Aaron Telitz in St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – Aaron Telitz kick-started his rookie campaign in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires today by taking the pole position for Saturday’s first race of the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Telitz, driving the No. 9 Soul Red Mazda/Dallara IL-15 for Belardi Auto Racing, recovered from a brush with the wall early in the session to pull off a flying lap of 1 minute, 7.5844 seconds (95.880 mph).

The 25-year-old from Rice Lake, Wisconsin, who won last year’s Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires crown, battled former Pro Mazda teammate Pato O’Ward for the top spot. O’Ward (No 3. Team Pelfrey Topo Chico Dallara IL-15) turned the second-best lap but had it annulled by bringing out a red flag when he hit the Turn 3 wall with just two minutes remaining.

“I kept on hearing on the radio on that last stint that it was Pato and I fighting for pole position and I thought it was last year again,” said Telitz, who battled O’Ward to the final race for the 2016 Pro Mazda championship and Mazda scholarship to advance to Indy Lights.

“You can’t hold back,” Telitz added. “Just because you brush the wall doesn’t mean you need to quit trying. So I went back out there and tried as hard as I could.”

With O’Ward’s penalty, Kyle Kaiser (No. 18 Juncos Racing) was elevated to second on the grid and Juan Piedrahita (No. 2 Team Pelfrey) qualified in a career-best third place.

Race 1 begins at 5:10 p.m. ET Saturday. The second weekend race is set for 9:45 a.m. Sunday. Both will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.

Martin wins pole for Pro Mazda Race 1

Anthony Martin made a solid first impression in his debut qualifying session in the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires, taking the pole for Saturday’s first race of the season-opening doubleheader in St. Pete.

The 22-year-old Australian (No. 8 Cape Motorsports Mazda) swapped the lead with fellow USF2000 graduate and Pro Mazda returnee Victor Franzoni (No. 23 Juncos Racing Mazda) throughout the session before logging a hot lap of 1:13.6718 (87.957 mph) with just over 10 minutes remaining.

Franzoni responded and came within 0.012 of a second of Martin’s time, but was unable to knock the No. 8 Soul Red Mazda off the pole.

“The boys were telling me over the radio: ‘Two-tenths ahead, he’s two-tenths ahead,’ then I was a thousandth of a second ahead,” said Martin, the 2016 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda champion. “It was kind of scary there at the end. I knew I was in front but I knew Victor would be pushing extremely hard to get an extra hundredth of the second, which is just a few inches on the racetrack.”

Race 1 begins at 11:50 a.m. ET Saturday and will be streamed live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.

Megennis, Thompson win USF2000 poles with identical times.

Robert Megennis and Parker Thompson set identical lap times in separate qualifying sessions today to lock down the pole position for the two Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda races scheduled for Saturday.

Megennis, in his sophomore USF2000 season, dominated qualifying for the first race with a lap of 1:15.3708 in the No. 80 Team Pelfrey Tatuus USF-17. Rookie Calvin Ming (No. 22 Cape Motorsports Tatuus USF-17) was second at 1:15.4727.

Thompson delivered a pole for the second race in his debut with Exclusive Autosport. The 2016 USF2000 championship runner-up wheeled his No. 90 Tatuus USF-17 to a lap of 1:15.3708 that matched Megennis’ best from the first qualifying session. It earned Thompson his fourth career pole.

Saturday’s first USF2000 race starts at 8:40 a.m. ET, with Race 2 at 2 p.m. ET. Both will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.