MRTI St. Pete Learnings: Stars Shine

The Mazda Road to Indy (#MRTI) kicked-off the 2016 racing season last weekend at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The MRTI is considered the finest open-wheel racing driver development program in the world, and consists of the USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights categories. The three racing series were in action with two races each at St. Pete.

Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires
The field in Indy Lights is packed this year with tremendous driver talent from top to bottom, but, to win on the opening weekend, it was crucial that your first name was Felix.

Felix Serralles, from Puerto Rico, delivered an impressive opening-round victory. Serralles, a former Mazda driver development scholarship winner, launched from his seventh starting position to take the win for Carlin Racing. Canadian driver Scott Hargrove, also a former Mazda scholarship driver, finished second, followed by pole-sitter Kyle Kaiser in third. Finishing fourth was this year’s Mazda scholarship driver Santiago “Santi” Urrutia in his first-ever Lights start. Urrutia won last year’s Pro Mazda title to earn the scholarship.

In the second Indy Lights race, held Sunday prior to the IndyCar feature event, heralded Swedish newcomer Felix Rosenqvist (pictured above) grabbed the lead from the pole position and led every lap to get his first career win in his second Indy Lights start. The 2015 FIA Formula 3 champion was followed across the line by the young American Kaiser, while Zach Veach, who has returned to the series after missing last season, finished third.

After two races, Serralles leads the point standings by one point over Kiser. Rosenqvist is two points back in third place.

Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tires
Team Pelfrey, a Florida-based team with entries in all three of the Mazda Road to Indy categories, seized the top two positions in the first Pro Mazda race. Patricio “Pato” O’Ward, a 16-year-old high school freshman from Monterrey, Mexico, won the pole and then led every lap to take the victory. In second-place was his teammate, Aaron Telitz. Third-place was Jake Eidson, followed by this year’s Mazda scholarship driver, the Frenchman Nico Jamin. Jamin won last year’s USF2000 championship in record-setting fashion to earn the scholarship.

In the second race, Team Pelfrey went one better, sweeping all three podium spots. This time, the Wisconsin driver Telitz led from the start to get his first Pro Mazda win. O’Ward was second and their teammate Weiron Tan from Malaysia was third. Jamin, driving for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, was fourth.

O’Ward leads the point standings, followed by Telitz, Tan and Jamin.

Cooper Tire USF2000 powered by Mazda
It was Pelfrey Racing on top in Pro Mazda, but the Wisconsin-based Pabst Racing had nearly as much domination in the USF2000 Series. With 26 cars in the starting field, it was crowded chaos in Turn 1 of the first race as a multi-car crash meant much of the race was run under yellow flag conditions. When the green flag flew again, pole sitter Jordan Lloyd from Australia led the way to the victory. Lloyd was followed across the line by his teammate, Yufeng Luo, from China. In his debut race in the Mazda Road to Indy, 16-year-old New Yorker Robert Megennis finished third after starting ninth.

In the second race, Luo turned the tables, topping his teammate Lloyd for the victory. Jordan Cane, a 14-year-old British driver, finished third. The top-15 drivers in that race hailed from China, Australia, England, Canada, US, Russia, Brazil and Norway, showing the worldwide scope of the Mazda Road to Indy.

Mazda scholarship driver Dakota Dickerson made a strong debut in the series with an eighth-place finish in the opening race after starting 16th. In the second race, he finished 22nd after a late race incident.

Jordan Lloyd leads the point standings by two over Luo, with Australian Luke Gabin in third.

Up next for the Mazda Road to Indy: The Indy Lights series will race on the one-mile oval at Phoenix International Raceway, April 1 – 2.  All three MRTI categories will race at Barber Motorsports Park, April 22 – 24.