HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Hot and humid conditions blighted the first of two days that will comprise the final Mazda Road to Indy Open Test of the season held at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Monday.
All three open-wheel categories – Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – were well shy of the existing track records, but that didn’t stop David Malukas, Rasmus Lindh and Cameron Shields from setting the fastest laps in their respective categories.
A total of 21 drivers turned 1,078 laps round the 2.21-mile road course during the course of a largely incident-free day.
Malukas turned the fastest lap, 1:15.3556, an average speed of 105.579 mph, as he continues his rocket-like streak up the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires. After contesting only a partial season of USF2000 in 2017, Malukas stepped up this year to Pro Mazda, winning three times on his way to fourth place in the championship standings. Today he continued that remarkable progression for his team, BN Racing, which is also dipping its toe into the Indy Lights waters for the very first time.
“We just finished the last session of the day and we ended up finishing on a strong point in the top spot again,” said Malukas. “In Session Two, we didn’t use new tires and we made a few changes to make the car better. We used that setup with new tires and we ended up finding that little bit of extra time that we needed. It’s been really good.”
Malukas narrowly edged out Ryan Norman, who is riding a crest of momentum with the defending champion team, Andretti Autosport, after scoring his first Indy Lights win in the final race of the 2018 season at Portland Int’l Raceway in September. Norman also emerged fastest at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test later that month in Indianapolis.
Just .0225 of a second separated Malukas and Norman today, with French rookie Julien Falchero, a veteran of GP3 Series competition in Europe, impressing onlookers by turning the third fastest time, 1:15.5894, aboard a second Andretti Autosport Dallara-Mazda IL-15.
Dutch teenager Rinus VeeKay was a mere .0356 of a second further back in fourth for Juncos Racing. VeeKay, who won this year’s Pro Mazda Championship, looked particularly strong on older tires and ended the day just over one tenth of a second quicker than Canadian Zachary Claman DeMelo, who is returning to his roots with Belardi Auto Racing after a partial campaign in this year’s Verizon IndyCar Series.
Lindh has turned plenty of heads during an impressive first season of car racing, finishing second in a hotly contested USF2000 championship for Pabst Racing. The 17-year-old former karting standout continued the good work today for his Wisconsin-based team by posting comfortably the fastest Pro Mazda time, 1:20.1464, in just his second public test in preparation for moving up to the next level of the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires in 2019.
“We were fastest today and I’m very happy because this was just my second day in the car,” said Lindh. “The car feels good and we just need to work a bit on my driving to get used to the downforce and everything, but I’m very happy for today and looking forward to tomorrow.”
Canadian teenager Antonio Serravalle showed well for Jay Howard Driver Development, posting the second fastest time at 1:20.7447. After dominating this year’s USF2000 championship and also adding the F3 Americas title to his burgeoning resume, Kyle Kirkwood, from Jupiter, Fla., topped the times in the first session this morning for Abel Motorsports but sat out the final session of the day after encountering a problem with one of his car’s wheels earlier in the afternoon.
Teammate Jacob Abel didn’t take to the track in the middle session but returned later in the day to post the fifth fastest time behind fellow rookie Parker Locke, also a graduate of the F3 and F4 Championships, who was stepping up to Pro Mazda for the first time with Exclusive Autosport.
As was the case during the Chris Griffis Memorial Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in September, an Australian-based driver today posted the fastest time among 10 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship contenders at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
This time it was Shields who emerged on top of the charts after three 40-minute sessions, recording a best time of 1:24.8199, an average speed of 93.799mph, for the defending champion team Cape Motorsports.
“I am testing with Cape Motorsports and so far it has gone very well,” said Shields. “We were fastest on the first day. There’s still one more day to go but we are showing good signs and I am getting on with the team very well. It’s been a very positive first day.”
Shields, 17, who finished a close second in this year’s Australian Formula 3 Championship and fourth in Australian Formula 4, despite missing the final six races, narrowly edged out Gold Coast, Australia-based New Zealander Hunter McElrea, who was a scant .0709 of a second adrift in the final session for Pabst Racing.
Braden Eves, aboard a second Cape Motorsports Tatuus-Mazda USF-17, also was close behind on 1:25.0184. Eves, from New Albany, Ohio, was fastest in the second session, making an impressive return to the cockpit after recovering from surgery which had forced him to forego an opportunity to represent the Team USA Scholarship in England last month.
Another pair of Pabst Racing cars, driven by USF2000 veteran Colin Kaminsky and Yuven Sundaramoorthy, rounded out the top five, while Kyle Dupell, from Portland, Ore,., turned the fastest time in the opening session this morning for BN Racing. Dupell’s time of 1:25.6134 remained good enough for sixth on the day ahead of Houston, Texas, native Nikko Reger, who made an impressive transition to open-wheel cars for Cape Motorsports after winning this year’s Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup championship.