Last month when the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires competitors took to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Oliver Askew topped the charts with a lap of one minute and 19.814 seconds.
“Very positive,” Askew told POPULAR OPEN WHEEL of the test. “I think we went through all the changes that we needed to. I think our experience last year is definitely translating to this new car. Obviously, it’s the same tub – just a bigger engine and some more mechanical grip with some more downforce.”
Askew will move up to the second tier of Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires after scoring seven wins and 11 podiums en route to the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda. The crown came after winning the Mazda Road to Indy Shootout, earning the $200k scholarship in 2016.
Although it’s a brand new car this year for Pro Mazda competitors, it brings some familiarity to Askew. The PM-18 shares the same carbon and aluminum honeycomb monocoque chassis as the USF-17, but includes more sophisticated aerodynamics, larger wheel size, and a 275 HP 2.0-liter Mazda MZR-PM18A motor developed by Elite Engines.
“Obviously, it’s a lot quicker,” he said. “It’s six seconds quicker so it’s a big change in the driving style. You have to be careful in your corner entry. It has wider tires so you’ll be going a lot quicker through the corners and down the straightaway.”
With solid speed shown right off the bat, Askew will be one of the drivers to consider early to be in championship discussion, having already shifted his own focus to 2018 immediately after winning the title.
“I’m super excited for next year,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like the season has ended. I feel like the season has just started. It has taken a lot of weight off my shoulders, for sure, and I see 2018 starting right now.”
The series schedule was released, including a new location for the season finale, which now takes place at Portland International Raceway. Out of the nine tracks the series will visit, Askew says he’s looking forward to getting to Indianapolis in May.
“I enjoy racing on that track,” he said. “It’s really special. I’m actually looking forward to all the tracks, really. Lucas Oil Raceway should be a really fun race to go to and should be a lot of fans there with the 500 weekend. I’m glad we’re going back there. I like that track, too, from testing there for Iowa this year.”
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