The first day of the eighth annual Chris Griffis Memorial Test allows drivers on the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder to sample different cars following the 2018 racing season and several drivers took advantage of that opportunity on Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
The top three finishers in the 2018 Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires earned a test in a Dallara IL-15 used by the teams in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires. Seizing the opportunity, newly crown series champion Rinus VeeKay, Parker Thompson and Oliver Askew tried out a car with about 200 more horsepower, grip and quite a lot more downforce than the Tatuus PM-18 they raced in 2018.
VeeKay tested with Juncos Racing, the same team with which he won the Pro Mazda crown. Unlike Thompson and Askew, however, the Dutch driver had previous experience, testing an Indy Lights car during last year’s Chris Griffis Memorial Test and set the fourth fastest time overall with a lap of 1 minute, 15.1075 seconds to average 116.904 mph around the 2.439 mile road course.
“It went pretty well,” said VeeKay, who will race in Indy Lights in 2019 thanks to his champion’s scholarship prize. “For sure it takes a little bit more time to get the heat in the tires with this car than in the Pro Mazda car but it wasn’t a very hard change. We were very good on on old tires and especially on new ones we were pretty good but there’s just more in it everywhere.
VeeKay had a decent learning curve ahead of him, particularly when it came to in-car adjustments.
“It’s just a cool car, [also] getting used to the bars which is also new for me,” VeeKay said. “[I’m] changing the bars while driving so I don’t have to complain on the radio that the car isn’t good. I can change it myself so that’s quite something to change and to learn but it was a good session.”
Thompson tested with Team Pelfrey who are aiming for a full-time return to Indy Lights after running two cars at St. Petersburg and one car at the Freedom 100. Thompson’s best lap of the day was turned in 1:16.0312 (115.484 mph) placed him sixth fastest in the combined results. After racing the newer Pro Mazda car for 2018, Thompson had some great comparisons between the Pro Mazda and Indy Lights cars.
“It was awesome,” Thompson said. “But I have to say, the Pro Mazda is pretty cool, too. I think you’re going to see new graduates all agree with me when I say that the Pro Mazda is an animal of a car just as much as the Indy Lights (car) is, it’s not like a couple of years ago when they had the old Pro Mazda car. Indy Lights is a completely different animal, you’ve really got to respect it. You can’t just man up on it, you’ve got to treat it right, find the setup and move forward.”
Andretti Autosport had Askew behind the wheel of the 2017 Indy Lights championship-winning car that carried Patricio O’Ward to the $1,000,000 scholarship to compete in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2019. The 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda titlist set the second fastest overall lap on Saturday with a time of 1:15.0060 (117.063 mph).
“First initial impression, I’m like ‘Oh my gosh, this turbo is insane. I don’t feel comfortable. I don’t know what I’m going to do,’ and then the tires came in,” Askew said. “It takes a long time for this spec of Cooper tires to come in compared to what I’m used to and then after that you kind of get a feel for the harmonics of the car and when that turbo’s going to kick in so you can kind of get used to it and expect it and modulate the throttle but yeah, with the longer wheelbase I think the driving style of this car is a lot different to the Tatuus, especially around this track with Turn 1 and Turn 12.”
Ryan Norman set the fastest overall lap of the day with a lap of 1:14.9283 (117.184 mph) in his No. 48 Andretti Autosport machine. The only major incident of the day happened when David Malukas lost control of his No. 5 Belardi Auto Racing entry during the second Indy Lights session and hit the wall with the left side of the car. Malukas was checked and released from the infield care center.
In Pro Mazda, Darren Keane set the fastest lap of the day with a lap of 1:19.2971 seconds (110.728 mph). Driving for RP Motorsport, Keane, who drove for Newman-Wachs Racing in USF2000 in 2018, ran a lap faster than the Pro Mazda track record around the IMS road course.
For USF2000, Hunter McElrea set the fastest lap of the day for Pabst Racing Services with a lap of 1:24.5411 (103.860 mph) and also ran faster than the USF2000 track record ahead of Keane in second place. McElrea, who was born in California and raised in New Zealand, currently leads the Australian Formula Ford standings.
Testing resumes Sunday at 9 a.m. ET and can be followed with live timing available on racecontrol.indycar.com.