A landmark season for Team Pelfrey
For the last six months, we’ve been following along on 16-year-old racing prodigy Robert Megennis’ racing circuit, as he tears through his inaugural season on the Mazda Road to Indy. His electrifying season came to a close the weekend of September 9 at Laguna Seca, and it did not disappoint.
In the afterglow of winning the coveted Rookie of the Year and Hard Charger awards, we caught up with Rob to hear about his landmark season, and what’s next for this ambitious young driver.
FIRST ORDER OF BUSINESS: TELL ME ABOUT THEM AWARDS!
“The Hard Charger was intense,” Rob recounts. “It’s awarded to the driver with the most passes throughout the season. I had 67 passes total, the next runner up had 32. It’s not necessarily an award you want to get. We had issues all year with qualifying — our highest qualifying rank was fifth, but we were usually somewhere between eighth and 15th. In Toronto, we broke down in qualifying so started at 18th.”
It was these middle-of-the-road qualifying rankings that enabled him to cultivate his passing skills — if he hadn’t been behind a bunch of cars to start with, he wouldn’t have had to pass them all. However, it seems like a pretty handy skill to have in your back pocket. “In Toronto, we started 18th, and halfway through the race I was up at fifth — it was out of control.”
“I’m only slightly aggressive on the track, or as my coach likes to say ‘proactive’,” he jokes. “[The Hard Charger] isn’t the award you want, but it’s definitely not the award you don’t want.”
And Rookie of the Year? That seems like an award you’d definitely want. “Yeah! And I didn’t expect it going into the season, with really great rookies coming in from England and New Zealand and all over the world,” he says. A rookie is defined as a driver in their first season — Rob was among 18 other rookies in their first season in the USF2000 division, and was the youngest driver at the tender age of 15 (now 16). Most competitors are between 18 and 23 years old, and Rob finished a whopping 48 points ahead of the runner up rookie.
Typically, the first year in the series is spent getting to know the tracks, and then the next year is focused more on competing and winning. And the Rookie of the Year typically is the favorite to win the next year.
The Mazda Road to Indy is a feeder series to educate and prepare young drivers to move up the Indy totem pole. Right now, Rob’s at the USF2000 level. Were he to get a Mazda scholarship (a cool $365,000 to pay for you to move up a level), he would move up to Pro Mazda. If you win Pro Mazda, you move up Indy Lights, and then get a $1 million check to race an IndyCar in the Indy500 — pretty much every race car driver’s dream.
DOES THE PRESSURE EVER GET TO YOU?
“It doesn’t feel stressful; it feels hectic. The pressure doesn’t really affect me that much. I’m just there joking around, then I get in the car and I’m serious. I don’t crack under pressure; I thrive on adrenaline.”
WHAT WAS THE HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR SEASON?
“Definitely making the podium at St. Pete’s. Finishing in third place in the first race of the season, as a rookie, standing on a podium in front of 100,000 people — it was ridiculous. And no one saw it coming, which made it even more fun.”
WHAT’S THE MOST EXCITING PART OF NEXT YEAR’S JUNKET?
“They’re bringing in a new car for USF2000 next year. The current car was designed in 1999 — the year before I was born. So I’m really excited to get in the new car, and go for the championship. It’s so much fun I just wanna get back out there!”
Congratulations to Rob and all of Team Pelfrey! We can’t wait to see what next year has in store.
Or watch his highlight reel for a peek into the driver’s seat.