Catching Up With Lucas Kohl
 November 8, 2018| 
  • Series News
Lucas Kohl

Brazilian Lucas Kohl took a large step forward on his Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires journey this season, with a third-place finish in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda that helped his Pabst Racing team to their first Team Championship.

Joining his four teammates in securing four of the top six positions in the final standings, Kohl, 20, had his best season to date, scoring four podium finishes – including two in the last four races. Kohl now has a decision to make: Where will he race in 2019? Committed to the Mazda Road to Indy and the chance to achieve his dream of driving in the Verizon IndyCar Series in the footsteps of his coach, Roberto Moreno, Kohl has tested both a Tatuus PM-18 and a Dallara IL-15, and plans to sit behind the wheel of one of these two machines come next year.

Looking back on the 2018 season, Kohl appreciates the lessons learned in his second season with Pabst Racing, his third season on the Mazda Road to Indy.

“It was great to finish third in the championship, especially in my second season with Pabst Racing,” said Kohl. “They’ve made me feel so at home and have helped me so much. We built a good base last year and I knew we’d head to the front this year.”

Kohl had hoped for a repeat of the Oconomowoc, Wis. team’s success at its home race at Road America last season, when teammate Rinus VeeKay took both series victories, but contact on Lap One in the first race necessitated a trip to pit lane for a new rear wing. In Sunday’s race, Kohl stormed from third into the lead on the first lap, only to see eventual champion Kyle Kirkwood and teammate Kaylen Frederick get past him on a late-race restart. Falling to sixth in the championship, Kohl was determined to change his luck at Mid-Ohio.

“I knew I had to finish in the top five in all the rest of the races to get into the top three in the championship. We had a good car and Mid-Ohio is a track I’ve done well at. I took two podiums, and some of the drivers around me in the standings had a tough time, and I left Mid-Ohio third in the championship. I can’t help but think that if things had gone differently in the middle of the year, we could have been closer in the championship. But it shows how competitive this series is.”

Kohl and his three teammates – Frederick, Rasmus Lindh and Calvin Ming – combined for 15 podium finishes in the season, with 10 of the 14 races seeing one of the four Pabst drivers on the podium. The Team Championship was a priority to all four drivers, who worked well together despite more than a few on-track skirmishes.

“The four of us got along great, and worked really well together. We had two engineers on the team, so Rasmus and I worked with Burke (Harrison) and Kaylen and Calvin worked with Tonis (Kasemets), though we all shared information. We were always so close in times during practice and qualifying, and that makes everyone faster. But I think the problems we sometimes had on track was that we were all fighting for the season-ending podium spots after Kyle clinched the title. The racing was so close.

“But the Team Championship was always on my mind, especially toward the end of the season. I really felt that we had to get that right. And we did well – we were in the top three almost every race!”

Pabst Racing has announced its intention to run in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires in 2019, and Kohl had the opportunity to test the team’s new Tatuus PM-18 in September. Only two days later, he drove in the Chris Griffis Memorial Test at Indianapolis, behind the wheel of the premier car on the Mazda Road to Indy, the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15. The timing gave him the unique triple – having driven all three cars on the ladder system within weeks of each other.

“It was great to run all three cars so close together! Pabst had just gotten the car but we didn’t have any problems at the test. I did over 100 laps, running programs and tests with the car. I really felt comfortable: it really shows how USF2000 prepares you for the next step. I was able to just take my seat out of the USF-17 and put it in the PM-18. When I sat in the car, I had to ask if they were sure it was a different car – it looked the same! But the car makes so much more noise, the tires are bigger and have so much more grip, and there’s so much more aero. It’s an amazing car to drive. It’s a big step, but it’s just enough, and a step in the right direction.”

Kohl tested with 2014 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champions Belardi Auto Racing, alongside Pro Mazda graduate David Malukas and 2018 Mazda scholarship driver Victor Franzoni. Having the experience of both the Belardi team and Franzoni made the transition seamless – despite the upgrade in size and horsepower.

“I hadn’t really looked at an Indy Lights car before, but when I went to the Belardi shop the week before the test and sat in the car, my first thought was how huge it is, compared to the Tatuus. I knew it would be even more challenging than the Pro Mazda car, but that car prepared me really well to take that last step. And the Belardi guys helped me so much. We took it one step at a time and it went well. Having David and Victor there helped also. Victor had good data and a video to look at, and he has so much experience in the car. It was a big jump to the Indy Lights car but I think we did well.”

As plans for 2019 begin to come into focus, Kohl hopes to be on the grid in one of the two cars next season, though he definitely has a preference.

“We would really like to do Indy Lights next year, if we can find the budget and sponsors. That’s what we’re working toward, but if it doesn’t work, we’ll definitely go to Pro Mazda. I want to stay on the Mazda Road to Indy.”

As the off-season continues, Kohl has already begun preparations for next season. While attending Miami Dade College, studying business administration, Kohl works on the added strength necessary to pilot the larger race cars.

“I’m spending the off-season training, now that I know what it takes to drive these cars. There is so much more grip and G-forces, so I’m working hard on the physical side, including cycling 30 to 35 miles a day. Everyone thinks the weather is perfect in Florida, but you have to fight the rain and wind as well, so it can be difficult. And I’m still karting on the weekends, at Homestead.  I’m also heading to Brazil once school is done this semester to do a 12-hour sports car race in a P3 prototype with my dad. We’ve finished third twice before, so hopefully we can improve on that!” 

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