If drivers' comments following the first test of the new Mazda MZR-R-powered Dallara IL-15 are anything to go by, this year's Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season is likely to be a barn-burner.
Eight drivers representing five teams took part in the two-day test at the 2.034-mile Palm Beach International Raceway in Jupiter, Fla., and all were ecstatic about the pace, consistency and reliability of the car, which will make its race debut on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 28-29.
At the conclusion of the first day the top four drivers and teams were separated by a hair over two-tenths of a second. The top two drivers from last year's Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires were the initial pacesetters, with second-place finisher Scott Hargrove, from Vancouver, B.C., driving for Enzo Potolicchio's 8Star Motorsports team, edging out series champion Spencer Pigot (Juncos Racing) by 0.0643 of a second. Hargrove's best time on the opening day after completing 46 trouble-free laps was 1 minute, 6.8606 seconds.
"The car is fantastic," he said. "We are making laps and working on the setup and I have been working really well with 8Star and it shows on the results sheet so we will just keep working away. It seems like every time I go on the brakes, I go a bit later and it's kind of getting serious at this point. The PFC brakes are just so good. If you lock up a little bit, you are just really pedaling it and instantly the wheels start spinning again so it is super controllable. The 2015 tires are really, really good. I am looking forward to the year on Coopers."
Felix Serralles, from Ponce, Puerto Rico, making his return to the U.S. after competing in the FIA European Formula 3 Championship the past few years, also was right in the mix for the 2014 Indy Lights championship-winning team, Belardi Auto Racing, at 1:06.9886, followed by RC Enerson, from New Port Richey, Fla., who has joined Schmidt Peterson Motorsports after finishing second in last year's Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, at 1:07.0624.
The teams had much sorting out to accomplish; only 8Star Motorsports and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports had any prior experience with the car -- at an entrant test day at Palm Beach last month -- so progress was rapid and consistent. The teams completed a total of 563 laps Jan. 14 and 494 a day earlier.
Rookie Kyle Kaiser, from Santa Clara, Calif., posted the fastest lap of the second day of testing at 1:05.2689 for Juncos Racing.
Hargrove ended the day second quick (1:05.5041), followed by Pigot (1:05.6357) and Jack Harvey (1:05.9281) for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
"My first impression of the car was a pretty good one," Harvey said. "I think Dallara did a nice job of developing what I think was already a good car in the old Indy Lights. The new car in every way is a big step forward. Everyone involved on the engine side as well, everyone has done a nice job in putting a competitive car on the track. I think the series should be really proud of what they have achieved. We still have some bugs to work out just from the team's perspective on how to get optimal, maximum performance. With a new car, there is just lots to learn to get that peak performance."