Lastochkin Stars for Team Pelfrey in USF2000 Season Finale
 September 20, 2015| 
  • Team News
PALMETTO, Fla. – The Mazda Road to Indy concluded in style last weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., highlighted by Team Pelfrey’s Uruguayan hot-shoe Santiago “Santi” Urrutia clinching a hard-fought Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires title by virtue of a pair of second-place finishes. Urrutia earned a Mazda Scholarship worth almost $600,000 to assist in his graduation to the top level of the Mazda Road to Indy, Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, in 2016. Urrutia became the second Team Pelfrey driver to claim the championship, following in the footsteps of Englishman Jack Hawksworth who is now an established contender in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Team Pelfrey’s other charges also tasted success in the California sunshine. Raoul Owens returned to prominence by posting times within the top three during several Pro Mazda sessions, while Pato O’Ward earned both the Quarter Master Hard Charger Award and the RePlay XD Move of the Race Award in the final round of the 16-race season during a charge from 14th on the grid to sixth at the checkered flag.

In the closing two rounds of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, Team Pelfrey’s Los Angeles-based Russian Nikita Lastochkin produced his best performances of the season as he qualified sixth, then ran as high as fourth in Race One. He looked set or a top-five finish until a lack of fuel pressure caused him to slip two positions on the final lap. Lastochkin again played a starring role in Race Two with a fifth-place finish.

Urrutia entered the final two races of the Pro Mazda season with a commanding 29-point advantage over his nearest pursuer, so was fully aware of the task that lay ahead. A strong effort in qualifying saw him earn second on the grid for Race One and the pole for Race Two. Urrutia then drove sensibly in Race One on Saturday to secure a second-place finish which was enough to put the championship out of the reach of his rivals. Another runner-up finish in Race Two the following day represented his 10th podium appearance from 16 races – a remarkable achievement by the 19-year-old rookie.

Urrutia’s performance was all the more emotional for the fact his countryman and boyhood hero Gonzalo “Gonchi” Rodriguez had lost his life in an accident at the same venue 16 years earlier while driving an Indy car for Team Penske. Urrutia was supported by a boisterous group of fellow Uruguayans who cheered his every move and provided a terrific atmosphere throughout the weekend and the post-season Championship Celebration Awards Banquet at the nearby Monterey Plaza Hotel on Monday evening.

Teammates O’Ward, from Monterrey, Mexico, and Owens, from England, showed their paces during practice, monopolizing the top three positions on the timing charts on two occasions, but were out of luck in qualifying. Owens earned the RePlay XD Move of the Race Award in Race One as he charged from 12th to seventh, while O’Ward made the most of his own opportunities in Race Two.

O’Ward finished the season sixth in the final standings, and took home the prestigious Spirit Award, recognizing the 16-year-old’s remarkable poise and commitment during his rookie campaign.

Team Pelfrey’s usual quartet of drivers in the USF2000 series also proved their worth during their own double-header season finale. Australian Luke Gabin headed Lastochkin, Garth Rickards, from Mechanicsburg, Pa., and Norway’s Ayla Agren filled the fifth through eighth positions on th grid for Race One, and while Gabin was involved in a couple of incidents, Lastochkin upheld team honor with two impressive drives. Rickards and Aylen both recorded top-10 finishes.

Gabin finished sixth in the final driver standings, just one point ahead of Lastochkin who was tied with Chinese driver Yufeng Luo. Rickards and Agren also were tied on points in ninth and 10th positions.

“What an achievement for Santi to secure the Pro Mazda Championship,” said Team Pelfrey Team Manager Nigel Tuckey. “I am very happy for him and the whole Pro Mazda team who have worked so incredibly hard all year. The exciting thing is, I think we are only going to get better which fills me with great excitement for next season. We had some seriously good pace on the USF2000 front as well, and it was disappointing to not get a podium which I think we could have achieved. Unfortunately, both Nikita and Luke had some strong results taken away from them through no fault of their own, but they should be proud of how they drove. I want to thank all of our drivers on the Mazda Road to Indy this season, as they have been a pleasure to work with while being great ambassadors for both Team Pelfrey and the Mazda Road to Indy.”

While the race season has now concluded, Team Pelfrey will remain hard at work, with a series of upcoming test sessions planned in preparation for 2016.

Ayla Agren (#81 Team Pelfrey/Energima/BVR/Alt I Asfalt/Salming Hockey/KNA/CoForce/Women’s Sports Foundation Van Diemen-Mazda) – Race One, started seventh, finished 11th; Race Two, started seventh, finished seventh: “Throughout the whole weekend, from practice to the final race, we kept on improving. I ended with a P7 finish in Race Two. The results have not been what we wanted this season but we have kept working as a team and have gotten some valuable experience. So a big thanks a lot to all the guys in Team Pelfrey for all their effort. Now it's back to the off-season, where we will build a base for next season.”

Luke Gabin (#82 Team Pelfrey/MAZDASPEED/Skip Barber/Mandurah Panel and Paint/Colbyson Van Diemen-Mazda) - Race One, started fifth, finished 15th; Race Two, started fifth, finished 15th: “This weekend was a really good showing of what kind of pace we should have had all season. The practice sessions were topped of by finishing P2 in both, and in the races we were plagued by electrical issues. Although having no results, our pace was within the top-three all weekend. I have to say a big thanks to Team Pelfrey, Mazda Motorsports and CoForce for making this a great year.”

Garth Rickards (#83 Team Pelfrey/Rahal Automotive Group/Snap 21 Van Diemen-Mazda) – Race One, started eighth, finished ninth; Race Two, started eighth, finished 10th: “I was very exited and focused on ending the year on a high note coming into the weekend. We made good progress every session up until qualifying where we hit an invisible wall so to say. In the first race we just straight up had a bad setup which wasn't what we were looking for and were battling a braking issue. We put our heads down to get it right for the last race but it was just as bad as the first race. The Team Pelfrey guys worked hard all season but we just couldn't catch any luck this year. My mother always told me that you will learn more from losing than you ever will from winning all the time, and that was the case this year. On the other hand I learned a lot about myself and feel I became a better driver this year through all the ups and downs. My sights are set on securing a budget and seat for next season so I can battle for a championship.”

Nikita Lastochkin (#84 Team Pelfrey/Russkaya Mekhanika Van Diemen-Mazda) – Race One, started sixth, finished seventh; Race Two, started sixth, finished fifth: “It was another roller-coaster weekend for me, which was overall the case for most of the year. With the engine deciding to blow up in testing, we were lucky to have a spare on hand. With a decent qualifying, I had a good first race running as high as fourth only to find myself out of fuel on the last lap. I was lucky enough to have big gap, so coasting through half of the lap I only had two cars drive past me. Second race was uneventful and resulted in a solid fifth place which is a nice note to finish the season that was otherwise quite a challenge from the early testing on, mostly with the amount of mechanical problems on my car.”

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.
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