Well, I mentioned it on the OpenPaddock.net Podcast Ep. 75, but I didn’t think things would happen so fast. We’ve had a lot of testing going on recently, and at this late date, testing isn’t solely for the cars, but is a genuine evaluation of driving talent. Think of these late pre-season tests as job interviews. With so much testing going on, it only stood to reason that we’d start hearing more and more driver announcements in the comming weeks. Well, we ended up with four just this week and some rumors of drivers moving up to the IZOD IndyCar Series! There’s a lot of real positive momentum right now both for IndyCar and for the Mazda Road to Indy program. Its a great time to be a fan of open-wheel racing.
Be sure to check out our latest Inside The Helmet episode where we talk to all four drivers for the Juncos Racing 2011 Star Mazda program. Hear about the racing backgrounds of Tatiana Calderon, Joao Horto, Martin Scuncio, and Gustavo Menezes, their transitions to the Star Mazda machine, and what they thought of the unique three-week pre-season testing/training program that Juncos Racing had this past January.
Still more private testing going on throughout the Mazda Road to Indy, but I want to highlight the Andretti Autosport test down at Firebird International Raceway. Stefan did exceedingly well and was thrilled with the car and the team. Likewise, the team and perhaps more importantly the chief engineer were pleased with the results.
“Overall, I felt the test went really well,” says Wilson. “I was able to showcase my skill to one of the best teams in Indy Lights. I showed work ethic and speed, but also gave precise feedback. I was able to put in consistent laps without mistakes, which allowed the team to fully evaluate the setup changes. That’s exactly what I wanted to accomplish.”
Andretti Autosport’s engineer, Stuart Kenworthy, was pleased with the test as well. “It was a very productive test,” he says. “We accomplished everything we set out to. Stefan made no mistakes. He was consistently very quick and his feedback was excellent. I feel he’d fit in very well here at Andretti Autosport.”
Wilson doesn’t quite have a full 2011 budget put together, but the remaining gaps will be filled soon enough. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for him. At the very least, he hopes to compete at St. Petersburg, at Indianapolis for the the Firestone Freedom 100 , and at Milwaukee for the David Hobbs 100.
A whole slew of driver announcements came out this week, plus some news about drivers moving up from Firestone Indy Lights to the IZOD IndyCar Series. Seeing drivers climb the Mazda Road to Indy ladder and especially making that final step from Indy Lights to IndyCar is vitally important for the whole ladder program. We’ve already seen both drivers and teams move from US F2000 to Star Mazda, we’ve seen new teams in Firestone Indy Lights, and this week a unique by a USAC driver to race in US F2000.
Chris Miller has resigned with JDC MotorSports, albeit for a single race so far. He will race at the Star Mazda Championship season opener at St. Petersburg, and perhaps a couple other events for the team. He also tested an LMPC car, so there’s a possibility of doing some sportcar racing as well. His main focus this season will be pursuing his goal of earning his law degree after he graduates from the University of Minnesota later this year.
“I’m excited to be back with JDC to build on what we did last year. Although I’m not running the full season, I am confident we can achieve some good results. JDC is the premier team in the the Star Mazda Championship and I am glad we could put something together.” — Chris Miller
Patrick McKenna had a strong year in the US F2000 National Championship in 2010, and now he’s been picked by what’s rapidly emerging as one of the teams to beat in the Star Mazda Championship, Team GDT. The Irishman joins top-notch engineer Eric Purcell at the team for the 2011 season which may prove to be a powerful combination and should have some of the traditional big names in Star Mazda looking over their shoulders!
“I am really looking forward to taking the next step on the Mazda Road to Indy with a championship-caliber organization like Team GDT. The team proved what they were capable of in 2010 and they have a very accomplished group of people in place for 2011. Everyone is extremely motivated for the coming season and I can’t wait to get working with the guys. 2010 was a strong year for me in USF2000 and I am confident I can build on from that in Star Mazda this season. I just want to thank everyone who’s helped make it happen” — Patrick McKenna
Connor De Phillippi
Connor, winner of the Star Mazda Championship 2010 season finale at Road Atlanta during the Petit LeMans weekend, signed with Team Pelfrey this week. Team Pelfrey isn’t new to IndyCar, but they are new to the Star Mazda series. Ealier they announced the hiring of Nick Andries, and now, with Connor De Phillippi, they add a veteran of the series to their team. There’s a lot of experience at Team Pelfrey and running with Andersen’s old equipment, they’ll have a quality car. The Star Mazda Championship is rapidly becoming the series to watch this season. There are a lot of teams that have the potential to be highly competitive.
“I’m so glad to be a part of Team Pelfrey! This off-season has been a lot of hard work, and we really had to make sure every piece of the puzzle was perfectly in place. I feel that here at Team Pelfrey they have the best of the best, and will give me the greatest opportunity to win this year’s Star Mazda Championship title. We as a team are going into this season with the same goal, and that is to win the championship. The resources are there for both myself and the team, and now it is time for us to work hard and do our best to accomplish our goals. I’d like to thank everyone at Team Pelfrey for this opportunity, and I cannot wait to begin pre-season testing!” — Connor De Phillipi
One of the most exciting driver annoucements to come out this past week was Glass Hammer Racing‘s, Shannon MacIntosh, signing with Cape MotorSports with Wayne Taylor Racing for the 2011 US F2000 National Championship. We haven’t seen an official release from Cape MotorSports, but Curt Cavin broke the news in his Friday Pit Pass column. Shannon had recently completed a two-day advanced driving school with Skip Barber Racing to ease the transition of going from USAC Midgets to rear-engined F2000 cars.
Movin’ On Up
Sam Schmidt and Wade Cunningham
Sam Schmidt Motorsports has slowly over the years been building toward having a full-time IZOD IndyCar Series team. They are a powerhouse in Firestone Indy Lights and have been for a number of years, but their only involvement at the top level has typically been at the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Speed TV’s Marshall Pruett has an excellent article in which he discusses the future of Sam Schmidt Motorsports with Team Principal, Sam Schmidt: Sam Schmidt Outlines Ambitious 2011 Plans. Most notable for those of us who have long been fans of the Indy Lights, Wade Cunningham will finally get the opportunity to compete in the IZOD IndyCar Series that he so deserves. There’s not much else Wade could show in Indy Lights. He’s won the series championship, and last year became a three-time winner of the Firestone Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Wade will be running four different oval races for the team, Texas, Kentucky and Las Vegas, although they may swap Kentucky for Iowa or simply add Iowa. Its great to see Wade finally get a shot in IndyCar. A lot of people are disappointed that he won’t be at Indianapolis this year, but be sure to read Pruett’s article. Sam makes a very good argument for Wade’s program as being a better long-term plan for his IndyCar career.
Although its not a completely done deal yet, Pippa Mann has a test with Conquest racing and will take her IZOD IndyCar Series rookie test at the Texas Motor Speedway. The rumor, and its a pretty solid one, is that Pippa will split a car with JK Vernay with Pippa running the ovals and JK running the twisties.