PALMETTO, Fla. – Team Pelfrey stablemates Aaron Telitz and Patricio “Pato” O’Ward have fought tooth and nail for this year’s Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. The outcome will be decided at this weekend’s Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Monterey Presented by Allied Building Products, part of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires “Soul Red Finale” which will comprise three races at one of the country’s premier road courses, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif.
Pro Mazda represents the middle rung on the Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel development ladder, falling between the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires. There are scholarships at every level, including one worth over $600,000 to enable the Pro Mazda champion to graduate into Indy Lights in 2017.
Telitz, 24, from Birchwood, Wis., currently holds a 14-point edge over O’Ward. He has an enviable record at Mazda Raceway after winning the Skip Barber Championship Shootout and earning a Mazda Scholarship to graduate into the USF2000 series, then finishing fourth and second in two USF2000 races there in 2015.
“Winning the Mazda scholarship to enter the USF2000 series is the biggest achievement of my racing career so far, and it’s what allowed me to get on the Mazda Road to Indy,” said Telitz. “I’m in the same position this year; winning the title would mean I would be able to move into Indy Lights. I have a huge weight on my shoulders but that’s how I felt the year I won my previous scholarship so I’ll hope to repeat the same thing.”
O’Ward, 17, from Monterrey, Mexico, began the season on a tear, winning six of the first seven races, but a couple of disappointing weekends at Toronto and Mid-Ohio, allied to a surge by Telitz, which included a sequence of four successive wins, sapped his momentum and means he now has to come from behind if he is to achieve his goal.
“It would feel so good to win the scholarship because I’ve worked so hard this year,” said O’Ward, who finished sixth in points during his rookie campaign in 2015. “It’s something that I really want to win, more than anything I’ve ever wanted. The chance to win the scholarship and move up to Indy Lights is a big motivator. The ultimate goal has always been the Verizon IndyCar Series and it would put that goal within reach.”
Nico Jamin, the only other driver to have won a Pro Mazda race this year, holds only an outside chance of claiming a second successive Mazda Road to Indy crown to add to his dominance of the 2015 USF2000 title-chase. He currently trails Telitz by 74 points, with a total of 99 up for grabs, but travels to California on the crest of a wave after winning the two most recent races at Mid-Ohio for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing. Jamin, 20, from Rouen, France, also won both USF2000 races at Mazda Raceway in 2015.
Other leading contenders will include the Juncos Racing trio of Will Owen, from Castle Rock, Colo., Jake Parsons, from Melbourne, Australia, and Nicolas Dapero, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, all of whom have claimed podium finishes this year, and Vacaville, Calif.,’s TJ Fischer, who joined the series mid-season and has shown improving form for Cape Motorsports.
Veteran Bobby Eberle (JDC MotorSports), from Houston, Texas, has already clinched the National Series crown but will face opposition from four young series debutants. Moises de la Vara, from Guadalajara, Mexico, will step up from US F4 with a new team, DE Force Racing, alongside fellow 19-year-old Kory Enders, from Warwick, N.Y., while World Speed Motorsports will make a welcome return with talented up-and-comers Dan Swanbeck, from San Jose, Calif., who won last year’s SCCA Formula F crown, and reigning SCCA Formula Mazda champion Joseph Burton-Harris.
The Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Monterey Presented by Allied Building Products will comprise a pair of 30-minute practice sessions on Friday, September 9, then qualifying and Round 14 of the 16-race season at 2:05 p.m. on Saturday. Two more races to decide the outcome of the championship will take place on Sunday at 8:00 a.m. and 2:35 p.m. All times are PDT.
Live timing and streaming shows of all sessions will be available on the Road To Indy TV App and at promazda.com and racecontrol.indycar.com.