-I wasn't able to actually make it out to the track until Thursday, but was instantly glad to be back out there. Besides being at the Best Place Ever, it was immensely welcome to hear the sound of racing engines once more. I know it's only been a few weeks, but man, it seems like the offseason has already stretched for an eternity.
-Perhaps the best bit of news coming out of the last two days was the announcement that Peter Dempsey will be with Belardi Auto Racing for a full season in 2013. That's wonderful news for Belardi, who retains a driver who can compete for wins, and Dempsey, who gets the consistency that's been missing for the past two years of his Lights career. Congratulations to all parties for getting it done.
-Thursday, Michael Johnson led the morning session for USF2000, with a fast time of 1:27.637. That's just a micro-fraction off Matthew Di Leo's fast lap of the test of 1:27.623 in the final session. Johnson isn't just the first paralyzed driver in the Mazda Road to Indy, he's showing some speed out there as well. This is a really awesome story, and one that's going to be so exciting to follow next year. If you're part of the Twitterati, make sure to follow along.
-As mentioned, Di Leo was the fastest USF2000 driver in the test. His family-owned team is proving pretty adept at hanging with the more well-known names in the ladder, such as Cape and Andretti. He'll be one to watch next season--he definitely looked sharp and in control from what I saw at the test.
-Other impressive USF2000 drivers have to include Sennan Fielding (the only other driver to be in the 1:27.6 range), RC Enerson, Brandon Newey, and Jake Eidson. We'll have to keep tabs on where they all land, but the bottom line is that USF2000 is looking to have no letdown in talent level for 2013--quite the opposite, I would think.
-As you may have seen, four Star Mazda drivers--Spencer Pigot, Renan Guerra, Kyle Kaiser, and Matthew Brabham--all broke the IMS Star Mazda record set by Jack Hawksworth last year. They may have had a good weekend, but there was also plenty of praise floating around for Shelby Blackstock, who was P2 in both Wednesday sessions (his only day of participation).
|Testing, 1, 2, 3...|
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
-The Firestone Indy Lights representation was sparse (probably not a surprise), but if either Sage Karam or Zach Veach do move up to that series, it will be interesting to gauge how far along they are in their development. Right now, the 2013 Lights field seems wide-open.
-While we're on Lights, Star Mazda champ Jack Hawksworth didn't get to test a car this week, but we know he'll be somewhere for the St. Pete opener. The popular opinion has put him in a car at Sam Schmidt, so we'll have to see if that still holds. For Hawksworth's part, it sounds like he's waiting to put it all together, as well.
-On a related note, if you haven't seen Marshall Pruett's article on Tristan Vautier, I think it points out a very important moment for the Mazda Road to Indy ladder. Vautier came into Star Mazda, won a championship, moved to Lights, won a championship there, and now needs to move up to the IZOD IndyCar Series to complete that link. We know full well the lower rungs of this ladder is viable in terms of upward mobility; now we need reinforcement that someone can start from the lower rungs and finish all the way at the top with the current scholarship structure. If Vautier doesn't get in a ride for 2013, it'll be discouraging.
-Of course, I'm also of the opinion that they should take away two TEAM money slots, give one to the Lights champ, and split the other among USF2000 and Star Mazda. The ladder needs to be not only viable for the champ, but needs to offer developing and potential stars that perhaps finish close to the top a chance for another year. $1.1 million dollars can go a long way in those series, friends. Keep those drivers in the fight, and see what happens.
OK, that's enough on the soapbox for that one.
-In any case, I'm excited to see where everyone lands for 2013, but I also hope we hear about favorites that weren't at the test soon. I'm still hoping for the best for young drivers such as Stefan Wilson, Stefan Rzadinski, and Connor De Phillippi. I like that as many drivers as there were participated in this week's test, but there's plenty more talent out there, working and hoping for that big break. While we relax in the offseason, they're still out there, going full-bore to get things done. It makes you appreciate the fight to be a part of this, and what success in the Mazda Road to Indy can mean.