Less than three weeks after another successful season for the Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel development ladder wrapped up in Portland, Oregon, teams and drivers are already focused on 2019 as the eighth annual Chris Griffis Memorial Open Test takes place this coming weekend, September 22/23, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix road course.
Almost three dozen drivers representing 15 different nationalities are signed up for two days of action on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn track in Speedway, Indiana, for all three development series – Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
The test is held in memory of long-time crew chief and team manager Chris Griffis, who was part of Indy Lights championship-winning teams at Panther Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports before passing away in September 2011.
Race Winner Norman heads nine-car Indy Lights list
The quest for an enhanced $1.1 million scholarship prize to ensure entry into a minimum of three IndyCar Series races in 2020, including the 104th Indianapolis 500, begins in earnest this weekend.
Nine cars are entered at Indianapolis, headed by Ryan Norman (Andretti Autosport), who last month claimed his first Indy Lights victory at Gateway Motorsports Park, and Victor Franzoni, winner of the 2017 Pro Mazda championship. With his victory for Juncos Racing at Road America, the Brazilian added his name to an exclusive club of drivers to have won races on every level of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires. Franzoni will join Belardi Auto Racing for this weekend’s test.
The only other entrant with previous Indy Lights experience is Korea’s Heamin Choi (Juncos Racing), who started five races in 2016 and made a return to the series recently at Portland.
A high-quality crop of rookies is set to gain a taste of the 450-horsepower Dallara IL-15, including Rinus VeeKay, Parker Thompson and Oliver Askew, who earned their opportunities after taking the top three finishing positions in this year’s Pro Mazda championship.
VeeKay, who celebrated his 18th birthday last week, will remain with Juncos Racing, which guided him to the Pro Mazda title.
“I’ve experienced an amazing and very successful Pro Mazda season with them and I am looking forward to prepare myself for the next level in my Road To Indy,” said VeeKay, who secured a season-high seven wins and six poles en route to the championship crown. VeeKay also won three times on his way to second place in the 2017 USF2000 title-chase.
Askew, the 2017 USF2000 champion, will test with defending champion team Andretti Autosport alongside fellow USF2000 and Pro Mazda graduate Robert Megennis, while Thompson will join Team Pelfrey, which last week announced plans to move its home base from Florida to Indianapolis with the intention of fielding two cars in next year’s championship.
“I have been dreaming about the chance to get behind the wheel of an Indy Lights car since I started my car racing career,” said Thompson. “I have been in touch with Gary Neal and Dale Pelfrey for quite some time now. It’s an honor to be chosen to lead the team at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test as they look to build a 2019 championship campaign.”
Fellow Pro Mazda graduate David Malukas, who will turn 17 next week, also will gain his first taste of Indy Lights – with Belardi Auto Racing – alongside USF2000 front-runner Lucas Kohl.
Live timing and scoring for all sessions will be available on the respective series’ websites, indylights.com, promazda.com and usf2000.com, as well as the Mazda Road to Indy TV App and indycar.com.