This week was a busy week for the Mazda Road to Indy program! The Firestone Indy Lights series and the Star Mazda Championship series both had their pre-season “Spring Training” open tests at Barber Motorsports Park, and the US F2000 National Championship had both their final testing session, and their first two races at Sebring International Raceway. Along with the testing, we also had some late driver announcements, although I suspect we’re not finished hearing about those.
The Cooper Tires Presents the US F2000 National Championship held their final testing session the day before the opening practice session for the first race at Sebring International Raceway. Fourteen drivers were entered with eleven running in the championship class. Not surprisingly, the Andretti Autosport duo of Zach Veach and Spencer Pigot did very well, but they weren’t the only ones to post fast times. Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing driver, Petri Suvanto, posted the top time of both the morning and afternoon sessions. It shouldn’t be too surprising given the strength and experience of the Cape Motorsports team. The other driver posting impressive times was JDC MotorSports hotshoe Luke Ellery. Luke would post the third fastest time of the day, splitting the Andretti Autosport drivers. This year, the championship won’t be so easy for Andretti Autosport. This will be one competitive field is US F2000.
The Star Mazda Championship Presented by Goodyear tested along with the Firestone Indy Lights and IZOD IndyCar Series down at Barber Motorsports Park just outside of Birmingham, AL, and Tristan Vautier two-time winner in 2010, proved to be the man to beat. Tristan’s times were better than his competitors by no less than half a second in every round of testing! The Juncos Racing squad put up some fast times, lead by Chilean Martin Scuncio. No surprise to us here at OpenPaddock, nor should it be a surprise to our regular listeners and readers, Patrick McKenna of Team GDT also posted some strong times during the three-day test. Here’s the combined times from all of the sessions.
|Pos||No.||Name||Overall Best Tm||In Session|
|1||5||Tristan Vautier||1:19.399||Wednesday Test|
|2||60||Martin Scuncio||1:19.894||Wednesday Test|
|3||7||Joao Horto||1:20.200||Wednesday Test|
|4||48||Patrick McKenna||1:20.284||Wednesday Test|
|5||81||Nick Andries||1:20.690||Wednesday Test|
|6||10||Tatiana Calderon||1:20.903||Wednesday Test|
|7||11||Connor De Phillippi||1:21.022||Wednesday Test|
|8||88||Sage Karam||1:21.095||Wednesday Test|
|9||85||Chris Miller||1:22.128||Tuesday Final Practice|
|10||39||Richard Heistand||1:22.569||Wednesday Test|
|11||27||Nick Mancuso||1:22.851||Monday First Practice|
|12||66||Zach Meyer||1:23.429||Monday afternoon practice|
|13||20||Carlos Linares||1:23.660||Tuesday Second Practice|
|14||72||Larry Pegram||1:23.846||Tuesday Final Practice|
|15||26||Jérimy Daniel||1:25.158||Wednesday Test|
|16||23||Walt Bowlin||1:26.385||Tuesday Final Practice|
Firestone Indy Lights
The Sam Schmidt Motorsports crew showed once again why they are THE team to be with if you want to have the best chance at winning the Firestone Indy Lights championship. They’re newest driver, Joey Newgarden, set some blazing times! The closest anyone would come was Team Moore’s Gustavo Yacaman, and he was still three tenths off Newgarden’s time.
“It was a strong day for all of Sam Schmidt Motorsports. We’ve had a good form over all of testing, and this kind of reassured us that we are in good form and not sort of guessing. It’s still early. We have a lot of work to do. We have a couple more test days to run before the first race at St. Pete, so we just need to keep it up.” — Joey Newgarden, #11 Sam Schmidt Motorsports
Fellow Andretti Autosport driver, Esteban Guerrieri, whom we now know is officially with the team, also posted some good times and had a successful test, but 2010 Star Mazda Champion, Conor Daly, did not have the best test session. He would end up posting a fifth fastest time, overall, but its not the type of pace we’ve come to expect from the young Irish-American who absolutely dominated the Star Mazda Championship last season.
“There’s just a lot for me to learn about this car. I’m a couple of days behind my teammates just because I haven’t had the track time. But I think I’m making progress, me, personally just working with the car and improving myself. Overall, I think it’s positive for sure because I learn something every lap on track. For me, it’ll be a matter of learning at a quicker pace and just try and keep up with these guys. It’s good to have quick teammates. We’ve got the data and I’ve got a lot to learn from. Overall, I’m just looking forward to the next time I can get in the car and keep improving myself and work toward getting quicker. It’s super important to have quick teammates. As a team, we will all do really well just because we can benefit by learning from each other. So, for me, I’m really happy to be where I am. The whole Sam Schmidt Motorsports team is working really hard and they know what they’re doing. They’re pros at doing what they do and I’m extremely happy to be where I am.” — Conor Daly, #77 Sam Schmidt Motorsports
Here are the combined results from the morning and afternoon sessions:
|10||Garcia, Juan Pablo||01:16.9947|
We finally get to talk about real racing action! Hurray!!! The first two rounds of the Cooper Tires Presents the US F2000 National Championship Powered by Mazda were on Thursday and Friday at the Sebring International Raceway. Zach Veach would take down the first race leading flag-to-flag after taking the pole. From Race #1, it looked like this season was set to be a repeat of last year swapping out Sage and inserting Zach.
“The race was pretty good. I am really excited to see how tomorrow goes but I can’t thank my team enough. They have been working really hard from Day One to be quick here and over the winter. There are a couple of things we need to do for tomorrow but it should be a good event.” — Zach Veach, #7 Andretti Autosport
Race #2, however, turned out to be a very different event! There were six drivers in a pack all struggling to take the lead. From those there at Sebring, this was one of the most exciting racing battles they’d ever seen! When the brake dust finally settled, it would be JDC MotorSports’ driver, Luke Ellery who would emerge victorious. Andretti Autosport’s Spencer Pigot would survive to finish in P2, but his teammate and winner of Race #1 would suffer from contact and end up finishing back in eighth. Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing’s Petri Suvanto would complete the podium having run a very strong race.
“It was a good race for me. We were three abreast four laps from the finish. What a race! You can’t get much better than that. We have 27-car fields back in Australia and the racing wasn’t this good. [On leading the championship:] “This is not what I expected. I was looking for a solid round at Sebring, maybe top four, and look forward to St. Pete seeing as I have street circuit experience. All things are in the positive at the moment and I have to thank my sponsors, my team and my family.” — Luke Ellery, #85 JDC MotorSports
The good finish in Race #1 and the win in Race #2 puts Ellery in the points lead headed to the next round on the Streets of St. Petersburg with a total of 50 points. Suvanto, Pigot, and Veach are all tied for second spot with 47 points. Like I said earlier, this should be a fantastic championship to watch this year, especially if the racing is going to be as exciting as Race #2!