HOMESTEAD, Fla. – The new Mazda-powered Tatuus PM-18, introduced for this year’s Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – the middle rung on the Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel development ladder – continued to impress this weekend as 15 drivers completed a total of 1610 laps during two days of Spring Training road course testing which concluded this afternoon at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Three different drivers topped one or more of the six sessions before second-year Pro Mazda competitor Carlos Cunha, from Campinas, Brazil, earned some bragging rights by posting the fastest time in the final one-hour session for defending champion team Juncos Racing.
Cunha, 18, who finished third in the 2017 title-chase, stopped the clocks in 1:19.2017 (100.452 mph) – more than four seconds faster than the best time from Spring Training one year ago in the older Elan/Van Diemen/Crawford car.
The youngest driver in the field, Sting Ray Robb, 16, from Payette, Idaho, turned some heads by also using a fresh set of Cooper tires to establish the second fastest time, 1:19.409s, in the final session for Team Pelfrey.
Robb, who claimed a trio of fourth-place finishes during his rookie campaign in 2017, edged out rookies David Malukas (BN Racing), from Chicago, Ill., and Rafael “Rafa” Martins (Team Pelfrey), from Sao Paulo, Brazil. Exclusive Autosport’s Parker Thompson, from Red Deer, Alb., Canada, also was within a half-second of the ultimate pace. Thompson, 19, who will be stepping up to Pro Mazda after finishing among the top three in each of the past two years in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, was fastest of all on Saturday and Sunday morning.
Englishman Harrison Scott, who won last year’s Euroformula Open Championship in convincing style, completed a promising North American debut both for him and the Italian-based RP Motorsport Racing team by setting the sixth fastest time.
Juncos Racing teammates and USF2000 graduates Robert Megennis, from New York, N.Y., and Dutchman Rinus VeeKay, who battled through a few gremlins, ended up seventh and eighth on the timing charts, ahead of USF2000 champion Oliver Askew, from Jupiter, Fla., whose Cape Motorsports team preferred to spend its time learning more about the new Tatuus instead of chasing ultimate lap times on a track which will not be part of the racing schedule.
Englishman James Raven, whose prior racing experience is limited to Formula Ford 1600 in his homeland, adapted well to the huge leap in grip and power and rounded out the top 10 for DEForce Racing. Kris Wright (BN Racing), from Pittsburgh, Pa., and Italian rookie Lodovico Laurini (RP Motorsport Racing) also circulated within one second of the fastest time.
Sixteen races will comprise the 2018 Pro Mazda Championship which will offer a Mazda Scholarship prize of $790,000 to assist in graduation to the highest rung on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, in 2019. Final preparations will continue with another open test next weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, near Birmingham, Ala., prior to the opening two races of the season which will comprise the Pro Mazda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Allied Building Products on March 9-11 in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Carlos Cunha (#1 Juncos Racing Tatuus-Mazda PM-18): “I’m really happy, Juncos Racing is an amazing team. On track, we are always improving, never going backwards and that’s very good. We have tested a lot but we still need to learn a lot about the car, though we are almost to a perfect setup. The team has given me everything I need to be comfortable inside the car, to know what the car needs, and to know what I need to be a better driver. We have time to improve and we are moving forward quickly.”
Sting Ray Robb (#82 Trademark Dental/Munk Family Dental/Intervention.com-Team Pelfrey Tatuus-Mazda PM-18): “We’ve done several tests this winter, working on my driving and on the car setup – and the chemistry with the team has been a huge factor. Coming into the weekend we know what we can do and here at Spring Training we got P2. The new car is so fast, brakes well, corners well, and it’s way nicer to drive than the old car. It feels like a real race car. Last year was my rookie season and it was a rough year, mentally and physically, so it’s good to be back in the swing of things, back in my rhythm!”
About Pro Mazda: The Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires debuted in 2013 as a new series, replacing the Star Mazda Championship which ceased operation in 2012 after 22 years. The series is sanctioned by INDYCAR and owned and operated by Andersen Promotions. It is the second official step on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder system with the series’ champion awarded a scholarship package from Mazda to advance to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires competition the following year. For more information, visit promazdachampionship.com.
About Mazda, Mazda Motorsports: Mazda Motorsports boasts the most comprehensive auto racing development ladder system of any auto manufacturer in the world. The Mazda Road to 24 program offers a number of scholarships to advance drivers up the sports car racing ladder, beginning with the Global MX-5 Cup series and culminating with the Mazda Prototype team. The Mazda Road to Indy is a similar program that includes Mazda-powered categories of USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. In grassroots road racing, more Mazdas race on any given weekend in North America than any other manufacturer. Mazda is also the title sponsor of the renowned Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. Follow all of the latest news at MazdaMotorsports.com, @MazdaRacing on Twitter, and MazdaMotorsports on Instagram and Facebook.
About Cooper Tire & Rubber Company: Cooper Tire & Rubber Company is the parent company of a global family of companies that specializes in the design, manufacture, marketing and sale of innovative, great-performing tires that you can count on to last for thousands of miles, getting you where you need to go, and back again. Cooper is proud to be the spec tire for all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, a development program within the Verizon IndyCar Series. Cooper tires can also be seen on the track as a sponsor in the short course off-road TORC Series. Headquartered in Findlay, Ohio, Cooper, with its subsidiaries, has manufacturing, sales, distribution, technical and design operations in more than one dozen countries around the world. To connect with Cooper, visit www.coopertire.com, www.facebook.com/coopertire or www.twitter.com/teamcoopertire.
Images and content courtesy of the Mazda Road to Indy.