All three series of the Mazda Road to Indy kick off this weekend in St. Petersburg, each with a Mazda scholarship driver on his way up.
The 2015 Mazda Road to Indy begins this weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., along with the opener of the Verizon IndyCar Series. A host of young racers hoping to be on the IndyCar grid someday will be taking to the track in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda. At every level there is a driver funded by a Mazda scholarship by virtue of having won a championship on a lower rung of the ladder.
For the first time, every series in the Mazda Road to Indy is operating with Mazda power. The new Dallara IL-15 Indy Lights car will race with the MZR-R, a development of the engine that powered Dyson racing’s championship run in the American Le Mans Series in 2011. The all-new car – the first since the series’ inception – has generated a lot of excitement and even attracted teams from overseas. The opener will even feature a former Formula 1 driver.
Hoping to rise above it all and earn another Mazda scholarship will be Spencer Pigot. The 2014 Pro Mazda champion will be racing with Juncos Racing and won both Pro Mazda races at St. Petersburg in 2014.
“I’m really looking forward to the first race in St. Petersburg,” says Pigot. “It’s my favorite street course and I’ve had a lot of success there. It’s been a very long offseason. The Juncos guys have been working hard and we’re all ready to get back to racing. It’s a special race for me having grown up in Orlando, but also a special race for the Indy Lights series as a whole. It will be the first time we will race the new Mazda powered IL-15 and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
Other Pro Mazda graduates joining him will be 2014 runner-up Scott Hargrove with 8Star Motorsports; Kyle Kaiser, joining Pigot at Juncos; and Shelby Blackstock. All will face a tough contender and championship favorite in Jack Harvey, who tied series champ Gabby Chavez on points in 2014, losing out on the tiebreaker. Harvey returns with Indy Lights powerhouse Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian.
Also with Schmidt Peterson is RC Enerson, moving straight from the USF2000 Championship, where he finished second in the season standings. In what is perhaps a one-off with Andretti Autosport, 2013 Pro Mazda champion Matthew Brabham, who finished fourth in the 2014 Indy Lights points, will also be racing at St. Petersburg.
Florian Latorre of Libourne, France is the scholarship driver in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. He returns with Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, the team with which he won the 2014 USF2000 Championship. He will face a host of returning veterans, however, including Neil Alberico, who finished third in the 2014 title chase behind Pigot and Hargrove and will be joining Latorre at Cape Motorsports. Garret Grist will also be returning with Juncos Racing after finishing eighth in the points last year, joined by teammate Jose Gutierrez. Andretti Autosport’s Dalton Kellett also returns.
However, if the Cooper Tires Winterfest is any indication, the veterans will have their hands full with rookies such as Winterfest runner-up Weiron Tan, with Andretti Autosport, and Latorre.
The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda is where it all begins. The Mazda scholarship driver in the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder is Luke Gabin, who earned his spot by winning the 2014 Skip Barber Racing Summer Series and the SBRS Championship Shootout. The 19-year-old from Perth, Australia will be racing with experienced-but-new-to-USF2000 Team Pelfrey.
“Moving up to USF2000 is a really important step for me to continue my career in the USA and to start on the Mazda Road to Indy,” says Gabin. “I’m extremely thankful for the MAZDASPEED Scholarship as this enabled me to compete in the series. I’m really excited to sign with Team Pelfrey – their outfit is extremely professional and their results in the surrounding classes prove this.”
There’s a quartet of veterans, though, who will keep Gabin and the other rookies from having too easy a time of it. Pabst Racing’s Jake Eidson was third in the 2014 championship and Aaron Telitz, driving for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, was fourth. Both were Team USA Scholarship winners, and it’s a fair bet they piled on whatever knowledge they gained racing in Europe into their databanks that were already full from last season. Afterburner Autosport’s Victor Franzoni finished fifth in the points in 2014 and finished second in the Cooper Tires Winterfest. But it was Nico Jamin who won the pre-season mini-championship with Cape Motorsports.
A few other talented rookies to keep an eye out for are Anthony Martin (John Cummiskey Racing), Parker Thompson (JDC Motorsports) and Garth Rickards (Team Pelfrey).
Each Mazda Road to Indy series will have two races at St. Petersburg before Pro Mazda and USF2000 move on to the Grand Prix of Lousiana at NOLA Motorsports Park – site of half the Winterfest races – for another pair of races in two weeks’ time. The next race for the Indy Lights competitors will be the Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 19.
Fans can follow along with the new Mazda Road to Indy mobile app available on the ITunes app store for Apple devices and Google Play for Android. The app is free and features live timing, live track feed commentary from Rob Howden, the voice of the Mazda Road to Indy, social media, on-board videos, episodes of RoadToIndy.TV and more.