Rickards Claims First USF2000 Top-Five for Team Pelfrey
 February 22, 2015| 
  • Team News

Avondale, La. – Team Pelfrey made a strong start to the Mazda Road to Indy season as the Cooper Tires Winterfest kicked off the past two days at NOLA Motorsports Park. Englishman Jack Aitken won two of the three Pro Mazda races on the 2.75-mile road course situated just a few miles from downtown New Orleans, while Garth Rickards led the team’s new four-car foray into USF2000 by securing a promising top-five finish.

Following an impressive Pro Mazda debut in the final two rounds of the 2014 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires at Sonoma Raceway, Calif., last August, Aitken returned to the team in style this week, marking himself as the man to beat in the six-race preseason mini-series which will conclude with three more races next Wednesday and Thursday at Barber Motorsports Park, near Birmingham, Ala.

Aitken produced a stunning last-lap effort to post the fastest lap in qualifying on Thursday morning and earn the pole position for Race One later in the afternoon. The 19-year-old Briton led throughout the 19-lap contest but was pushed every inch of the way by Malaysian Weiron Tan. Friday saw their rivalry continue as Tan won Race Two, after jumping clear at the rolling start and relegating Aitken to fourth, whereupon Aitken redressed the balance in Race Three, taking the lead at Turn One and holding off a determined challenge from the ex-Formula 3 racer.

Aitken and Tan are now tied for the points lead at the halfway stage in the Winterfest on 83 points apiece.

Team Pelfrey’s ambitious and exciting four-car USF2000 entry also bore fruit as Garth Rickards, Luke Gabin, Nikita Lastochkin and Ayla Agren all secured top-10 finishes from the three races.

Russian Lastochkin led the way in qualifying, with a fine fifth-place effort, leading to a solid eighth-place finish in Race One on Thursday. The following day saw Australian Gabin improve to a sixth-place finish in Race Two, whereupon Rickards (RIGHT) drove a fine race by progressing from 12th on the grid to a fifth-place finish, which became fourth when the on-the-road winner was disqualified for a technical infraction. Gabin also drove well again to claim sixth, with Ayla Agren just two positions farther back in eighth.

“I couldn’t be happier with our team’s performance this week,” said Team Pelfrey Team Principal Nigel Tuckey. “Jack Aitken did a magnificent job for us in Pro Mazda, while Ayla, Garth, Luke and Nikita all proved they have what it takes to be competitive in USF2000.”

Ayla Agren (#81 Team Pelfrey/Energima/USF2000) - Race 1, started 12h, finished 13th; Race 2, started 14th, finished 14th; Race 3, Started 15th, finished ninth: “I learned a lot, which is why we’re here. We’re learning something every session and I’m exploring new limits which is what we’re all about right now. We made a good improvement and I’m really excited about Barber – finally get to drive that track and learn some more.”

Luke Gabin (#82 Team Pelfrey/MAZDASPEED Driver Development/USF2000) - Race 1, started sixth, finished 10th; Race 2, started sixth, finished sixth; Race 3, started sixth, finished sixth: “A pretty nice weekend for the first rounds of the Winterfest. I struggled for a bit of pace all weekend but ran in the top 10, so I’m pretty happy. I came away with a couple of sixths and a 10th -- still a bit of work to do but I’m happy with our progress.”

Garth Rickards (#83 Team Pelfrey/Bobby Rahal Automotive Group/USF2000) - Race 1, started 10th, finished 18th; Race 2, started 13th, finished ninth; Race 3, started 12th, finished fourth: “We came here and I was off the pace in practice so we found some time in my driving, as it should be, and from there I just kept working forward. I tried to keep a consistent pace and picking off the tenths and ended up with a top-five, so it was good. The last race we started pretty deep in the pack and then worked our way up and got lucky with a couple of spins, so that helped out. We definitely found a lot more pace, so I’m really looking forward to Barber.”

Nikita Lastochkin (#84 Team Pelfrey/R&M/USF2000) - Race 1, started fifth, finished eighth; Race 2, started ninth, finished 11th; Race 3, started ninth, finished 14th: “I started off with great pace. I was constantly in the top 10, had a lot of positive things to work on after the first qualifying session, and really enjoyed my race. I kind of tapered off a bit later in the weekend but I feel really confident going to Barber and learning another track before the main season. I’m learning so much and really can hardly wait for the new season to start.”

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 marks Team Pelfrey’s debut in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

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