[Source: Mazda Road to Indy press releases]
INDY LIGHTS: Frenchman Alex Baron Leads the Way for Belardi in Indy Lights Testing
Birmingham, Ala. – Alexandre Baron, from Narbonne, France, is developing a habit of causing upsets. The teenager who burst onto the scene in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda in September, winning on his debut at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, yesterday marked his very first appearance in an Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires car by posting the fastest time of the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test at Barber Motorsports Park.
Baron lost no time in making his presence felt in the #4 13th Avenue entry. He set the second fastest time in both Monday sessions, headed in the first one by Matthew Brabham and in the afternoon by Brabham’s Andretti Autosport teammate, Zach Veach, but led the way in both of yesterday’s outings. His best time of 1:15.726 was faster than the record race lap of 1:16.0858 set this past April by Veach.
“First of all, I would like to thank Belardi Auto Racing for giving me this tremendous opportunity to drive in Indy Lights,” said Baron, who emerged unscathed from an incident on Monday. “It was an absolutely unbelievable experience. Even though the test is finished, I just want to drive again now! The car, everyone on the team was just perfect these two days. Unfortunately, I wasn’t perfect Monday in the last session but that is the way it is. Now I am looking forward to another test with the team and we will work even harder to be the strongest team.”
Veach, who posted the fastest lap on Monday at 1:17.877, improved to 1:16.026 in the faster final session, edging teammate Brabham who is stepping up into Indy Lights after winning the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires in consecutive seasons.
“It’s just been a little bit cold but things are going really well,” said Veach, who finished seventh this year in his rookie Indy Lights campaign. “There are a lot of Indy Lights teams including us that are getting acquainted with the new Cooper tires. So far, I am really impressed with them. I think we made some really big improvements to be at the top of the time charts and everything is progressing really well and I am really excited to be here with Andersen Promotions and starting the new year with a lot of people who I started my career with back in 2006.”
“It’s been a lot of fun and finally the sun came out,” added Brabham, who made a couple of mistakes before turning a best lap of 1:16.234 to rank third fastest overall. “There is not a cloud in the sky now but it was looking pretty hairy at the start. Monday it was pouring. I am still learning the car. It just bites you so much harder than the cars I have driven before. You have to really, really be on top of catching any moment you have before they get out of hand. I’m kind of struggling with that a little bit. I have been off track quite a lot of times. I just have to calm everything down and see how it goes.”
Schmidt-Peterson teammates Jack Harvey, from Bassingham, England, a standout in GP3 Series competition this year, and Yann Cunha, from Brasilia, Brazil, who raced this year in Formula Renault 3.5, turned the fourth and fifth fastest times.
PRO MAZDA: Mexican Teenager Alfonso Celis Tops Test Times for Juncos Racing
Birmingham, Ala.- Judging by the results of the past two days at the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test, the future looks extremely bright for the rejuvenated Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. A different driver topped the timing charts in each of the four sessions at Barber Motorsports Park, with 17-year-old series newcomer Alfonso Celis Jr., from Mexico City, Mexico, finally edging out returning Pro Mazda veterans – and 2013 race winners – Shelby Blackstock and Spencer Pigot with a best time of 1:20.490 (an average speed of 106.448 mph) around the undulating and challenging 2.3-mile road course. A total of 19 drivers took part in the test.
Celis’ lap, set in bitterly cold conditions yesterday afternoon, comfortably eclipses the Pro Mazda lap record of 1:21.166 which was set during qualifying in 2011 by IndyCar Series driver Tristan Vautier.
“I am very happy to be here at Barber,” said Celis, who competed this year in the Formula Renault 2.0 NEC series, earning a season-best finish of third in the finale at Zandvoort, Holland. “We’ve had our ups and downs in some of the sessions but I am quite happy with the team and everything. It has been a good experience and I am still learning. The aerodynamics are very good. I am still getting used to it but the car is great, really fast.”
Blackstock, 23, from Nashville, Tenn., was fastest on Monday at 1:22.240, driving for the defending champion team, Andretti Autosport, while Pigot, 20, from Orlando, Fla., topped the charts Tuesday morning with a time of 1:21.300 for 2010 championship-winning team Juncos Racing. Blackstock and Pigot, who shared the victories at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park this summer, had to be content with second and third in the final, decisive session yesterday afternoon on 1:20.698 and 1:21.034, respectively.
“The test has gone really fantastic for the Andretti guys,” said Blackstock. “The cars have been very, very fast and the track is a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it is negative 30 degrees out so that’s the only downside. When you get out of the car you almost fall over because your feet are numb. I am looking forward to the 2014 season. I’m very excited because we had a good finish of third in the championship this year and hopefully we can come back and go for the championship.”
“I am having a lot of fun working with the guys from Juncos,” added Pigot. “It’s going well and hopefully we can put a deal together and come back to the series next season. It’s not easy so I have a busy off-season ahead.”
Teenagers Kyle Kaiser, from San Jose, Calif., and Jose Gutierrez, from Monterrey, Mexico, rounded out a successful test for Juncos Racing by setting the fourth and sixth-fastest times. The pair were split by former F2000 Championship Series front-runner Kyle Connery, from Vero Beach, Fla., who also impressed with JDC MotorSports.
