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Mazda Road To Indy and TSOLadder digest update – January 27, 2016

By Steve Wittich Welcome to our first Mazda Road To Indy /TSOLadder digest update.  In case you missed it earlier in the month, Trackside Online announced that we would be breaking off our Mazda Road To Indy (and other open wheel ladder coverage) to our sister site at www.TSOLadder.com. You will still receive MRTI coverage…

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Previewing the upcoming Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire test at Homestead-Miami Speedway

Indy Lights logo

The quest for the $1 million Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarship and a seat in the Verizon IndyCar Series begins in earnest this week at the first official test of the 2016 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire championship. A gaggle of 11 drivers, and group of five teams will take to the 2.21 mile, 14-turn roval at Homestead-Miami Speedway for pre-season testing.

The 2016 campaign will mark the 31st season of Indy Lights, the 3rd season with Dan Andersen and his Andersen Promotions team at the helm, and the the 2nd season with the stunning and speedy Mazda powered, Cooper Tire shod, Dallara IL-15.

Spencer Pigot won the 2015 title at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in September and in October, he announced that he secured a ride with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for at least three IndyCar races (including an attempt to qualify for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500).

Juncos Racing, who won the Indy Lights driver’s championship with Pigot, returns for another crack at the title with one familiar and one new name. Kyle Kaiser has been confirmed to return to the (for now – see linked story) Brownsburg, Indiana based team in an attempt to improve on his two podiums and 6th place championship finish.

Kaiser, a 19 year-old from Santa Clara, California will be joined by Zachary Claman DeMelo, who has been confirmed in the second Juncos seat. The 17 year-old Claman DeMelo is a Montreal, Quebec native who spent 2015 racing in Europe after a stand-out career in karting.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian will begin 2016 in search of the team’s 8th Indy Lights championship by testing one sophomore and one rookie.

Sophomore pilot RC Enerson is confirmed to return to the No. 7 Lucas Oil sponsored, Mazda powered Dallara IL-15 for a run at the championship. The 18 year-old is beginning his fifth Mazda Road To Indy season, and is coming off an impressive rookie Indy Lights campaign where one win, five podiums and one pole, propelled the New Port Richey, Florida native to 4th in the final points standings.

Joining Enerson for the test, but not yet confirmed for the seat, will be reigning Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire champion Santiago Urrutia. Urrutia, who won three times and stood on the podium 10 times is looking to use his Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarship to make the jump up to Indy Lights.

Zach Veach will be back in the saddle for his first official Indy Lights activity since a podium at the season finale at Sonoma Raceway in 2014. The 21 year-old three-time Indy Lights race winner has signed with Belardi Auto Racing to start the 2016 season.

“Ziggy” will be joined at Belardi by reigning FIA Formula 3 champ Felix Rosenqvist. Rosenqvist, who is managed by former Formula 1 and Indy Car star Stefan Johansson, tested with Team Pelfrey in December is not yet confirmed for a seat in 2016. The 24 year-old will have a busy week, as the 24 year-old is also taking part in the Rolex 24 at DAYTONA this coming weekend.

With four wins, and seven poles, formative European junior team Carlin made an instant splash when they jumped into the American open wheel ladder pool in 2015. The Trevor Carlin team looks to take the next step by expanding their program to three or four cars in 2016. Returnee to the team and three-time race winner Ed Jones is confirmed for a full season alongside fellow race winning Indy Lights sophomore Felix Serralles, who is moving over from Belardi Auto Racing. They will be joined at the test by newly confirmed Rising Star Racing sponsored driver Neil Alberico.

Jones and Serralles both spent 2015 learning unfamiliar circuits and also how to race on ovals. With a year education themselves on the nuances of racing in the U.S.A., the pair that combined for four wins and nine podiums should push each other to compete for the championship.

Joining the two veteran drivers at Carlin will be Alberico, who is certainly no stranger to the American racing. The Los Gatos, California born Alberico currently has 10 wins and 21 podiums in four yeas of Mazda Road To Indy competition.

As only a one car team in 2015,  Andretti Autosport and Indy Lights rookie Shelby Blackstock struggled to find the adequate pace to be competitive during the first two-thirds of the season. The Michael Andretti owned team did find their way at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and was able to finish the season strong. Blackstock is confirmed for a second season and will be joined by Mazda Road To Indy  veteran, but Indy Lights rookie Dalton Kellett.

Getting a late start in racing, the 25 year-old Blackstock has started to catch and surpass some of his much younger and more experienced contemporaries. The Nashville, Tennessee native, who did not start his racing career until his freshman year of college has amassed 14 podiums and one win in four years of Mazda Road To Indy competition.

Kellett, who holds an engineering physics degree from the prestigious Queens University, will also be entering his fifth Mazda Road To Indy season and the 22 year-old from the Toronto area should be able to help the Indianapolis, Indiana based team move their program forward.

As always thanks for reading and TSO will be back with daily coverage of the test beginning on Tuesday.

Homestead-Miami Speedway test schedule.

Tuesday, January 26

  • 9am – 12pm —> on-track testing
  • noon – 1pm —> lunch
  • 1pm – 5pm —> on track testing

Wednesday, January 27

  • 9am – 12pm —> on-track testing
  • noon – 1pm —> lunch
  • 1pm – 5pm —> on track testing

Other official series tests will take place on the oval at Phoenix International Raceway on February 25th and at Barber Motorsports Park on March 5th.

Carlin sign Alberico for 2016 Indy Lights Series

Carlin sign Alberico for 2016 Indy Lights Series Neil Alberico will race with Carlin in the 2016 Indy Lights Series presented by Cooper Tires.  The 23 year-old American will continue his career on the Mazda Road to Indy, after finishing the 2015 season as Pro Mazda vice-champion.  Alberico joins already announced Carlin drivers Ed Jones…

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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.

—–

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
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