Mazda Road to Indy
MRTI OBSERVATIONS: Rookies are Here to Play, and More
This past weekend, the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires kicked off their season, with doubleheaders for each of the three divisions on the streets of St. Petersburg. With new faces alongside familiar faces, it was certainly a memorable weekend for some rookies.
Here are some observations from the weekend of action.
Rookies are Here to Play
When new talent joins the fray, questions are always asked as to whether they will succeed, or fumble. Thus far, it appears the new talent is going to impress all season.
Fresh off winning the inaugural Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout, Oliver Askew was able to duck to the inside on a restart in the second Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda race and pass Parker Thompson for the lead, never looking back the rest of the way.
Anthony Martin proved that he’s ready for Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires competition after winning the USF2000 Championship last year, sweeping the weekend’s events. He also did it in dominating fashion, as he led flag-to-flag in both races.
Another graduate, 2016 Pro Mazda Champion Aaron Telitz, proved that he was ready for the next jump in his career. He dominated the first Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires event by leading right from the start of the race. Meanwhile, MRTI newcomer Colton Herta was able to lead flag-to-flag in the second race, despite the massive number of restarts, to become the youngest series winner.
The Highs and Lows of Racing
Robert Meginnis entered the season hoping to do well after partaking in the second half of the schedule last year with some success. This weekend was a mix of two worlds, though.
The first race went well as the Team Pelfrey driver started on the pole, and led every single lap in route to his first career USF2000 victory. The second race, though, was a bit of a different story. He started off strong, moving into third on an early race restart, only to make a mistake on Lap 18. He was credited with a 19th place finish.
While both races didn’t go as planned, it appears as though he’s still in high spirits based on the driveability of the series’ new chassis.
“I can’t say enough about the Tatuus USF-17,” he said. “It’s comfortable to drive; it’s consistent throughout the sessions; you can push it harder. It’s fun and exciting to drive, so I’m really looking forward to the rest of the season.”
Pelfrey Strangle on Pro Mazda Broken
Last year, Team Pelfrey won all of the races in Pro Mazda, except for a single event. This year, though, they currently stand zero for two.
It isn’t for lack of speed, though, as the group showed they were fast in the first event, with their drivers finishing third through fifth. Using his experience from last year, TJ Fischer led the team in third, followed by rookies Carlos Cunha and Nikita Lastochkin.
The second event didn’t see the threesome all have success, though. Fischer continued to lead the charge, once again posting a third place finish after posting a best finish of fifth last year in his partial schedule. Lastochkin was also able to put in another solid run, finishing fifth, while Cunha finished 12th following mechanical issues.
With the team showing speed already, it’s only a matter of time before the drivers gain enough experience to find their way to victory lane like Telitz and Pato O’Ward did last year.
Rough Start for Carlin
After winning the Indy Lights Championship last year with Ed Jones and having multiple drivers up front throughout the season, this year began strongly as Carlin Racing would’ve hoped. Each of their drivers appeared to have a good race and a bad race this past weekend.
Neil Alberico proved the team is still fast and one to watch this season, posting a third place finish in the first race of the weekend, with teammate Zachary Claman De Melo eighth. Meanwhile, the other half of the team didn’t do as well with Garth Rickards 11th and Matteus Leist in 15th following mechanical issues.
On the flip side, Claman De Melo was the only driver for Carlin in the top-10 at the end of the second event, finishing seventh. Leist completed all the laps this time, finishing 11th; Rickards and Alberico found themselves at the bottom of the charts behind Leist after being involved in an incident during the race.
For Carlin, it’s right now a balance as both Rickards and Leist are entering the series for the first time, as Leist comes from an international background while Rickards is making the jump from USF2000 to Indy Lights, versus running Pro Mazda in between. However, the rookies should learn and improve with having the experience of Alberico and Claman De Melo alongside them. There’s also a good possibility Alberico will be in victory lane before the season’s over.
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