Team Pelfrey and Urrutia Clinch Pro Mazda Crown
 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.

Raoul Owens (#80 Team Pelfrey/Brightspark Ventures Pro Mazda) - Race One, started 12th, finished seventh; Race Two, started 13th, finished 16th: “Overall the weekend was very positive. I felt really comfortable in the car again and I regained the spark I had from the very beginning of the season. Practice went very well not just for me but the whole team as we took the top three positions in two of the sessions on new and old tires. Qualifying didn't quite work out like we hoped it to as the conditions changed from the previous day. I had to settle for a 12th and 13th place which was very disappointing. Race One proved to be good but very frustrating as I got stuck behind Dalton Kellett for the majority of the race. I had to settle for seventh and earning Replay XD Move of the Race. Race Two was going to be a strong result for sure until I went for an overtake around the outside of Jose Gutierrez. I had the move completed when I felt contact from behind and before I knew it I flipped over and landed hard in the gravel. It was a real shame but that's racing and it only motivates me to go out there again and win.”

Santiago “Santi” Urrutia (#81 Team Pelfrey/Ancap/BSE/Antel/Corporacion de Maquinaria/AgroLavalle/Fadisol Pro Mazda) - Race One, started second, finished second; Race Two, started first, finished second: “What a weekend!! It was just amazing to secure the championship in Race One. With all of the emotions thinking back to 16 years ago when my inspiration “Gonchi” lost his life at this very circuit, it made the day that extra special.  A huge thanks to Team Pelfrey, who have been simply awesome this year, my amazing sponsors and my family. We won the championship, and now my focus is to step up to Indy Lights where I hope to be competitive once again.”

Patricio “Pato” O’Ward (#82 Team Pelfrey/Octane Energy Drink/POW Motorsports Pro Mazda) - Race One, started eighth, finished 18th; Race Two, started 14th, finished sixth: “The last race weekend of the 2015 Pro Mazda season started off great by being quickest in practice, then Saturday morning it all went down a black hole. I had barely one clean lap in qualifying with cold tires due to a puncture in the first stint. Race One was a total mess. I didn’t even get to start the race due to chaos. Race Two I started 14th and ended sixth after only six race laps. At least I ended on a decent note, moving forward to finish the season. I was sorry to not be able to attend the banquet due to school, but it was amazing to be awarded with the Spirit award. I am ready for next season and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for me.”

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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