10.17.2017 – The upcoming season will be a monumental one for the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, as it will follow in the footsteps of Indy Lights and USF2000 by filling its grid with brand new race cars for 2018. The new Tatuus PM-18 has landed in the shops of seven race teams, six of which we expect to see at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test at Indianapolis next weekend. My early intel points towards massively positive feedback on the new car, both in its pace and its sound. Andersen Promotions, Tatuus and Elite Engines appear to have hit a grand slam with this project.
Exclusive Autosport made its MRTI debut in USF2000 last year and they would be the strongest team over the second half of the season, winning three races with Parker Thompson enroute to a stellar third in the championship. Team owner Michael Duncalfe is totally committed to the Andersen Promotions-run ladder program, and he was the first to purchase a new PM-18 to expand his program to the second level of the system. Exclusive will run two drivers in USF2000 at the Chris Griffis test, and will also field at least one PM-18. Second-year Pro Mazda driver Nikita Lastochkin will be in the car in Indy. The team shook down the new car at Road America with Thompson at the wheel, and then handed the keys over to 2017 USF2000 runner-up Rinus VeeKay, who is testing with multiple teams to determine his plan for next year. I’m told that Exclusive will be taking possession of a second car this week and that the plan is to have Thompson run that car this weekend, if they can get it prepped in time.
Juncos Racing is also fully invested in the Pro Mazda program. The reigning series champions have purchased and prepped three cars, and have already tested with VeeKay, American Sting Ray Robb and Brazilian Carlos Cunha. Robb and Cunha will be back in their cars for more seat time in Indy, and they’ll be joined by 2016 USF2000 Rookie of the Year and 2017 race winner Robert Megennis.
I fully expect that Cape Motorsports will run a pair of PM-18s next year, led by USF2000 champion and Mazda Scholarship driver Oliver Askew. The American will be with Cape at the Griffis, and the team will take possession of their second car at the test to get it ready for off-season testing and driver evaluation.
Team Pelfrey has gone all-in with three cars, and they’ve already been testing, having run at Gingerman Raceway last week. They had South African karter Julian van der Watt in one of their USF-17 cars, and put long-time team driver Nikita Lastochkin in one of their new Pro Mazdas alongside Kris Wright, who moved from USF2000 to Pro Mazda last year to run seven races with JDC MotorSports. Team Pelfrey will test their talented 2017 USF2000 rookie Kaylen Frederick in a PM-18 at the Chris Griffis this coming weekend, and will also have Wright back in the car.
Pabst Racing had its finest season in USF2000 competition in 2018, winning the Team Championship with its trio of drivers – Rinus VeeKay, Calvin Ming and Lucas Kohl. They have purchased a pair of PM-18s to run next year, but team owner Augie Pabst is being tight-lipped about his testing line-up for Indy. At this time, I cannot project the drivers who will be in their cars.
American David Malukas and BN Racing made a quick impact in the USF2000 program last year, leveraging the experience of Victor Franzoni to help set up their car and driver for Road America. Malukas, a much-heralded racer in US and Europe karting, is expected to graduate to Pro Mazda, as the team has purchased two PM-18s and will likely run at pair of USF2000 entries in 2018. More on those drivers in the upcoming USF2000 test projection segment. Malukas will run the Pro Mazda at the Indy test, although I cannot confirm if they will have a driver in their second car.
Calculating the totals, and I expect to see at least 10 PM-18s at the Chris Griffis test this coming weekend and my long-range forecast would be for 14 cars on the grid in St. Petersburg.
2018 CHRIS GRIFFIS MEMORIAL TEST
PRO MAZDA CHAMPIONSHIP PRESENTED BY COOPER TIRES
POTENTIAL DRIVER LINEUP
Team Pelfrey (2 cars) – Kaylen Frederick, Kris Wright
Juncos Racing (3 cars) – Sting Ray Robb, Carlos Cunha, Robert Megennis
Cape Motorsports (1 car) – Oliver Askew
Exclusive Autosports (2 cars) – Parker Thompson, Nikita Lastochkin
Pabst Racing (1 car) – TBD
BN Racing (2 cars) – David Malukas