It seems the racing world was dominated by NASCAR news surrounding driver drama and the Daytona 500, but it wasn’t the only racing going on. February 19-20 saw all three series that comprise the Mazda Road to Indy at NOLA Motorsports Park for Cooper Tires WinterFest. USF2000 and Pro Mazda had three races each, while Indy Lights was able to get some needed test sessions with the new IL-15.
WinterFest is unique in that the races accumulate points that don’t transfer to the series’ regular seasons and a WinterFest champion is crowned. USF2000 and Pro Mazda run three races each across the two-day event. The event is also an opportunity for teams to test drivers in race conditions. In both USF2000 and Pro Mazda, some clear contenders emerged. Let’s start with the bottom rung of the MRTI ladder and work our way up, shall we?
Jake Edison swept the first race of WinterFest, earning the pole and leading flag-to-flag, but not without incident. He lost a clutch after six laps in qualifying and the team scrambled to replace it before race start. Aaron Telitz was able to get around his teammate Nico Jamin on lap one and their battle lasted all race. Victor Fanzoni qualified an uncharacteristic fourteenth due to electrical gremlins, charging to a well-fought sixth by the time the checkered flag waved.
Pos No Start Driver Hometown Team 1 22 1 Jake Eidson Memphis, TN Pabst Racing 2 3 3 Aaron Telitz Rice Lake, WI Cape Motorsports w/WTR 3 2 2 Nico Jamin Rouen, France Cape Motorsports w/WTR
Victor Franzoni had to charge hard again in Race 2, starting seventh and taking the lead on lap three. He took the checkers with a three-second lead over polesitter Nico Jamin only because he eased up on the final lap.
Pos No Start Driver Hometown Team 1 17 7 Victor Franzoni Sao Paulo, Brazil Afterburner Autosport 2 2 1 Nico Jamin Rouen, France Cape Motorsports w/WTR 3 22 2 Jake Eidson Memphis, TN Pabst Racing
The results don’t tell the whole story for the third round. Once again, Victor Fanzoni marched to the front from his third-place start leading until the finish under a caution for Nico Jamin, who suffered a suspension failure from second. However, Franzoni’s car failed tech inspection, disqualifying him and handing the win to Jake Edison.
Pos No Start Driver Hometown Team 1 22 2 Jake Eidson Memphis, TN Pabst Racing 2 94 5 Jordan Lloyd (R) Toowoomba Australia John Cummiskey Racing 3 33 8 Anthony Martin (R) Kalgoorlie, Australia John Cummiskey Racing
Jake Edison’s podium sweep puts him squarely atop the WinterFest points standings, but the real story is the pace of Victor Fanzoni. His performance was nothing short of stellar, much the same as last year’s WinterFest. If the crew at Afterburner Autosport can keep the car in shape, we can expect him to be a force all season long. In addition, both Pabst and Cape look to have strong lineups, and will be hot on Franzoni’s rear wing, ready to pounce.
Weiron Tan lost a second and a half to Jack Aitken on the first lap and charged to battle all race long. The barn burner was pure excitement, with Tan trying in vain to take the lead. The two were truly the class of the field, leaving Will Owen from Juncos Racing nearly 9 seconds behind.
Pos No Start Driver Hometown Team 1 82 1 Jack Aitken (R) London, England Team Pelfrey 2 22 2 Weiron Tan (R) Kuala Lampur, Malaysia Andretti Autosport 3 23 4 Will Owen Plano, Texas Juncos Racing
A multi-car incident at the start saw Aitken falling through the order and needing to play catch-up. A strong run brought him back to fifth. Once again, Weiron Tan dominated, while Nicolas Latifi avoided the early fracas and charged around Juncos teamates Jose Gutierrez and Will Owen for a deserved second. Owens was able to get around Gutierrez as well to round out the podium.
Pos No Start Driver Hometown Team 1 22 2 Weiron Tan (R) Kuala Lampur, Malaysia Andretti Autosport 2 18 7 Nicolas Latifi (R) Montreal, Canada M1 Autosport 3 23 5 Will Owen Plano, Texas Juncos Racing
Aitken and Tan put on another great show for Race 3, with Aitken showing the size of his attachments by passing Tan on the outside of turn one on the first lap. The Juncos crew scrambled to repair Garett Grist‘s car. He held off Nicolas Latifi until late in the race, barely missing the podium.
Pos No Start Driver Hometown Team 1 82 2 Jack Aitken (R) London, England Team Pelfrey 2 22 1 Weiron Tan (R) Kuala Lampur, Malaysia Andretti Autosport 3 18 10 Nicolas Latifi (R) Montreal, Canada M1 Autosport
Aitken and Tan are tied for points going into Round 2 at Barber motorsports Park this coming weekend. It’s unfortunate that Jack Aitken is intent on running Formula Renault Eurocup again this year. A season-long battle between the two rookies would be incredibly exciting.
Eleven drivers took part in the Indy Lights testing as part of WinterFest, the same number as 2014. The new team in the paddock, Carlin Motorsport showed speed throughout all the sessions, with Ed Jones only a half-second off the fast lap set by Spencor Pigot in the first session. Max Chilton coming to Indy Lights after Caterham’s demise was able to show pace in the final two sessions as well. Felix Serralles from Belardi was also fast in the latter two sessions, with slow pace in the first session.
The IL-15 not only looks fast, but it is fast. Top lap times are about three seconds faster than the previous generation Dallara. The aesthetics of the IL-15 are only made batter with some paint and vinyl. To put it simply, this is one gorgeous race car! I’m hoping we’ll see more teams at the Barber test coming up. With an estimated 14-16 drivers expected for the grid, some teams will need to get drivers acclimated to the new car. As long as Dallara can keep up, that should be feasible, making a bright future for Indy lights.