The Mazda Road to Indy’s PR department released confirmation on Monday that USF2000 and Pro Mazda race winner Garett Grist would be making the mid-season jump to the Indy Lights series, and his debut with Team Pelfrey was set for the upcoming race at Road America. This was good and bad news, as the already-light Pro Mazda field loses one of its primary stars while the Indy Lights program gains a young graduate whose will likely run for the title in 2017. It’s all good for Grist, who will now find himself just one step away from the Verizon IndyCar Series. That said, there is collateral damage as well, and it comes with the fact that Grist won’t be stepping into an empty Indy Lights seat, but will instead take over the yellow #3 that had been piloted by fellow Canadian Scott Hargrove in the first five events of the year.
Some may look at this as a signal as to what is ‘wrong’ with American open wheel racing; a funded driver ‘buying’ a ride out from underneath a competitor with limited backing. However, this is simply a reality check for those who follow the Mazda Road to Indy, or any motorsports development ladder system, for that matter. The bottom line is this: drivers with sponsorship trump drivers without. It’s not a negative; it’s just the way of things. I tell every young karter or karting family the same thing: if you want to be success in motorsports, you must have a significant family fortune OR you must become an expert in marketing partnership development and sales. Again, this is not a negative, it’s the reality.
Grist and his management team continue to make positive progress in developing their partnership platform, which is key to success in modern-day motorsports. They’ve put together key marketing alliances and they’ve worked hard to map Garett’s evolution within the ladder. You can’t fault them for making the move to Team Pelfrey. An opportunity was obviously there.
Like Grist, Scott Hargrove is a talented Canadian driver who has proven himself on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder. Hargrove won the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda in 2013 on the strength of four wins, and then came up just short in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires in 2014, winning three races to finish just 10 points behind Spencer Pigot for the title. Pigot would go on to win the Indy Lights championship the next year and, as a result, he competed in the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 thanks to the Mazda scholarship. With slightly different circumstances in 2014, Scott could be in Spencer’s shoes right now.
That said, Hargrove has the talent, the charisma, and the dedication, but apparently, luck is not on the side, at least not when it comes to making a concrete move into the Indy Lights program. For the second straight year, the young Canadian talent has found himself on the outside looking in, having started both seasons with hopes of finding the funding necessary to stay in the car. Last year, driving for 8Star Motorsports in their Indy Lights debut at St. Petersburg, he finished fourth and sixth, only to be replaced by Sean Rayhall when the team returned to the series at Barber Motorsports Park. This year, he at least was given the opportunity to gain much more experience, running in five events.
Grist’s move into the Team Pelfrey #3 was obviously tough news to take for the likeable Canadian, who was notified of a potential replacement driver last week. True to his professional form, Hargrove was aware of the change in his situation when he arrived in Montreal last Thursday to compete in the joint Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada/USA event at the Canadian Grand Prix. Undaunted, Scott would go onto the sweep the support races, run in both wet and dry conditions, piloting the #28 OpenRoad Racing Porsche GT3 Cup car to a pair of wins, including a nine-plus-second triumph in Sunday’s rain race. Simply put, this guy can drive.
Scott continues to display his considerable talents, and those of us who are passionate about open wheel formula car racing hope to see him back in an Indy Lights car soon. Hargrove has also proven his understanding of the business of motorsports and he is one driver who truly enjoys the challenge of building marketing partnerships. As it stands, Hargrove does not have any confirmed events on his current schedule, but he is working hard to continue in the Porsche GT3 Challenge Cup Canada program and will also stay sharp racing a karting event or two with his long-time team, Italian Motors. I spoke with Scott this week, and while disappointed, he knows that this situation is simply part of racing. He will continue his efforts to get back on the Indy Lights grid, but he wants to be in a car that he believes in capable of winning. Considering his pedigree, if he gets an opportunity, we would expect him to do exactly that.