Getting a 1,500-pound present three weeks after Christmas is worth the wait, according to Shelby Blackstock.
“It’s going to be the real Christmas morning to be able to test,” he said.
Blackstock will drive the No. 51 Starstruck Andretti Autosport entry as Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires holds its first official Open Test with the new Dallara/Mazda package Jan. 13-14 on the 2.034-mile, 11-turn Palm Beach International Raceway road course in Jupiter, Fla.
Click it: Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires schedule
“I’m excited to get going. We’ll see what happens when we turn the first lap and then hopefully not have any issues so we can start learning the car,” said Blackstock, who turns 25 on Feb. 23. “First and foremost, I hope to accomplish getting on top of the car and be the first guy to figure it out because that’s always the biggest thing that puts you up front.
“A couple of big things I’m looking forward to seeing is how the car performs and how it performs in traffic. The car (being assembled at the Andretti Autosport shop in photo at right) has really big tunnels and a lot of aerodynamics on it so we’ll see how these cars race with each other.”
Indy Lights teams/drivers also will test Jan. 26-27 on the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course and Jan. 29 on the 1.5-mile oval.
Full-field testing next month includes Feb. 18 at NOLA Motorsports Park and Feb. 24-25 at Barber Motorsports Park. The season opens with a doubleheader race weekend March 28-29 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., in conjunction with the Verizon IndyCar Series-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Blackstock, a Tennessee native, recorded one win, three poles, 13 podiums and 18 top-five finishes the past two seasons combined in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires in an Andretti Autosport-prepared car. He’ll be the third driver to take the next step up the Mazda Road to Indy ladder with Andretti Autosport (Zach Veach, 2013; Matthew Brabham, 2014).
“Going into this year I’m open-minded,” he said. “We had a good first season in Pro Mazda and the next season, when we’re trying to go for the championship, there were some expectations based how well we did the year before. Then the series changed the tire on us, which changed our car completely. So I’ve learned not to really have expectations.”
Sanctioned by INDYCAR, the series is operated by Andersen Promotions, which oversees all three levels of the ladder that also the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
The new Dallara chassis is powered by a 2-liter turbocharged Mazda engine. Developed in conjunction with Advanced Engine Research, the MZR-R was first campaigned by Mazda in the American Le Mans Series and Mazda customer teams in the European Le Mans Series. The engine, further developed by AER, will produce 450 horsepower and last the entire season without a rebuild.
Additional features include a six-speed, paddle-shift transmission, push-to-pass, drive-by-wire throttle control and advanced engine management electronics.
“I’m good friends with Josef Newgarden and Conor Daly, both of whom have driven IndyCars and the Indy Lights car, and they say it’s extremely close to the IndyCar. That’s huge for a development series. All the same setup changes work with each car, which gives the guys in Indy Lights the sense of what to change in a car that would work in an IndyCar when they take that next step.
“I think the car is exactly what the series needed and I see the entire Mazda Road to Indy as a great progression.”