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.

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.

Raoul Owens (#80 Team Pelfrey/Brightspark Ventures Ltd. Pro Mazda) - started eighth, finished 14th (DNF): “This weekend was certainly a new challenge for me being my first official oval race. Before coming into this race I had only done two days of testing on an oval track which isn't much. I got off to a good start in the race, then began to settle into a rhythm and chase the group ahead of me, but around lap 30 I was involved in an incident I couldn't avoid. It was a disappointing way to end the weekend as it was looking to be a good race. I learned a lot this weekend and I'm really looking forward to Toronto.”

Santiago “Santi” Urrutia (#81 Team Pelfrey/Ancap/BSE/Antel/Corporacion de Maquinaria/AgroLavalle/Fadisol Pro Mazda) - started 10th, finished 13th (DNF): “This was my first experience on an oval and it was a tough weekend for us. We struggled with the car a little but all the team worked hard and professionally as usual. We qualified better, but unfortunately in the race I was having a few issues and ended up brushing the wall which was enough to knock the rear out. We are still leading the championship but we need to keep working hard to make sure we continue to improve.”

Patricio “Pato” O’Ward (#82 Team Pelfrey/Octane Energy Drink/POW Motorsports Pro Mazda) - started 12th, finished seventh: “My first oval experience was an extremely tough weekend for me. We started off not too bad but then had a few problems with the car. Getting closer to the race it got better. In qualifying I made some mistakes and had a few handling issues. As for the race, I took my time, saved my tires which paid off at the end of the race and allowed me to start passing others. I’m very much looking forward to Toronto, and I'm positive that the next few races will see the team and I perform stronger.”

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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