Pro Mazda, USF2000 on Deck as Mazda Road to Indy Heads to Louisiana

Drivers from two of the three steps that comprise the Mazda Road to Indy, a scholarship laden development ladder which leads from the grassroots of the sport to the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, will be on stage this weekend at the inaugural Grand Prix of Louisiana. Both the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, which kicked off their 2015 campaigns two weeks ago on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., will continue with two more races this weekend, April 10-12, at the 2.74-mile NOLA Motorsports Park road course situated just across the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans.

Californian Alberico Looks to Build on Perfect Start in Florida

Neil Alberico did not contest the recent Cooper Tires Winterfest pre-season mini-series, which visited NOLA in February, but he did take part in the eye-opening Mardi Gras activities earlier in the year and was present for the Winterfest in an advisory capacity with his team. The personable Californian showed no ill effects from the lack of seat time as he dominated both of the opening two races in St. Petersburg for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing. Consequently, he holds a commanding points advantage as the 16-race series heads to the Mazda Grand Prix of Louisiana.

The runner-up placings in Florida were shared by Uruguayan debutant Santi Urrutia, who showed an impressive turn of pace for Team Pelfrey, and Jose Gutierrez, from Monterrey, Mexico, who is looking to build on a solid rookie campaign in 2014 which netted one race win for defending champion team Juncos Racing.

Team Pelfrey, which guided IndyCar rising star Jack Hawksworth to the Pro Mazda championship in 2012 and won two of the three Winterfest races at NOLA with Englishman Jack Aitken, who used the events as a training exercise for his primary campaign in Europe, will field a second car for Pato O'Ward. The 15-year-old Mexican, who is based now in San Antonio, Texas, also was fast in St. Petersburg, finishing fourth in Race One, and is anxious to rebound from a mistake in Race Two which ended his day early.

Other potential front-runners include Malaysian Weiron Tan (Andretti Autosport), who won one of the NOLA Winterfest races, as well as two more Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing entries for Canadian Daniel Burkett and last year's USF2000 champion Florian Latorre, from Libourne, France, who graduated to Pro Mazda on the back of his hard-won MAZDASPEED scholarship prize. Both Burkett and Latorre claimed podium finishes in the season-opener.

Another Canadian, Garett Grist, who won three races in 2014, will be looking to rebound from a disappointing debut with Juncos Racing in Florida. Grist will be joined at the defending champion team by Colorado's Will Owen, a race winner last year in USF2000, and Frenchman Timothe Buret.

The intensity of competition was demonstrated at St. Petersburg when the top 10 cars in qualifying were separated by just four tenths of a second.

The Pro Mazda contingent will begin their weekend with three promoter test sessions on Thursday, followed by a pair of official practice periods on Friday. Qualifying is set for 10:40 am local time on Saturday, followed by Race One for the Mazda Grand Prix of Louisiana at 5:50 pm. The green flag for Race Two on Sunday, April 12, will fly at 12:50 pm, immediately before the IndyCar feature event. Live timing and commentary for all sessions will be available on the new Mazda Road to Indy App and at

Eidson Leads the USF2000 Pack for Pabst Racing

After winning two of the three Cooper Tires USF2000 Winterfest pre-season races at NOLA in February, Jake Eidson (Pabst Racing) continued that form in St. Petersburg. The 19-year-old from Littleton, Colo., climbed to the top step on the podium in both races, although he was pushed hard each time by fellow American Aaron Telitz (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing).

The pair finished third and fourth, respectively, in the 2014 USF2000 title-chase, with Eidson winning twice and Telitz once. Telitz also took home Rookie of the Year honors.

Frenchman Nico Jamin, driving a second Cape Motorsports entry, joined the two Americans on the podium in Florida. He also beat them both to the Winterfest title, winning the final race after Eidson's quest was ended by a relatively minor mechanical issue.

The other driver to taste the spoils of victory at Winterfest was Victor Franzoni for Afterburner Autosport. The Brazilian finished fifth in the 2014 USF2000 points chase and is hungry for more success after a challenging weekend in Florida.

Three Australian rookies also will be worth watching. Two of them, F1600 race winners Anthony Martin and Jordan Lloyd, drive for the fledgling team run by former IndyCar team manager/crew chief John Cummiskey, while the third, Luke Gabin, who earned his MAZDASPEED scholarship opportunity by winning last year's Skip Barber Championship, will drive for Team Pelfrey. The Florida-based team, which this year expands its efforts into USF2000 while enjoying much success in Pro Mazda, also will field a multi-national entry for Norway's Ayla Agren, who won the 2014 F1600 Championship Series with the team, Los Angeles-based Russian Nikita Lastochkin and Pennsylvanian Garth Rickards.

A competitive field for the first rung on the Mazda Road to Indy also will include Canadian karting standout Parker Thompson (JDC MotorSports), who is coached by 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice, and the youngest driver in the field, second-year racer Keyvan Andres Soori (ArmsUp Motorsports), from Cologne, Germany, who only recently celebrated his 15th birthday.

The Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Louisiana will kick off with three promoter test sessions on Thursday and a pair of half-hour practices on Friday, April 10, followed by qualifying at 9:50 am on Saturday. The two 30-minute races will start at 3:30 pm on Saturday and 10:15 am on Sunday. Live timing and commentary for all sessions will be available at on the Mazda Road to Indy App and at

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