Mix of Veterans, Rookies Set For Pro Mazda Season-Opener
A combination of veterans and rookies will do battle this weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., as the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires kicks off with a pair of races which will comprise the Allied Building Products Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
All of the combatants will be chasing a coveted Mazda Scholarship valued at over $590,000 which will assist the series champion in graduating one more step up the Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel development ladder to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires in 2017.
The Mazda Road to Indy is unique in the world of auto racing, providing scholarships for drivers to progress from the grassroots of the sport all the way through to the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.
Garett Grist, from Grimsby, Ont., Canada, will start as one of the favorites for Pro Mazda honors after earning more championship points than anyone else during the second half of the 2015 season en route to third in the standings. Grist, 20, will remain with Juncos Racing, which guided Spencer Pigot to the 2014 championship title and won last year’s Team Championship.
“The city really falls in love with this race, much like my hometown Toronto race,” said Grist. “I’m really excited for the weekend, even though it’s probably been my roughest race each season. I’m hoping we can turn that around this year.”
Juncos Racing also will field cars for returning series veteran Will Owen, from Castle Rock, Colo., who secured a trio of podium finishes last year; Jake Parsons, from Melbourne, Australia, who finished second in last year’s Formula Masters China series; and fellow rookie Nicolas Dapero, from Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Team Pelfrey, based just across the Sunshine Skyway bridge from St. Petersburg in Palmetto, Fla., will field a trio of cars for Malaysian Weiron Tan, who won four races last year and placed fourth in the final standings; teenaged Mexican Patricio “Pato” O’Ward, three times a podium finisher in 2015; and Aaron Telitz, from Birchwood, Wis., who is stepping up from the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda after finishing third in the championship and claiming a pair of podium finishes in St. Petersburg.
“The atmosphere at St. Pete is always great, but especially this year since it will be during spring break,” said Telitz, who was fastest in last weekend’s Spring Training test at Barber Motorsports Park. “The track is in a great location, right by the bay and right downtown – and it’s a great track layout. I know the track well and I’m getting used to driving the Pro Mazda car. It hasn’t been a difficult transition, just getting used to the fact that the car brakes and accelerates better and it’s a faster car. I’m looking forward to a solid first weekend.”
St. Petersburg-based Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing also will be strong, fielding cars for last year’s USF2000 champion Nico Jamin, from Rouen, France, who won a scholarship to graduate to the next level of the Mazda Road to Indy, and Destin, Fla.’s Jake Eidson, who is also stepping up from USF2000 races after winning both races last year on the streets of St. Petersburg.
“I was third at St. Pete last year but I expect more for this year,” said Jamin. “Cape had a great Pro Mazda car here last year with two poles and two wins so we are aiming for the same thing this year. I’m really excited to wear the Soul Red color on my car and my suit this year – I’m very proud to be a Mazda scholarship driver. I will do my best to win this championship so I can wear this color again next year.”
“We had a great result at St. Pete last year so hopefully we can click there again this year,” added Eidson. “The track works great with my driving style but the Pro Mazda car is totally different. It’s a learning curve – you have to set up the car differently, the tires are different, the general balance is different. I’m trying to get used to that as fast as I can.”
The Pro Mazda cars will take to the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit on Friday, March 11, for a pair of half-hour practice sessions at 8:05 a.m. and 1.35 p.m. Qualifying will follow on Saturday at 7:30 a.m., followed by Race One at 10:50 a.m. Race Two will start immediately following the Verizon IndyCar Series event at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. Live streaming shows of all sessions will be available at promazda.com, indycar.com and on the Road To Indy TV App.