RC Enerson Fastest As Indy Lights Teams Return To Phoenix Oval
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian reaped the benefit of an additional private test earlier in the week as RC Enerson headed a team sweep of the top three positions today at Phoenix International Raceway.
The teenager led a 16-car Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires field following a one-day pre-season test on the challenging 1.022-mile oval.
Enerson, 18, from New Port Richey, Fla., turned the best lap of the day this morning at 21.8721 seconds, an average speed of 168.214 mph, comfortably faster than the incomparable Greg Moore’s Indy Lights track record of 22.887 (160.755 mph) which dates all the way back to 1995.
“We learned the track on Monday and were able to go flat out,” said Enerson, who returns to Indy Lights for a second season after finishing fourth in his rookie campaign in 2015. “Today we worked on qualifying setups and spent most of our time running together as a group, trying to figure out what to do in traffic during the race. To be able to come in this morning and be the quickest was very encouraging.”
Uruguayan teammate Santiago Urrutia, who won last year’s Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, along with a Mazda scholarship to progress into Indy Lights for 2016, was fastest this afternoon at 21.9862 (167.341 mph), followed by yet another Schmidt Peterson entry driven by GP2 Series veteran Andre Negrao, from Brazil, at 22.0128.
“We concentrated on setups this afternoon, doing qualifying and race simulations,” said Urrutia. “It’s a very physical track, quite hard, but the setup of the car was good. Running with my teammates, it seemed as though it was very hard to pass. That will mean qualifying for the race will be very important.”
“The team tested here on Monday, so today was my second time on an oval,” added Negrao. “It’s so quick here all the time. Coming from Europe, I have to learn the ovals. It’s all new but the team is perfect. They helped me so much. It’s so tricky and fast, but I was pretty calm and confident. After a while, the speed just becomes normal.”
Felix Serralles, from Ponce, Puerto Rico, split up the Schmidt Peterson domination for the Carlin team by posting the third fastest time this afternoon at 22.0733.
Also impressive was Formula Renault 3.5 Series convert Dean Stoneman, from England, who was fifth fastest overall for Andretti Autosport at 22.1039.
“I think we made great progress today,” said Stoneman. “The morning session was all about setup, getting the car to my liking and working to a qualifying-type format. It worked well and we were really on the pace. In the afternoon we were running in race trim which gave us a good idea where we would be. I’m starting to build a great relationship with my engineer and the Andretti team who have helped make my first oval experience extremely positive.”
The 16 drivers turned a total of 2,598 laps with only one relatively minor incident when Canadian Dalton Kellett (Andretti Autosport) ran high on the exit of Turn Two and glanced the wall. The top 14 cars were covered by less than half a second, which bodes well for when the series returns to PIR for Round Three of the championship on Saturday, April 2.
The teams will now head for Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., where they will join the Pro Mazda and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda contestants for the Mazda Road to Indy Spring Training open test on March 5 (Indy Lights) and 6/7 (USF2000/Pro Mazda). The 18-race 2016 season will kick off less than one week later with a double header on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 11-13 in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.