A total of 48 drivers representing 14 nations completed a two-day Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open test at Road America.
Perfect weather conditions proved conducive to fast lap times, with several contenders unofficially bettering the existing records both for the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
All three series will return to Road America next week for the Kohler Grand Prix. A pair of races for each championship is set to be held in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Franzoni fastest in Indy Lights
Last year’s Pro Mazda champion Victor Franzoni continued his steady rise toward prominence on the highest level of the Mazda Road to Indy as he set the fastest time in three of the four test sessions for Juncos Racing.
“The test was really good,” said Franzoni. “We’re improving every time we go to the track and, here, we started super-fast and just kept getting better. This is the first time I’ve tested the Indy Lights car at Road America and, really, everything is different from the Pro Mazda car: the braking points are later, the speed is way faster, it’s better in everything! It took a few laps to get used to it.
“We were super-fast at the Freedom 100 and just had bad luck. We gained a lot of confidence last month and we are bringing that here, especially since this is the kind of track I really like. We’re working on a car that’s fast and really suits me well, so I’m very confident going into the race. If we continue this way, we’ll be really strong on the race weekend.”
Franzoni’s best time of 1m52.7325s was set this morning.
Patricio “Pato” O’Ward, who won three of the first four races this season for Andretti Autosport, was fractionally slower at 1m52.8097s.
Teammate Ryan Norman posted the third-fastest time at 1m53.3538s. Norman edged out Belardi Auto Racing teammates Santiago “Santi” Urrutia and Aaron Telitz, plus championship leader Colton Herta (Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing), who were all blanketed by less than a tenth of a second.
BN Racing leads the way in Pro Mazda
The current state of competitiveness in Pro Mazda was perfectly exemplified at Road America as the top five lap times after five and a half hours of testing were posted by drivers representing as many different teams. It was no surprise, either, to see the long-standing lap record unofficially placed firmly in the rear-view mirror.
The new-for-2018 Tatuus-Mazda PM-18 has provided fresh impetus for Pro Mazda. It has also brought a dramatic escalation in speed.
Fastest of all was David Malukas (BN Racing), whose best lap of 2m00.3640s was well under the existing qualifying lap record, set by Adrian Carrio at 2m03.849s that dates back to 2006.
“It’s good to get to a track that we’ve already been to, since we know the basic setup as a reference,” said the 17-year-old Malukas. “Obviously, it’s a lot quicker in the Pro Mazda car than the USF-17. With the added downforce, the car is more stable. I feel like I have a good grip on the car, which is good in the high-speed corners. The Kink and the Carousel feel even more stable. We’ve made a lot of changes in the car so we’re really happy with this test and the amount of information we’ve gained. These days will help a lot when it comes to the race weekend.
“And it feels good to come back here; it’s one of my favorite tracks even though I only raced here last year in USF2000. My dad raced here when I was a kid; I came here a lot and have a lot of good memories. Being at Road America is really what got me into racing.”
Rinus VeeKay, who won both USF2000 races at Road America last year, was second fastest for Juncos Racing at 2m00.5057s, followed by series points leader Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport), Andres Gutierrez (Team Pelfrey) and Harrison Scott (RP Motorsport Racing).
Toby Sowery made an impressive debut by setting the seventh-fastest time in a second BN Racing entry, while Raul Guzman, who joined RP Motorsport for the first time, was among the top 10 in every session.
Pabst Racing sets the pace in USF2000
After finishing fourth in his rookie season of USF2000 in 2017, Kaylen Frederick has endured more than his share of disappointment this year. But now everything seems to be falling into place for the Maryland youngster. Frederick recently produced a breakout performance on the oval at Lucas Oil Raceway, where he placed second, and backed that up by posting the fastest time in each session today for the Oconomowoc, Wis.-based Pabst Racing team.
“We spent Monday figuring everything out and getting the setup right,” said Frederick, who last week celebrated his 16th birthday. “I was struggling with a few areas, like getting the braking zones down and where in the corners I should be rolling in with more speed. We worked through those last night, looking at the data and video, figuring out what to change. We executed changes this morning and I had the quickest times in both sessions today, so I’m really happy about that. My teammates helped me to improve — we push each other to go quicker and that improves all of us.”
Frederick set the fastest time of the test, 2m09.3357s, in cooler conditions in the morning, narrowly edging out teammate Lucas Kohl, who was second fastest in each of the first three sessions. Kohl finished second in one of the two races at Road America last year, which remains his best result to date.
Calvin Ming and Rasmus Lindh, who finished third at Lucas Oil Raceway, also placed among the top 10 for Pabst Racing.
“It’s an important race for us, since the team is from here,” said Frederick. “They were so successful here last year and that gives us even more information about the track and what to expect come race weekend.”
Championship leader Kyle Kirkwood maintained his form by comfortably topping the charts for Cape Motorsports during the opening session on Monday. Kirkwood opted not to run this morning, when virtually all the fastest times were set, although he ended up less than a tenth behind Frederick in this afternoon’s final 90-minute run. His best time from Monday, 2m09.4289s, remained good enough for third overall as no fewer than 13 drivers posted unofficial times faster than the existing qualifying lap record of 2m10.6402s, set last year by Oliver Askew.
Others to impress during the two days included Kory Enders, fourth fastest for DEForce Racing, and reigning South African Formula 1600 champion Julian Van der Watt, who placed third in two of the four sessions and ended up with the sixth-fastest time for Team Pelfrey, as well as Japanese-born Brazilian Igor Fraga, who topped the timesheets in the second test session.
“The track is absolutely amazing, it’s definitely become one of my favorites — and we’ve taken to it really well,” said Van der Watt. “The corners are quite flowing and the big thing is to carry speed through the corners, which we’ve been good at. All the tracks are new to me, so I’ve looked at team video and worked on the simulator, but no simulator is as good as the real thing.
“We’ve been strong learning circuits so far and this is much more like the tracks I’m used to in South Africa, the longer, flowing-type track. We don’t have street circuits or ovals. I was third quickest right out of the box yesterday and it just kept going well from there. It’s been challenging, when other drivers have been here for two or three years, so that’s an uphill battle but this week helps. We’ve been good on race pace but the outright speed hasn’t been there so to come here and be up in the top five is a big confidence booster for me and the whole team.”