Matthew Brabham

It was like Christmas in October for several teams that compete in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda.

Nine teams fielded their brand-new Tatuus USF-17 cars and gained a jump-start on preparations for the 2017 season at the sixth annual Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

“I think it is a big improvement over the old car and it is definitely going to bridge the gap for the younger guys stepping up into an open-wheel car with wings and slicks better than the old car did,” said 2012 USF2000 champion Matthew Brabham, who was invited to help six-time and defending champion team Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing get to grips with the new car.

“It drives and handles a little bit more like a go-kart and it kind of slides and has that car control aspect similar to a Formula Ford, so I think it’s fantastic for teaching young drivers. The aero wash is almost completely gone. I was behind a couple of guys out there and I tucked up right underneath their rear wing and went though a couple of those quick corners here at Indy and there was almost no aero wash, so I think the racing will be a lot closer next year. They are certainly going to be dicing it out and having to apply some race craft, for sure.”

USF2000 represents the first rung of the three-step Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires. The two higher levels, Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, also were in action with nearly 40 drivers from 13 nations scheduled to take part during the two-day test that concludes Sunday.

 “I am loving the new car,” said Robert Megennis, who turned the fastest USF2000 time of the day  of 1 minute, 25.3194 seconds – nearly a second faster than the current track record for USF2000 cars. “You have the paddle shifts, bigger tires, bigger brakes – it is just overall more fun to drive. It is nicer to be in – it’s bigger and it’s cooler looking. The racing is going to be great. We have a lot less aero than this year so we’ll be able to run closer together. It should be tons of fun.”

A total of 1,116 laps (2,721.924 miles) were completed during the day by 20 different drivers on the 2.439-mile road course, with no significant problems reported.

“We love the new car,” said Augie Pabst, owner of Pabst Racing. “It’s fantastic. Tatuus, Dynamic, Elite Engines – everyone has done a great job putting together this package. This is obviously a huge departure from the old design, but it’s better in every respect. The playing field is also being reset here. I think it is going to be great for all of the teams and for the series and hopefully produce some great racing.”