Mazda Road to Indy Season Kicks Off with Spring Training
 February 22, 2018| 
  • Series News
Indy Lights Homestead Preview 2018

PALMETTO, Fla. – A new season of competition in the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is almost set to commence. All three rungs on the world’s premier open-wheel development ladder – the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires – will be in action beginning Friday, February 23, for the annual Spring Training open test which will take place over four days at Homestead-Miami Speedway in South Florida.

At least 15 different nationalities are expected to be represented, highlighting the credibility of a program which offers opportunities for drivers to progress from the grassroots to the pinnacle of the sport in North America – with Mazda Scholarships at every level.

Spring Training will represent the first time a full field of the exciting new Tatuus PM-18 Pro Mazda cars will be on track at the same time. It will also provide one final chance to lay down a marker in advance of the opening races of the 2018 campaign on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., in conjunction with the Verizon IndyCar Series, on March 9-11.

Veterans Set to Lead the Way in Indy Lights
The top tier on the ladder, Indy Lights, seems set for another wide-open title-chase in 2018. Last year saw seven drivers from four teams share the victory spoils before Kyle Kaiser claimed the coveted Mazda Scholarship, valued at $1 million, to ensure entry into a minimum of three Verizon IndyCar Series races in 2018, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500. This year promises more of the same, especially since many of the primary elements remain unchanged.

Santi Urrutia, who has finished second in each of the past two years after winning the Pro Mazda crown in 2015, will be testing with defending Indy Lights Team Champions Belardi Auto Racing alongside Aaron Telitz, who succeeded Urrutia as Pro Mazda champion in 2016, then book-ended his rookie Indy Lights season with victories on his debut and in the season finale.

“To be honest I always consider myself a title favorite no matter what,” says Telitz, from Birchwood, Wis. “I don’t go into a season of racing without the highest of expectations. In a way I had a great rookie year as I had extreme highs and lows. So I’ll be able to draw back on what was right when things were going well, and when things were bad I’ll be able to correct them this season.”

Second-generation racer Colton Herta, from Valencia, Calif., will head a potent four-car lineup from Andretti Steinbrenner Racing and Andretti Autosport alongside returning series veterans Canadian Dalton Kellett and Ohio’s Ryan Norman, plus gifted young Mexican Pato O’Ward, who showed extremely good form during a truncated campaign in 2017.

Herta’s tally of two wins and a series-high seven poles last year (just one shy of the record, which his father, Bryan, shares with fellow former champions Townsend Bell, Thiago Medeiros and Ed Jones) stands the teenager in good stead as he seeks a championship of his own alongside youthful team co-owner George Michael Steinbrenner IV, grandson of the legendary New York Yankees owner.

Juncos Racing, which has won the Indy Lights championship in two of the past three years with Spencer Pigot and Kaiser, will continue to run Victor Franzoni, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, who grasped a career lifeline one year ago with a last-minute opportunity to join the team in Pro Mazda. Despite running on a very tight budget, Franzoni clinched the title with three successive wins to close out the season, thereby earning the right to carry the distinctive Soul Red Mazda Scholarship livery onto the final step of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder.

“It’s a huge honor,” says Franzoni. “Representing Mazda will be one of the best things of 2018, for sure. I don’t think the pressure will increase because my pressure is to win the championship in any color, but I’m excited about what I will learn representing a big brand like Mazda and hoping to do a great job inside and outside the track.”

Spring Training will begin on Friday, February 23, with an all-day test for Indy Lights on Homestead-Miami’s 1.5-mile oval, followed by two days of running for Pro Mazda and USF2000 over the weekend on the 2.21-mile road course and then a final day on the road course for Indy Lights on Monday, February 26. Live timing and scoring for all sessions will be available on the respective series’ websites, indylights.com, promazda.com and usf2000.com, on racecontrol.indycar.com as well as the Mazda Road to Indy TV App.

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