Mazda Road to Indy
TRACKING THE CHANGES: Pro Mazda Championship
From one season to the next, the Mazda Road to Indy is never short of changes as there are always drivers in new rides entering another year of Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires competition.
The 2018 campaign will be no different, so let’s review where things stand as of January 28, 2017.
After winning the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, Oliver Askew will be moving up to Pro Mazda with the Soul Red livery for Cape Motorsports.
“I’m super excited for next year,” Askew told POW. “It doesn’t feel like the season has ended. I feel like the season has just started. It has taken a lot of weight off my shoulders, for sure, and I see 2018 starting right now.”
After spending the past two years battling for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, Robert Megennis will move up to Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tire in 2018 with Juncos Racing.
“I’m super excited to get the year started,” Megennis told POW. “I’m with the best team, the car is awesome to drive, and the field looks like it’s going to be super close. It’s going to be tough, but I just can’t wait for St. Pete.”
Megennis will be joined at Juncos Racing by Carlos Cunha, who enters his second year of Pro Mazda competition.
The Brazilian had a successful rookie campaign with Team Pelfry, placing third in the standings with seven podiums. He began testing with Juncos Racing in October, including an appearance at the Chris Griffis Memorial test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The third driver for Juncos Racing in 2018 will be Rinus Veekay, who moves up after placing second in the USF2000 standings last year. There was discussions of Veekay skipping Pro Mazda and going straight to Indy Lights following the Chris Griffis test, but his driver coach two-time Indianapolis 500 winner advised against it.
“He told me that it’s better for me to do one extra step in the Mazda Road to Indy ladder and if possible, win this one, so when I come to Indy Lights or IndyCar I have more experience,” Veekay told POW.
After placing fifth in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Mazda standings with eight top-fives last season, Nikita Lastochkin will return to the series in 2018 – but with a different team. After driving for Team Pelfry last year, Lastochkin return to Cape Motorsports, whom he drove for in 2016, competing for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
“Everything is looking good so far,” Lastochkin told POW. “I tested the new car, and it’s a great car; it’s really quick, and it’s a huge step forward from last year’s car. I’m just doing what I can to be ready for St. Pete, and hopefully it’s going to be a great year.”
Sting Ray Robb will also be back, and like Lastochkin, with a new team. He will be driving the No. 82 Trademark Dental, Munk Family Dental, Intervention.com Team Pelfry Mazda.
Last year, Robb scored a top-10 in each event of his rookie campaign, with a season-best fourth on three different occasions for World Speed Motorsports.
After competing in nine USF2000 races last year with a pair of top-fives, David Malukas is set to move up to Pro Mazda with BN Racing. he took part in the Chris Griffis test, posting the second quickest time overall.
“Looking back, I was really surprised with how well we did,” Malukas told POW. “Obviously going to the new class of Pro Mazda, I was expecting to be there, but when we put new tires, we were first and second fastest the whole weekend so I was really happy with how it went. Especially with the team, because of being a new team, and everything went better than planned.”
After competing in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, Ayla Agren has formally announced her intentions to be part of the Pro Mazda grid in 2018. The 22-year-old has made waves towards making that happen, testing with Pabst Racing in the early stages of the off-season.
So far, though, nothing has been officially confirmed as to where she will fit in for 2018. But don’t expect her to give up, either.
“This is my life; this is what I love doing,” she told POW. “There have been tough times with sponsorship not coming through, and I’ve been at races where I haven’t been able to drive. I’ve had seasons where I haven’t been in the car, and it aches at me.
“Every day, I work at getting back into it because when you have those moments, you appreciate the chances you do when you get in the car a lot more. You appreciate being there, and that’s the feeling that keeps pushing me is I know that’s where I belong.”
A new team will be on the grid, as RP Motorsport Racing confirmed they will have an entry in the field for 2018. The Italian team believes that is by competing in Pro Mazda is the first step towards eventually being part of the Verizon IndyCar Series one day.
The move to racing on United States soil comes after a pair of successful seasons in the World Series Formula V8 3.5.
The team has yet to confirm their driver line-up, though.
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