Just as Team Pelfrey's Jack Aitken predicted following the first two rounds of the Cooper Tires Winterfest at NOLA Motorsports Park last week, the outcome of the pre-season mini-series went all the way down to the wire.
With the first of three scheduled Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires races at Barber Motorsports Park cancelled Feb. 25 because of inclement weather, the second race Feb. 26 was worth double points.
The title was decided in favor of Aitken – 167-166 over Weiron Tan of Andretti Autosport -- by virtue of the 19-year-old from England gaining the bonus points for posting the quickest race lap in the 17-lap finale.
Aitken held a five-point margin over Tan after winning two of the three races last week at NOLA Motorsports Park near New Orleans, and extended the advantage following a convincing win in the first race at Barber.
“I was really surprised by the pace of the front-runners,” Aitken said. “I didn’t know where we’d stack up but I knew it would be quite tough. The whole experience has been really good.”
In the finale, Aitken lined up fourth on the grid behind Will Owen of Juncos Racing, Tan and Florian Latorre, winner of last year's Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and a MAZDASPEED scholarship to graduate to Pro Mazda.
The first attempt at a start was waved off after Tan jumped a little too soon. The next attempt was cleaner, and it was Tan who grabbed the advantage at Turn 1. Aitken quickly made his way past Owen into second, while Owen's day came to an abrupt halt later on the opening lap when he was involved in an incident at Turn 9.
Tan led all the way to the end, despite a couple of full-course cautions, while the outcome of the Winterfest crown swayed back and forth between the pair depending on who claimed the bonus points for fastest lap.
“Jack did well; he kept the pressure on me,” Tan said. “I was trying to find the time, but since he had the fastest lap time, that gave him the championship. It's disappointing. We got the victory but we lost the war, so it's good and bad.
“But this is a good start for us, since the real championship starts now. After these race weekends, we know we have good pace going into the full season. I think we should be pretty confident.”
Dalton Kellett guaranteed Andretti Autosport the Team Championship with third place.
The Pro Mazda regular season starts March 28-29 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., in conjunction with the Verizon IndyCar Series and the entire Mazda Road to Indy contingent.
Pro Mazda Winterfest Race 4 Podium: 1. Jack Aitken; 2. Weiron Tan; 3. Florian Latorre
Pro Mazda Winterfest Race 5 Podium: 1. Weiron Tan; 2. Jack Aitken; 3. Dalton Kellett
2015 Pro Mazda Cooper Tires Winterfest champion: Jack Aitken (Team Pelfrey)