Garett Grist, from Grimsby, Ont., Canada, in the second Andretti Autosport entry; Robert La Rocca, the 2012 F2000 champion from Caracas, Venezuela, who was fastest of all in the wet first session on Monday morning for M1 Racing; Nicolas Costa, from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, who joined the test only Tuesday morning with JDC MotorSports; and teammate Michael Johnson, 21, from Flint, Mich., rounded out the top 10. Johnson’s performance, a best lap of 1:21.847, was especially noteworthy given that he is paralyzed from the chest down following a motorcycle racing accident at the age of 14.
“I am really excited to continue everything that I have learned from the 2-liter side and move on to Pro Mazda,” said Johnson, who raced in USF2000 this year. “This car seems like it suits my driving style a lot better. It is a lot of fun to drive. This track is awesome and I am having a really fun time. I can’t wait until we actually start racing.”
Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda champion Scott Hargrove, 18, from Vancouver, B.C., Canada, and Neil Alberico, from Los Gatos, Calif., who finished second in the title-chase with a series-high six wins, placed 11th and 12th on the final charts. The test marked the Pro Mazda debut of Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, which has won the three of the last four USF2000 titles.
“The move up to Pro Mazda has been fun for sure,” said Hargrove. “It is cool to experience more power and the bigger tires, bigger brakes and sequential shifting and everything that you hear about. It is definitely a fun car to drive. It has been a big learning experience and that is really what this test is all about – new guys coming in and learning how to drive these cars at each stage of the ladder. Big props to everyone that puts this on and I am glad that I can be here.”
The Pro Mazda contenders will return to action at the six-race Cooper Tires Winterfest which will begin at NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans, La., on February 21/22 and conclude with a return to Barber Motorsports Park on February 25/26.
USF2000: Rookie Telitz Tops USF2000 Times for Afterburner Autosport
Birmingham, Ala. – After well over four hours of track time and a wide variety of weather conditions at the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test, named in honor of the former Sam Schmidt Motorsports’ Indy Lights Team Manager, rookie driver Aaron Telitz and the Afterburner Autosport team earned first bragging rights as preparations began early for the 2014 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
Telitz, from Birchwood, Wis., who will celebrate his 22nd birthday on Friday, gave himself an early present by posting the fastest time of the test yesterday afternoon. The recent winner of the Skip Barber Race Series Scholarship Shootout, earning himself a MAZDASPEED Driver Development Scholarship to graduate into USF2000 in 2014, served notice of his intentions by leaping to the top of the charts in the closing minutes, lapping the challenging 2.3-mile Barber Motorsports Park road course in 1:23.283 for an average speed of 102.878 mph.
“The test was great,” said Telitz. “I did both days here with different teams. I ran with ArmsUp the first day. That was great, getting my feet wet in the series and finding out how things work and getting my feet literally wet in the rain. Things were good yesterday. We went pretty quick in the rain and the semi dry. Today I tested with Afterburner and in the morning session, which was pretty wet, we did alright and tried some things. This afternoon, I just went for it. I finally had quite a bit of confidence in the car, building up speed and went P1 in the last session so that was awesome. There’s lots of work still to be done, decisions for what team to go with, so we will see. I am really looking forward to 2014.”
Second fastest at the test was another impressive rookie, Jake Eidson, driving for two-time defending series champion team Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing. Eidson, 18, from Littleton, Colo., was quickest of all at the end of the first day at 1:25.292, and duked it out with fellow Skip Barber graduate Telitz today before having to settle for a best time of 1:23.381 – a scant 0.098 behind his rival. In addition to being a three-time Skip Barber Race Series champion, Eidson won this year’s F1600 Championship Series, also driving for the Cape Motorsports team, and shone recently in England where he represented the Team USA Scholarship.
“It was my first time here at Barber and I have only tested with the Capes a few times, but so far it has been going really good,” said Eidson. “I think we have a lot to build off now and get the ball rolling.”
Yet another USF2000 rookie, Nico Jamin, from Rouen, France, set the third fastest time for Belardi Auto Racing with a best lap of 1:23.598. Jamin, a graduate of the North European Formula Renault 2.0 series who turned 18 last week, headed a strong four-car Belardi effort with a best time of 1:23.598, edging out teammate Michael Epps, from Hemel Hempstead, England, by just 0.063s.
Fellow series veterans Peter Portante (ArmsUp Motorsports), from Plainfield, Conn., Austin Cindric (Pabst Racing) – the youngest driver at age 15 – from Mooresville, N.C., and Henrik Furuseth (JDC MotorSports), from Oslo, Norway, completed the top six.
“I had a really fun time at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test,” said Cindric. “I’m with a new team and we learned the car and the track and got some laps in the rain. It was my first time in the wet in these cars for a bunch of practice sessions and I ended up P3 which I was pretty happy with. We were fast in the wet and fast in the dry, so fast overall.”
Furuseth, who won the USF2000 National Class Championship in 2012 and secured his best results to date in the Championship Class, a pair of second-place finishes, in the final round of this year’s series at Reliant Park, Houston, posted the fastest time of all in each of the two sessions that were held in wet conditions, both yesterday morning and on Monday.
“It has been a really good test and it has been good testing with JDC,” said Furuseth. “P1 in two sessions out of four is pretty good. The car was very good in the wet. We struggled a bit in the dry in the first session but we got the car to be good in the second one so we are close to a very good setup. Overall I am very happy with how the test went.”
A total of 20 drivers took to the track over the two-day test, representing seven different teams.
The next time the USF2000 contenders will have an opportunity to display their skills will be at the six-race Cooper Tires Winterfest which will begin at NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans, La., on February 21/22 and conclude with a return to Barber Motorsports Park on February 25/26.