Kaylen Frederick started his Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires journey in late 2016 at the tender age of 14.
A year later and following an impressive rookie season in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda, the Maryland native is pondering whether to make the move up to the second rung of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires.
Frederick got his first taste of the new Pro Mazda car, the Tatuus PM-18, during the two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Test on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course Oct. 21-22. Driving for Team Pelfrey, the same team for which he finished fourth in the USF2000 championship as a rookie, Frederick completed 145 test laps in the Pro Mazda test and was sixth fastest on the speed chart with a top lap of 1 minute, 20.1928 seconds (109.491 mph).
Since the new PM-18 shares the same monocoque chassis as the USF-17 that Frederick drove this year in USF2000, Frederick was more comfortable jumping into the Pro Mazda car. Compared to the USF-17, the PM-18 has more sophisticated aerodynamics, larger wheels and tires and more horsepower generated from the Mazda engine.
“I hopped right in in the first session here and I got used to it in a few laps,” Frederick said. “I was surprised at how high the revs went up because, in USF2000, it only goes up to 6,000-7,000 rpm, while in Pro Mazda it goes up to 9,000, so it just keeps pulling on the straight with a lot more power.
“The bigger tires really allow you to carry more speed through the low-speed and high-speed corners. That extra bit of aero also helps, too, so it just feels like a better polished version of the USF2000 car and it’s so much fun to drive.”
While he didn’t win a race during the 2017 USF2000 season – just his second year in open-wheel cars – Frederick garnered five podiums and nine top-five finishes in 12 races. It was a remarkable feat for the youngest driver in the Mazda Road to Indy this year.
“I was just kind of learning a lot,” Frederick said. “I jumped in at the beginning of the year, did a lot better than I was expecting (at) all the new tracks that I’ve never raced on before, where people like Parker (Thompson), who are experienced, have raced at before.
“The whole year I was just learning and taking in everything, so I think that if I did another year (in USF2000), I think I would definitely be another frontrunner and I would have a good chance at going for the title.”
However, Frederick is weighing the benefits and risks of moving up and running Pro Mazda in 2018. In the back of his mind is the Mazda scholarship awarded to the champion in all three MRTI levels to help them advance up the ladder in the succeeding season. If Frederick stays in USF2000 and wins the 2018 title, a Pro Mazda ride would be secured for 2019.
“I’ve heard many different opinions about that,” he said. “My personal opinion is that I’d like to test both (USF2000 and Pro Mazda). People say that I’m ready for Pro Mazda, but maybe if I wanted to go for that scholarship, I might do another year of USF2000.
“If I wanted to just keep getting experience, I could do Pro Mazda, but I think I’m ready for Pro Mazda. But, with the bigger car comes a bigger price. There’s a lot to think about there, so we’ve got to come up with that extra bit of money if I want to do that. But USF2000 is still an option for me.
“I have some tests lined up for both. I think it would just be a great experience to test the Pro Mazda even if I’m not going to race in it, just to speed up your mind and kind of get used to a quicker car. Then when you go back to race into a slower car, obviously it just gets a bit easier so your brain’s just sped up a bit more.”
Team Pelfrey’s USF2000 and Pro Mazda general manager Jonathan Baker was complimentary of how his young charger tested at Indianapolis.
“It’s been extremely positive,” said Baker. “For his pace, you look at the Pro Mazda field, it’s the USF2000 graduates and he’s slotted right back in right at the top. … All of them are talented and quick and I think that’s the beauty of the Tatuus (chassis). Having the experience in USF2000 has made it a seamless transition to the PM-18.
“He’s gaining incredible experience and that’s what it’s all about,” Baker said of Frederick. “He’s going to be a better race car driver come March 2018 and, wherever he’s at, he’ll be in the right series.”