year-old from Grimsby, Ontario, just completed his third season in the Mazda Road To Indy (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

“My dad raced dirt bikes growing up, but he was injured a lot,” says Grist. “He’s pretty much broken every bone you can break. He started racing karts about the time I was born, so I grew up at the karting track, watching my dad. He put me in a kart when I was 6 years old so I could try it, and I absolutely loved it. It started out just for fun, something I could do with my dad, and it was a good bonding thing for us. But I won a local club championship, then a couple of regional championships, then had some success in a Stars of Karting event in the U.S. Winning the Rotax Max Junior Canadian Nationals and Western Canadian Juniors earned me trips to Egypt and Italy to compete for Team Canada.

“This was very unexpected,” recalls Grist. “I think we figured I’d go into formula cars at some point so we could do some club races on the weekends, but when I started winning races and championships, I knew I wanted to be a race car driver.”

As Grist moved up through the karting ranks, he began to garner attention, including the notice of then-Indy Lights racer Hinchcliffe, who had started the Hinchtown.com Canadian Karting Shootout, which selected young karting standouts to attend the Bridgestone Racing School event at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. Grist finished second in the 2010 edition – and gained a mentor and friend.

“It was me and a bunch of my karting friends from Ontario. James gave us all the opportunity to have our first day in a race car, which was massive. I owe a large part of this to him, for giving me my first shot. I hope I can win IndyCar races someday!”

Grist made the switch from karts to cars in 2010, entering the Ontario Formula Ford Challenge. He took himself by surprise, winning both pole positions in his first weekend and going on to finish runner-up in the series. Grist moved on to the F1600 Championship Series driving for Bryan Herta Autosport where he finished fourth. His season ended with a trip to England to compete for Team Canada in the Formula Ford Festival and the Walter Hayes Trophy.

As the young Grist became more serious about racing, Jeff Grist realized that it was time to look for assistance. He asked former Formula 1 and IndyCar racer Derek Daly to manage his son’s career.

The Grists and Daly chose the Mazda Road to Indy as the next step. Driving for Andretti Autosport in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, Grist made the most of the opportunity, finishing third in the championship. With Andretti closing its USF2000 program at the end of the 2013 season, Grist decided to move up to the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires in 2014, where he scored wins at Lucas Oil Raceway and Mid-Ohio.

“I had my first street races, my first ovals, so it was a great learning experience,” says Grist. “When I look back on it, there were some good aspects to moving up quickly, but there were some bad aspects. I could have battled for the [USF2000] championship my second year, but I really enjoyed working with Andretti, so we decided to move up into the Pro Mazda seat that Matthew Brabham was leaving after he won the title and moved into Indy Lights.

“So again, we were fighting against guys with more experience, like Spencer Pigot with Juncos Racing, Shelby (Blackstock) with me at Andretti. But overall, I was happy with the season. I had three pole positions, so anytime you can do that and be battling up front, it’s great. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of learning a different kind of racing on the ovals. You really have to switch your mindset. The Andretti team really knows how to do ovals.”

But Grist was ready for a change in 2015. He felt comfortable after testing with Juncos Racing, which had won the driver title with Pigot, and made the switch. After a difficult start to the season, Grist hit his stride at his home race in Toronto, winning race two from the pole position. He earned three more poles and two more race wins, storming to a third-place finish in the championship.

“My dad took me to the Toronto Indy growing up. I saw Michael Andretti win there and I thought it was so cool. My best friends, my family can all come see me race and I know the city so well. To get my first win there this year was amazing.”

“We started on the front row at each of the last seven races, so hopefully that will be some good momentum going into 2016. We need to make the decision whether to stay in Pro Mazda another year or go into Indy Lights. After everything we went through this year, to end up where we did was amazing. So to come back next year, without all that stuff happening, we could be very good for the championship.”

Juncos Racing driver Garett Grist celebrates one his three Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire victories (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Juncos Racing driver Garett Grist celebrates one his three Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire victories (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Grist appreciates the fact that the progression of the Mazda Road to Indy gives drivers like him a straight shot from karts to the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“In North America, you can go from karts to USF2000 to Pro Mazda to Indy Lights, and hopefully into IndyCar. In Europe, you have so many decisions. Do you do 2.0 or F4? F3 or GP3? 3.5 or GP2? There are so many different options. Here, it’s one straight shot.”

But there is more to life than racing. Early in his career, Grist committed to working with The Hospital for Sick Children (known as “SickKids”) and has maintained that connection.

“SickKids is one of the best hospitals in North America. What they’re able to do for young kids is amazing. We had the kids design helmets a few years ago – I wore them at the Toronto race and then we auctioned them off. It gave the kids a cool project and it was fun for me, racing with butterflies, ladybugs or flowers on my helmet! It’s great to visit them, but it’s hard, too. They’re in there battling for their lives and we’re out racing cars, living our dream. But if we can put a smile on their face or help them have a better day, it’s all worth it.”

