After placing fifth in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Mazda standings with eight top-fives last season, Nikita Lastochkin will return to the series in 2018 – but with a different team. After driving for Team Pelfry last year, Lastochkin return to Cape Motorsports, whom he drove for in 2016, competing for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
Recently, Popular Open Wheel’s Ashley McCubbin spoke to Lastochkin about his new team, and last season.
POPULAR OPEN WHEEL: What does it mean for you to have this opportunity?
NIKITA LASTOCHKIN: Everything is looking good so far. I tested the new car, and it’s a great car; it’s really quick, and it’s a huge step forward from last year’s car. I’m just doing what I can to be ready for St. Pete, and hopefully it’s going to be a great year.
POW: What was the biggest difference you noticed between last year’s car and the PM-18?
NL: Everything is so much difference. The way to drive the car is completely different. It’s a lighter car, but it has much more grip, and the aero is much more efficient, and obviously it’s much quicker on the straights, as well. Overall, all the areas of the are so much better. The braking is much better – it’s just a huge leap forward in all directions.
POW: With having the previous experience with Cape, how will that benefit you?
NL: I think it’s going to be great. We obviously know each other already, and I think with the one test that I did in the new car with him, it went really well. I think they know where I’m coming from, they know my background, they know what they need to do to get the most out of me as a driver having worked together for a year, but also I know how they work, and what they’re looking for in terms of feedback. I think it’ll be a better bond, and I’m really looking forward to next year.
POW: What are your goals and expectations?
NL: As always, my goal is to learn as much as I can and become as good as a driver I can. Running up front, and challenging for podiums and race wins is the goal, and also figure out areas that I need to improve on, and do that.
POW: Which event on the schedule are you most excited for?
NL: That’s a good question. I’m really excited to go to Portland, because I’ve never been there. So it’s always nice to have a new track on the schedule, and to experience that. Other than that, Road America is one of my favorite tracks so I’m looking forward to that, and I’m really excited to have this car on an oval, because it’s a really quick car and it has a lot of grip. That’s going to be a good race to watch – any of the oval races in this car.
POW: Reflecting back on 2017, what are your thoughts?
NL: I think it was a transition year for the series. It wasn’t strong across the board with the cars, to be honest. There was a lot of difference in the times by the teams, which is something you don’t see in USF, or will you see in this year with the new car. I think the cars were getting really old, and it was their last year. But, it was still nice to run that car and to learn just another car. Every car you drive, you’re going to take something away from it. But I think it was more a relaxed season for myself. It wasn’t as competitive as other years, I think, but it was a good year.
POW: What was the biggest thing you learned last year?
NL: I definitely got a lot more comfortable on the ovals, so I think that definitely is going to be a plus, and I think just knowing when to take it easy and don’t over think things, but still be able to get the most out of myself as a driver. I had two really good teammates, and just what it takes to learn from your teammates; I think that’s also important, too.
POW: How did you get started in racing originally?
NL: It started not too long ago. It was five years ago when I started. I never did any go-karts; I didn’t even know what racing was until I went to Skip Barber Racing School. I did their three-day school, and decided to give it a go. I did their championship, and did pretty well in that, so I decided to keep going.
POW: Where do you see yourself in five years?
NL: To be a household name in IndyCar would be great, and obviously that’s my goal – to have a career as an IndyCar driver one day. But you can always plan, but five years in racing is a long time, so it’s hard to say where you’re going to be in a year, let alone five years. But definitely IndyCar would be the goal for me.
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