PALMETTO, Fla. – Teams and drivers from all three levels of the highly acclaimed Mazda Road to Indy have converged on Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, Ala., for the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Open Test.
The two-day outing, which commences today, will provide an opportunity for several new team and driver combinations to gain a head start on their preparations for 2014 as others evaluate program possibilities for next season.
The challenging 2.3-mile road course is part of the “regular” season schedule as Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda will be showcased next April 25-27 alongside the premier IndyCar Series.
Each of the three levels on the ladder boasts a mixture of newcomers and returning veterans for the test, many of them gaining their first on-track experience since the conclusion of the 2013 season. While weather and other circumstances have prevented several teams and drivers from making the trek to the scenic Barber circuit, more than 40 drivers will be taking part in the outing.
In Indy Lights, Matthew Brabham will begin his quest to extend an extraordinary sequence of success. The third-generation racer won the USF2000 title as a rookie with Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing in 2012 and used the MAZDASPEED scholarship prize to excellent effect by also claiming the Pro Mazda title with Andretti Autosport during a record-breaking 2013 campaign. Another scholarship has enabled Brabham, 19, from Boca Raton, Fla., to remain with the Andretti organization in 2014, when he will also carry the colors of York, Penn.-based United Fiber & Data, highlighting the company’s all-fiber networking and broadband solutions.
“Winning the championship this year in Pro Mazda has been the biggest accomplishment of my career so far,” said Brabham. “I’m very grateful to be a part of the Mazda Road to Indy as it has developed and matured me as a driver tremendously. I’m really looking forward to moving up and competing in Indy Lights next year. It is going to be another big learning curve for me and I’m really excited to get right into pre-season testing. I don’t really have any expectations leading into the test at Barber. My main goals are just to work on adapting my driving style to the Indy lights car and to get a feel for the setup on the new Cooper Tires.”
Zach Veach, from Stockdale, Ohio, will drive a second Andretti Autosport entry in the colors of RePLAY XD/The Young Marines/Ads IT Solutions/Zakosi Data Back Up. Veach, who will celebrate his 19th birthday today, finished seventh in his rookie Indy Lights season, highlighted by a pole position in the final round at Auto Club Speedway.
While California-based Welshman Lloyd Read, a Pro Mazda graduate, will be settling in to his new Bryan Herta Autosport/Jeffrey Mark Motorsport team, a pair of European-based drivers – Jack Harvey and Yann Cunha – will be exploring their options for 2014. Both will join Schmidt Peterson Motorsports which has won the four most recent Indy Lights championships with J.K. Vernay (2010), Josef Newgarden (2011), Tristan Vautier (2012) and Sage Karam (2013).
Cunha, 22, from Brasilia, Brazil, has competed in the Formula Renault 3.5 Series the past two years, while Harvey, 20, from Bassingham, England, won the 2012 British Formula 3 Championship and finished fifth in a very competitive GP3 Series this year. Harvey is a member of the McLaren Young Driver Program and is supported by the British-based Racing Steps Foundation.
Belardi Auto Racing will also be on hand with two entries for USF2000 regular Michael Epps and Frenchman Alexandre “Alex” Baron, who made his Mazda Road to Indy debut last year. Baron, the 2012 French F4 champion, notched two wins in only four USF2000 starts in 2013 with Afterburner Autosport.