My Mazda Road to Indy: Felix Serralles

PALMETTO, Fla. – With racing in his blood, Felix Juan Serralles IV knew at a very young age that he wanted to be a race car driver. He took a circuitous route that included four years of competition in Europe before returning to North America at the beginning of 2015 to contest Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires. Serralles earned his first series victory on that most American of racetracks, the oval – a brand of track Serralles happily terms “scary” – and hopes to use that as a springboard to additional success in 2016.
After four years in Europe, Felix Serralles made a successful return to the Mazda Road To Indy in 2015.  (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

After four years in Europe, Felix Serralles made a successful return to the Mazda Road To Indy in 2015. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Serralles, 23, grew up in Ponce, Puerto Rico, home to the Don Q rum distillery founded by his ancestors in 1865. Racing history runs deep in the family. His grandfather raced karts and boats, while his father was a national motocross champion and two-time world champion powerboat racer. Naturally, young Felix joined in nearly as soon as he could walk.

“I like adrenaline,” said Serralles, “so I started off in motocross. I was on a dirt bike when I was 3 years old! My father saw that I was a little too fast and a little too crazy – and I liked to fly – so he bought me a kart to settle me down. I started driving when I was 5 or 6 and never stopped.”

Young Serralles began racing immediately but his family insisted he finish high school, so that became his primary focus until the high school diploma was in his hands. Success came quickly, and Serralles soon found himself as a Mazda Scholarship Driver, eventually finding his way into the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda. The experience changed the direction of his career.

“I was 14 when I did my first school, to see what it was like,” he recalled. “I really liked it. I did a Jim Russell school and a Skip Barber school, and then won the Skip Barber Shootout in 2009, the same year Spencer Pigot was there. I also did four USF2000 races at Road America and Road Atlanta with Belardi Auto Racing. It was my first experience with a real formula car, one that was fast and had downforce. I finished second at Road Atlanta. The experience changed my mind from going into stock cars. I really liked the way a formula car ran and decided to go in that direction.”

His career took another turn when Serralles earned a spot on the Team USA Scholarship squad, running in the Formula Ford Festival and Walter Hayes Trophy events in England.

“I finished third in the 2010 Skip Barber championship and earned a Team USA scholarship with Spencer to represent the USA in Europe. That was one of the biggest highlights of my career and one that really helped me to follow my dreams. The racing was so competitive. I ended up staying there for the next four years; I never went back home!”

Serralles raced in Formula Renault UK and Formula Renault 2.0 before taking third in the 2012 Cooper Tires British Formula 3 championship, with five wins and 13 podium finishes. He competed in European Formula 3 for the next two years but was sidelined for much of 2013 with a back injury suffered in September of 2012 (Serralles finished the race at Silverstone after the airborne incident but had to be extricated from the car in parc ferme). At the end of 2014, it was time to make a decision regarding his future – and the Mazda Road to Indy reentered the equation.

“I was looking at options to continue my formula career path so I decided to come back to America. The Mazda Road to Indy is such a good ladder system – it was more attractive to come back and race here. I’ve always wanted to compete on the ovals so I decided to go with Indy Lights. The connection was already there with Belardi so it was a good way to transition.”

Growing up watching NASCAR, Serralles was anxious to test his talents on the three widely-varied ovals at which the Indy Lights series raced in 2015 – the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the high-banked 0.875-mile Iowa Speedway and the flat Milwaukee Mile. But first, Serralles tested at Homestead-Miami Speedway – and had something of a rude awakening.

“I’ve always admired oval racing, so I really loved racing on the oval tracks like Iowa and Milwaukee. I followed NASCAR more than Formula One when I was a little kid. But when I came over here and drove for the first time at Homestead in the pre-season test, it scared the hell out of me! The first thought that went through my mind was ‘I should have stayed in Europe!’ but I like the feeling it gives you – how scary it is, how technical it is and how difficult it is. People think you’re just going around in circles, but it takes a lot of concentration, skill and guts to be quick on an oval. I knew it would be very different than doing a road course. I like the thrill of driving on an oval. You have to control your body and be relaxed to go fast. You have to be calm and be comfortable with sliding, with the car moving around.”

Felix Serralles drives the Mazda powered No. 4 Belardi Auto Racing IL-15 to his first Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire victory on the Milwaukee Mile oval (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Felix Serralles drives the Mazda powered No. 4 Belardi Auto Racing IL-15 to his first Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tire victory on the Milwaukee Mile oval (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Belardi Auto Racing, the 2014 Indy Lights champions, has enjoyed much success on the ovals in the past few years, earning both 2013 and 2014 Freedom 100 victories. Everything came together for both team and driver at Milwaukee. Serralles started from the outside of Row Three and passed five cars on the racetrack to take his first series win.

“We got it right at Milwaukee, right out of the truck. It felt very comfortable. We were third quick in practice and we didn’t really trim the car down for qualifying. The car came alive in the middle of the race and was really fast. That was the most physical of the three ovals we ran on; it’s a short, flat track and you can’t go flat. It required more knowledge so it was really special to get my first win there.”

Serralles hopes to return to Indy Lights in 2016 and go for the $1 million Mazda scholarship that would take him into the Verizon IndyCar Series, as it has for his former Team USA teammate, Spencer Pigot.

“This is the only ladder system that gives back for all the sponsorship and the money that it takes,” said Serralles. “At the end of the year, if you win the championship and earn the Mazda scholarship, it’s really a reward for all the hard work. In Europe, you jump from one championship to another and hope to get the support to make it to Formula One. Here, every rung gets you closer to IndyCar, which is everyone’s dream. I would love to do another year of Indy Lights and try to win. I’d like to make better choices and have better luck, and then make it into IndyCar in 2017.”

You can follow Felix’s career on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
You can read about the other drivers that have been profiled so far at the following links:
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