Thirty-eight drivers representing 12 nations turned a total of 3,009 laps on the 3.4-mile, 20-road Circuit of the Americas road course on Nov. 21-22 during the fifth Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test.
Drivers in all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy program -- Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires – participated in the offseason program.
Shelby Blackstock was quickest on the second day among the Indy Lights contingent for Andretti Autosport, while Pato O’Ward (Team Pelfrey) set the pace in Pro Mazda and Nikita Lastochkin was quickest in USF2000 for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing.
All seven Indy Lights drivers were separated by 1.6 seconds, and although no one was able to eclipse the mark set Nov. 21 by Kyle Kaiser, who drove just the one day for Juncos Racing, Blackstock came within a scant 0.0494 seconds at 1 minute, 54.2235 seconds (107.158 mph).
“We were working through our test plan pretty aggressively,” said Blackstock. “We were P1 in the first two sessions today and making good progress with the car. These two days have been massively beneficial especially from where we were last year. We are going through a big test plan and the car is definitely responding in the right way. Mike (Reggio, engineer) and I are working really well together and have a good communication down. The test plan is coming along nicely.”
Car racing rookie Zachary Claman DeMelo, from Montreal, who has competed only in a handful of Formula Renault 2.0 events this year, as well as a few F3 club races, impressed with Juncos Racing by posting the third-best time – and quickest of the final session – at 1:54.3398.
“I am really happy with the weekend,” said DeMelo, who on Nov. 21 drove Spencer Pigot’s 2015 championship-winning car before switching overto the car with which Kaiser set the fastest time. “The team was really good and I learned a lot from them and hopefully I can keep progressing from this test. I think it went really well and I am happy with myself.”
Teammate Jose Gutierrez improved to 1:54.6187 late in the final session, ahead of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian’s James French, who also posted his best time (1:55.2570) in the final session. Canadian Dalton Kellett (Andretti Autosport) and Korean Heamin Choi (Schmidt Peterson) also made steady progress during the two days.
O’Ward quickest in Pro Mazda
The parity that had been evident Nov. 21 among the Pro Mazda field was duplicated the following day with Pato O’Ward (Team Pelfrey) and Nico Jamin (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing) trading fastest times in the trio of test sessions.
Jamin, 19, from Rouen, France, who is stepping up to Pro Mazda with a Mazda Scholarship after winning this year’s USF2000 championship, set the pace in two of the 45-minute periods, but it was O’Ward, 16, from Monterrey, Mexico, who secured the honors with the fastest time of the weekend at 2:04.7677 (98.012 mph).
“The weekend has been great,” said O’Ward, who finished sixth in this year’s Pro Mazda championship as a rookie. “It is a beautiful track and this was a great opportunity for me to test here to get ready for next season. The hopes are to do Pro Mazda again. I love working with Team Pelfrey. They have been a second family to me. These have been a very productive two days and we had a lot of time to test a lot of things. It has been great and I am very pleased for this opportunity that they gave me and I’ll keep pushing for 2016 and hopefully win the championship.”
Jamin ended the weekend second quick at 2:05.0171, just a couple of tenths ahead of fellow Pro Mazda rookie Jake Parsons, from Melbourne, Australia, who exhibited strong pace and consistency for Juncos Racing.
“We spent the two days really dialing in the car,” said Parsons. “Every session I was getting more comfortable with the car, and the guys and I are working better and better. It’s a good start and hopefully we can keep this going into next year. This is definitely one of the coolest tracks that I have been to. It is just so fast through the middle and the Esses with a lot of runoff areas and colors everywhere. I had a blast driving it and I am really glad the series came here.”
Juncos teammate Will Owen completed the two days with the fourth fastest time, followed by 2014 Canadian F1600 champion Tristan DeGrand, from Eureka, Mo., who made an impressive return to the cockpit with M1 Racing.
Jay Horak, from Mesa, Ariz., was quickest of the Expert (over 30 years of age) contingent, also driving for M1 Racing, besting reigning Expert champion Bobby Eberle (World Speed Motorsports).
Lastochkin claims sweep in USF2000
A total of 19 USF2000 drivers turned a combined 1,356 laps during the two days, with Nikita Lastochkin maintaining his form from Nov. 21 by posting the fastest times in every USF2000 session aboard the No. 2 Van Diemen-Mazda for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing.
Los Angeles-based Lastochkin, who hails from Moscow, turned his best lap in the second of two sessions this morning at 2:09.5454 (94.494 mph).
“It’s a really good feeling to top every session,” said Lastochkin. “I was quite happy with the weekend and we had a really good car. I enjoyed every second I was out there on the track. I learned a lot and the team helped me to improve. Every time I was trying to do better. Overall, I couldn’t be any happier.”
Lastochkin was the only driver to dip below the 130-second barrier, although fellow series veteran Aaron Telitz, who finished third in this year’s championship at the wheel of a Cape Motorsports entry, came close with a lap of 2:10.1965 in the No. 21 car for Pabst Racing. Telitz also set the second fastest time this morning for the new-to-USF2000 RJB Motorsports entry at 2:10.7042 before handing over the controls to rookie Clint McMahan.
“It was a busy day,” said Telitz, from Birchwood, Wis. “I started off with the guys at RJB and we had a new setup this morning that we wanted to try. I went out on used tires and the car felt pretty good. We put new tires on and everything was working great. The car really came to life from yesterday when we had a little bit of trouble. I moved over to Pabst because they had an extra car here. I went out and was P2 again in the second session. We made some improvements and went quicker again and missed being the fastest by a tenth in the last session. It was a great day and a lot of fun being here at Circuit of The Americas, a super awesome track. I’m glad the Mazda Road to Indy came here.”
Dutch teenager Rinus Van Kalmthout impressed aboard a second Cape Motorsports car. After gaining his first experience of USF2000 equipment with Afterburner Autosport as part of the Mazda Road to Indy/MAXSpeed Group Driver Development Program, the car racing rookie took full advantage of the additional mileage to post the third fastest time overall at 2:10.2804.
Garth Rickards, from Mechanicsburg, Pa., also made excellent progress for Pabst Racing, fourth fastest overall at 2:10.5908, just one-tenth clear of Australian Formula Ford 1600 champion Cameron Hill, who once again impressed for JDC MotorSports.