HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Day two of Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires Spring Training saw a total of 28 drivers – representing the first two rungs on the acclaimed open-wheel racing development ladder – in action on the 2.21-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway road course.
The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda boasts a brand-new look this year with the introduction of a new Mazda-powered Tatuus USF-17 chassis, but it was ‘situation normal’ for Florida-based Cape Motorsports, which has won each of the past six USF2000 championships, as Oliver Askew set the pace in all three sessions.
Askew, a multiple karting champion who won both a Team USA Scholarship and the inaugural Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout to ensure he will be able to compete in his first full season of car racing in 2017, posted the fastest time of 1:24.518, an average speed of 94.085 mph, in the third and final session this afternoon.
“I came here with a question mark over how we stack up against the rest, so I’m really happy,” said Askew. “We’ve tested four or five times and the car has been fantastic: this just solidifies that. We’ve worked on qualifying runs, because the balance changes so much depending on the tires, and we’ve worked on the car in traffic. We’re making changes every session, so we’ll keep working on that tomorrow. It’s hard to realize that St. Pete is a week away. As soon as I won the scholarship, my mindset was to be the best I could right now. I’ve been training every day and, when we are testing, working to get the most out of the car. I’m ready now.”
Teenaged Dutchman Rinus VeeKay, another karting standout, ended up less than half of one-tenth of a second slower with a time of 1:24.6115 on his debut with Newman Wachs Racing which is making an eagerly anticipated return to the sport following a seven-year hiatus.
Four different teams were represented among the top-five fastest times during the first two of two days of testing. Robert Megennis, edged out impressive 14-year-old Team Pelfrey teammate Kaylen Frederick for third, while fellow rookie Calvin Ming rounded out the top five for Pabst Racing.
Lap times were similarly close as the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires contenders also completed three sessions today. Team Pelfrey, which has guided Santi Urrutia and Aaron Telitz to consecutive Pro Mazda titles enabling them to graduate to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the final step on the MRTI ladder, continued to set the pace although, intriguingly, each of its three drivers, T.J. Fischer, Nikita Lastochkin and Carlos Cunha, topped the timing charts following one of the sessions.
Los Angeles-based Russian Lastochkin, who is stepping up to Pro Mazda after two years in USF2000, was quickest in the opening stanza this morning at 1:24.4710, while Fischer set the fastest time of all in the first session this afternoon at 1:24.4417 (94.219 mph).
Rookie Cunha topped the times at 1:25.1641 in the final period. Earlier, Cunha, who is racing for the first time in North America after two years in the Brazilian F3 Championship, set a best time of 1:24.6217.
Anthony Martin, last year’s USF2000 champion, was the only contender to split up the Team Pelfrey juggernaut, posting the second fastest time in this morning’s session at 1:24.6523.
Veteran Bobby Eberle, who won the 2016 National Class Championship, completed the top five for World Speed Motorsports on 1:25.7417.
The USF2000 and Pro Mazda teams will continue testing tomorrow before the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires contenders gain their first taste of the road course to wrap up Spring Training on Thursday.