BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Team Pelfrey once again flexed its muscles in this afternoon’s third round of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires at Barber Motorsports Park. Wisconsin native Aaron Telitz led for most of the 40-minute contest, the first of two races this weekend that will comprise the Mazda North American Operations Presents the Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Alabama, but teenaged Mexican Patricio "Pato" O’Ward pounced soon after a restart in the closing stages to secure his second win of the season.
Canadian Garett Grist completed the podium for Juncos Racing.
Telitz had claimed the pole position in qualifying on Friday afternoon, edging Grist to the coveted top position in the final seconds on a drying race track following an earlier rain shower. When the field lined up today in perfect weather conditions, once again it was Telitz, 24, from Birchwood, Wis., who took control. O’Ward, 16, who hails from Monterrey, Mexico, but attends school in San Antonio, Texas, burst through from Row Two of the grid to latch onto the tail of his teammate on the opening lap. The two Team Pelfrey cars quickly stretched away from Grist and the third Pelfrey machine of Malaysian Weiron Tan.
A little farther back on the opening lap, Frenchman Nico Jamin, winner of last year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, inadvertently nudged into the rear of Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing teammate Jake Eidson at Turn Five, tipping both cars into a spin. Jamin lost only a few seconds, rejoining in eighth, while Eidson took rather longer to regain the race track, falling to a distant last.
O’Ward posted the fastest lap of the race on the sixth lap but never really looked likely to make a challenge for the lead. However, his chance came in the closing stages following a full-course caution due to a single-car incident involving Australian Jake Parsons (Juncos Racing) at Turn 13. Parsons was unhurt.
Telitz maintained his advantage at the restart after 21 laps, but only until the sweeping, right-handed Turn 14-16 section, where O’Ward dived to the inside and took over the lead. He never looked back, claiming a narrow but decisive win over Telitz by 0.7294 second.
Fastest race lap for O’Ward assured him both of an additional championship point and the pole position for tomorrow’s race. O’Ward also secured the Quarter Master Hard Charger Award for making up the most positions during the race, while Team Pelfrey earned the PFC Award.
Grist couldn’t match the front-running pace but still finished third after holding off the attentions of Tan throughout the 40-minute contest. Grist’s efforts earned him the Staubli Award. Will Owen (Juncos Racing), a recovered Jamin, plus Argentina’s Nicolas Dapero (Juncos Racing), Eidson and Jorge Cevallos (JDC MotorSports) also crossed the finish line in close formation.
Race Two of Mazda North American Operations Presents the Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Alabama is schedule to start at 11:15 a.m. CDT tomorrow.
Patricio O’Ward (#80 Gap Guard-Team Pelfrey): “I knew I was really, really fast, but I just missed it in qualifying yesterday so I had to redeem myself in this race and I did. It feels so great to be able to get this for myself and for Team Pelfrey. It was such a long race that it was difficult to be behind someone, especially on a fast track like this when you have to manage equipment. But the Mazda engine was fantastic and the Cooper Tires lasted all day long so I think I managed it well. When I got the yellow, it was definitely ‘go’ time so I hammered it down, which showed the great pace we had.”