INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Test, held in honor of the former Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian team manager, concluded this afternoon at the Indianapolis Grand Prix circuit with several new names featuring at the top of the timing charts for each of the three open-wheel series which comprise the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires.
A total of 43 drivers took advantage of the opportunity to commence preparations for the 2017 season with eight sessions and four hours of testing allocated alike to competitors in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
An intriguing mix of Indy Lights veterans and rookies vied for the honors of posting the fastest time on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course which utilizes portions of the famed Brickyard oval. The final session, held in cooler conditions shortly before sunset this evening, resembled qualifying as the protagonists vied for overall bragging rights.
In the end it was Garett Grist, from Grimsby, Ont., Canada, who claimed the honors for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian after turning a lap of 1:14.7396 (117.480 mph) – less than a tenth away from the track record set by series champion Ed Jones in May. Grist completed a partial season of Indy Lights in 2016 after graduating midseason from Pro Mazda.
Frenchman Nico Jamin, the 2015 USF2000 champion, enjoyed a very productive two days, posting the fastest lap yesterday and ending up second today for Andretti Autosport at 1:14.7867. This year’s Pro Mazda champion, Aaron Telitz, from Birchwood, Wis., spent one day apiece with Schmidt Peterson and Belardi Auto Racing, and posted the third fastest lap this evening at 1:15.1612.
Series veterans Andre Negrao, who tested only yesterday for Juncos Racing, and Juan Piedrahita (Team Pelfrey), from Bogota, Colombia, rounded out the top five ahead of Argentina’s Nicolas Dapero (Juncos Racing), Slovakian newcomer Richard Gonda (Andretti Autosport), a veteran of GP3 in Europe, and Zachary Claman De Melo (Carlin), who finished ninth in this year’s Indy Lights title-chase.
Victor Franzoni, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, dominated the Pro Mazda field, fastest in every session for Juncos Racing. Franzoni, who undertook a partial season of Pro Mazda in 2015 before returning to USF2000 and winning three races this year, unofficially bettered the existing lap record of 1:22.800 (105.941), set earlier this year by Pato O’Ward, when he circulated a best of 1:22.6179 (106.277) this afternoon.
Teammate Jorge Cevallos, from Tijuana, Mexico, emerged second fastest ahead of Team Pelfrey’s TJ Fischer, from Vacaville, Calif.
Four different drivers took turns atop the timing sheets during the USF2000 sessions as a baker’s dozen of the brand-new Tatuus USF-17 cars, which will replace the venerable Van Diemen as the basis for the championship in 2017, made their first public appearance. The verdict was overwhelmingly positive, with all nine teams – four of which are new to USF2000 – heaping praise on Tatuus for the fit and finish of the new cars. Furthermore, the top 10 drivers were separated by just over 0.8 second during the final session this afternoon.
Neil Verhagen, 15, from Mooresville, N.C., continued the kind of form that has seen him clinch both the F2000 Championship Series and the SCCA Formula F National Championship in recent weeks by topping four of the eight sessions and taking advantage of cool, crisp weather conditions this morning to turn the fastest lap unofficially at 1:24.8661 (103.462 mph). The official track record, set in May, stands at 1:26.0153(101.973 mph).
Matthew Brabham, the 2012 USF2000 champion who made his Indianapolis 500 debut earlier this year, posted the second fastest time overall while assisting six-time and defending champion team Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing in its learning curve with the new car. A pair of Team Pelfrey teenagers, Kaylen Frederick, from Potomac, Md., and Robert Megennis, from New York, N.Y., both topped the times at one time or another, while fellow New Yorker Andre Castro, a standout rookie on this year’s Skip Barber Racing Series, also impressed in setting the fastest lap in the final session this afternoon. Castro stepped in today for New Zealander Brendon Leitch at Newman Wachs Racing, which is making its return to the sport following a seven-year hiatus.
Another teenager, Trenton Estep, from San Antonio, Texas, who has won a pair of Canadian F1600 championships this year, also impressed by posting the fifth best time overall for another team new to USF2000, Exclusive Autosport.
Garett Grist (Indy Lights - #7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian): “I just came for the second day. I really wasn’t planning on testing this weekend to be honest but Sam (Schmidt) called (manager) Derek (Daly) yesterday and Derek said to get my butt in the car and drive from Toronto so I did that last night. It’s great to work with the guys here at Schmidt Peterson. It’s been a great day learning the car and meeting everyone. I got along well with everyone, especially my engineer so it’s definitely all pluses.”
Nico Jamin (Indy Lights - #26 Andretti Autosport): “The test went very, very well. I couldn’t expect anything better from these two days of testing. I adapted myself really fast to the car even though the first two or three laps were absolutely crazy. The car was way too fast but then I got used to it and I really learned how to drive the car and took my time. When I thought I was ready, I really went for it and topped sessions over the two days. The team did a great job and I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity of my first time in an Indy Lights car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s pretty amazing. I am very happy. The car really suits my driving style. Everything I do seems to work with this car so I’m on a little cloud right now. I feel really good and I hope we can put a deal together for next year and try to go for a championship.”
Aaron Telitz (Indy Lights - #7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian and #5 Belardi Auto Racing): “There’s lots to process next week for sure but it has been a serious blast. The IL-15 is an incredible car. I loved everything about it. It brakes incredibly well. The tires are really fun. The way the turbo comes in in the Mazda engine is incredible – all the extra horsepower. It’s just a great car. Getting used to it and up to speed, I had a really great first day with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. They did a good job getting me comfortable, feeling good and I ended up going pretty quick at the end of the day. I was over at Belardi today. It has been great working with both teams. They both are really professional. I’m excited. I have to make some tough choices over the next couple of weeks.”
Victor Franzoni (Pro Mazda - #31 Juncos Racing): “I am really happy because I am driving in Pro Mazda and it’s a great car. It was even better with Juncos Racing. They gave me a car that was really fast from the first session. We were just changing things a little to make the car better for me. It was perfect. Today went really, really well. We did a 1:22.6 and the record was a 1:22.8 so the car is really fast. All the team is really nice. I learned a lot of things and I hope next season I can race with them. We are working a lot on budgets and things and we still have some months until the start of the season, so I think 2017 will be good.”
Neil Verhagen (USF2000 - #22 Pabst Racing): “The test started off well. We were quick from the start. I loved the car, the track and how everything was working for me. As we progressed learning the car more and figuring out the setup and my driving as well, we developed the car and went faster and faster every session. Capping my day off with P1, I couldn’t be happier. [Verhagen had to leave before the final test session.] The Mazda Road to Indy is just phenomenal. I am just getting a little taste of it now in the test but I can see the whole atmosphere is amazing with all the other cars being here and strong drivers in every class.”