ST. PETERSBURG, Fla – It’s opening day for the Verizon IndyCar Series and Mazda Road to Indy Series’ as all four divisions hit the 1.8-mile St. Petersburg, Florida street circuit on Friday for the first time of the season. Today, was also the first time since Labor Day weekend in Watkins Glen, that all four of the series were at the same track, at the same time.
For the MRTI ladders though, Friday was all about speed.
Each of the three series took to the 14-turn Florida street circuit on a sunny yet unseasonably cool day for one practice session and one qualifying session each. Here’s how each went.
The first step on the MRTI ladder took to the track first on Friday. While everyone was drinking their coffee and enjoying their breakfast, 19 drivers hit the track for a nice wakeup call. Kaylen Frederick topped the speed charts in the early morning session with a quick time of 1:13.131-seconds in his No. 24 Mazda for Pabst Racing. Rookie Jose Sierra was next with a time of 1:13.338-seconds in his No. 12 Mazda for DEForce Racing. Another rookie Kyle Kirkwood was next in his No. 8 Mazda for Cape Motorsports with a lap of 1:13.398-seconds.
Three cars up front, three different teams.
Frederick’s teammate Lucas Kohl (1:13.453-seconds) and Team Pelfrey’s Julian Van der Watt (1:13.461-seconds) rounded out the top five. It was a session of parity.
In qualifying for the season opener tomorrow, Jose Sierra won his first career pole in his first career start with a lap of 1:12.5493-seconds. That’s nearly a full second quicker than what he went earlier this morning. Fellow rookie Kyle Kirkwood will stat second in hi No. 8 Mazda, turning a lap of 1:12.6131-seconds.
Kaylen Frederick (1:12.6131-seconds) Igo Fraga (1:12.8418-seconds) and Zach Holden (1:12.8625-seconds) will start third, fourth and fifth respectively.
Race #1 Starting Lineup
Row 1: Jose Sierra, Kyle Kirkwood
Row 2: Kaylen Frederick, Igor Fraga
Row 3: Zach Holden, Alex Baron
Row 4: Jamie Carolina, Darren Keane
Row 5: Kory Enders, Lucas Kohl
Row 6: Julian Van der Watt, Colin Kaminsky
Row 7: Bruna Tomaselli, Calvin Ming
Row 8: Rasmus Lindh, Manuel Cabrera
Row 9: Keith Donegan, Kyle Dupeli
Row 10: Michael d’Orlando, David Osborne
Row 11: Sabre Cook, Oscan DeLuzuriaga
Row 12: Jayson Clunie, Russell McDonough
Row 13: Mathias Soler-Obel
The series will qualify for Sunday’s race tomorrow morning at 7:30 am before running their first race of the season at 10:15 am ET.
Following USF200 practice this morning, the Pro Mazda drivers hit the track for the first time of the 2018 season themselves. 15 of the 16 drivers on the entry-list took to the street circuit, with a Juncos Racing 1-2 session. Carlos Cunha topped the speed charts with a lap of 1:08.974-seconds in his No. 1 Juncos Racing Mazda, while his teammate Rinus Veekay in the No. 2 Mazda was turned the second fastest lap with a time of 1:09.062-seconds.
David Malukas was third fastest in his No. 79 Mazda for BN Racing with a time of 1:09.209-seconds. Harrison Scott (1:09.422-seconds) and Nikita Lastochkin (1:09.491-seconds) rounded out the top five in the opening practice.
Some heavy hitters were outside the top five though as Oliver Askew (6th), Sting Ray Robb (7th), Robert Megennis (9th) and Parker Thompson (13) were all a bit down in the speed department to start the day off. But, they quickly rose in qualifying though.
Askew, earned the pole for Saturday’s race turning a lap of 1:08.1032-seconds. It was his first career Pro Mazda pole after winning the USF2000 championship last year. He will be joined on the front row by another rookie in Thompson. He overcame a mechanical failure in practice to put his No. 90 Mazda on the front row with a lap of 1:08.2885-seconds.
Scott (1:08.3010-seconds), Cunha (1:08.3835-seconds) and Megennis (1:08.5322-seconds) rounded out the top five of the starting lineup.
Race No. 1 Starting Lineup
Row 1: Oliver Askew R, Parker Thompson R
Row 2: Harrison Scott R, Carlos Cunha
Row 3: Robert Megennis R, Sting Ray Robb
Row 4: Nikita Lastochkin, Rinus VeeKay R
Row 5: Andres Gutierrez R, David Malukas R
Row 6: Lodovico Laurini R, Rafael Martins R
Row 7: James Raven R, Kris Wright R
Row 8: Antonio Serravalle R, Charles Finelli R
The series will qualify tomorrow at 8 am ET for Sunday’s race before taking to the track for their 2018 season opener at 12:10 p.m. ET on Saturday.
It was a back-to-back-to-back MRTI morning practice session. By 9:35 am this morning, the tires put enough rubber down on the race track for everyone else to enjoy max grip the rest of the weekend. Nine Indy Lights drivers rounded out Friday’s MRTI practice sessions with last year’s winner of one the two season opening races Aaron Telitz pacing the way in his No. 9 Mazda with Belardi Racing. Telitz, turned a lap of 1:05.9100-seconds.
Three of the next four speeds belonged to Andretti Autosport, with Pato O’Ward (1:05.9767-seconds), Colton Herta (1:06.2633-seconds) and Ryan Norman (1:06.6027-seconds) being second, third and fifth on the speed chart respectively. The fourth Andretti member in Dalton Kellett was last in ninth place with a lap of 1:12.5524-seconds.
The meat of the Andretti sandwich up front was rookie and defending Pro Mazda champion Victor Franzoni. The Juncos Racing driver traveled around the course with a time of 1;06.2711-seconds in his No. 23 Mazda.
Qualifying went really the same way as practice.
Telitz, will start on the pole for Saturday’s season opener as he turned a lap of 1:05.1279-seconds in qualifying on Friday afternoon. O’Ward will join him on the front row in his No. 27 Mazda. O’Ward turned a lap of 1:05.2857-seconds as both he and Telitz were 1-2 in the same order in this morning’s practice.
Third on the speed charts this morning was Herta and he also was third in his No. 98 Mazda in qualifying too. The second generation driver turned in a lap of 1:05.3525-seconds.
Santi Urrutia (1:05.4648-seconds) and Franzoni (1:05.6252-seconds) rounded out the top five in the nine car field.
Race No. 1 Starting Lineup
Row 1: Aaron Telitz, Pato O’Ward R
Row 2: Colton Herta, Santi Urrutia
Row 3: Victor Franzoni R, Ryan Newman
Row 4: Shelby Blackstock, Neil Alberico
Row 5: Dalton Kellett
Like the other two rings of the MRTI, the Lights drivers will also qualify on Saturday morning (8:30 am) before running their season opener later in the day at 1:05 p.m. ET.