A Steep Learning Curve on the Oval for Team Pelfrey Rookies
 May 26, 2015| 
  • Team News
Palmetto, Fla.  – The Mazda Road to Indy’s first visit to an oval track this season presented a tough challenge for Team Pelfrey’s Class of 2015. None of its seven drivers had previously competed on an oval, which demands an entirely different skill-set to the more usual road or street circuit fare, so the 70th Annual “Day (Night) Before the 500" event at Lucas Oil Raceway on Saturday, May 23, part of the #MRTI FreedomFest leading up to the 99th Indianapolis 500, represented an entirely new and, for most, difficult experience.

Team Pelfrey’s best result was a seventh-place finish by its youngest protagonist, 16-year-old Pato O’Ward, in the Cooper Tires Freedom 90, Round Nine of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, while Luke Gabin overcame an accident in practice to secure eighth in the Cooper Tires Freedom 75, Round Nine of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Newcomer Raoul Owens was the Pro Mazda pacesetter for Team Pelfrey. The Englishman was regularly among the top half-dozen in a closely matched field during the test day on Thursday, and was disappointed to qualify only eighth on Saturday morning. Owens maintained that position in the race, part of a large group battling over fourth place, until Lap 27 when he was caught up in an incident which unfolded directly in front of him in Turn Three. Owens was unable to avoid contact, ending his day.

Championship-leading teammate Santi Urrutia also ran inside the top 10 before glancing the wall a lap or two earlier. Urrutia brought his car into the pits but a damaged upright also proved terminal. The resulting 15th-place finish allowed rival Neil Alberico to close within eight points, 201-193, with seven rounds remaining in the 16-race season.
O’Ward also found the wall during practice on Saturday morning. After qualifying a conservative 12th, the youngster steadily rebuilt his confidence during the 90-lap race around the high-banked 0.686-mile oval to bring home a respectable seventh-place finish.

Team Pelfrey’s four-car USF2000 squad also faced a steep learning curve during Saturday’s Mazda Freedom 75. Garth Rickards was the top qualifier in eighth, followed by Ayla Agren in 10th, Gabin in 11th, despite a relatively minor incident in morning practice, and Nikita Lastochkin in 13th after feeling unwell and wisely opting to sit out much of the test day.

Rickards continued to be the standard bearer during Saturday morning’s 75-lap race. The Mechanicsburg, Pa., native made up one position at the start and ran well until his car’s handling began to deteriorate around half-distance. Gabin, meanwhile, drove a strong race, passing James Dayson, Max Hanratty and Rickards to finish eighth, one place ahead of Rickards. Agren and Lastochkin were content to pick up experience and cross the finish line in 11th and 12th.

The season will return to more familiar territory next month with double-header events for both Pro Mazda and USF2000 on the streets of Toronto, Ont., Canada, on June 12-14.

Ayla Agren (#81 Team Pelfrey/Energima/BVR/Alt I Asfalt/Salming Hockey/KNA/CoForce/Women’s Sports Foundation Van Diemen-Mazda) – started 10th, finished 11th: “This is the season for a lot of firsts, and this weekend was no exception with it being my first time on an oval. I am pretty happy with the pace during the race; I just found it very hard to pass. So that is definitely something we have to work on when we find ourselves on an oval again. Next up is Toronto, and I’m really excited to get back to work on a street course.”

Luke Gabin (#82 Team Pelfrey/MAZDASPEED/Skip Barber/Mandurah Panel and Paint/Colbyson Van Diemen-Mazda) - started 11th, finished eighth: “I had a really fun weekend at Lucas Oil; my first oval was a blast! Unfortunately, I didn't qualify well due to a crash in practice which led to me being quite far down for the race. Overall I'm quite happy but I'm ready to get back to the road and street courses starting in Toronto.”

Garth Rickards (#83 Team Pelfrey/Rahal Automotive Group/Snap 21 Van Diemen-Mazda) – started eighth, finished ninth: “Lucas Oil Raceway was a great experience. I really enjoyed the oval but overall as a team, I think we were a little bit off this week. I'm looking forward to getting back on a street course so we can continue to learn and develop.”

Nikita Lastochkin (#84 Team Pelfrey/Russkaya Mekhanika) – started 13th, finished 12th: “It was a tough weekend for me as I was not feeling well on the test day and on the race day we could not quite pull it all together for a good result. However, we learned a lot and I am looking forward to Toronto.”

Dale Pelfrey’s race team, based in Palmetto, Fla., is built upon the same principles he used more than 35 years ago when establishing his business career – hire the best, acquire the best and expect the best in order to achieve the most. After fielding cars in the IndyCar Series from 1998 until 2000, Team Pelfrey was reformed in 2011, winning on its Pro Mazda debut and going on to earn the Team Championship as well as second and third in the drivers’ title-chase with Connor De Phillippi and Nick Andries. Team Pelfrey went one better in 2012, guiding Jack Hawksworth to the Drivers’ Championship and earning a second successive Team Championship. An expansion into the F1600 Championship Series for 2014 saw Ayla Agren, Garth Rickards and Augie Lerch secure the top three positions in the points table. The 2015 season also marks Team Pelfrey’s debut in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

For more information, please contact Nigel Tuckey at 727-504-1414 or nvtuckey@team-pelfrey.com.
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