March 30, 2014 — Audio and story by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman for Speed77 Radio and Race Chaser Online — photo courtesy Pro Mazda — GRIMSBY, ONTARIO, Canada — Being the youngest member of the team doesn’t mean one can’t make a big splash.
That philosophy is exactly what young rising star Garett Grist is hoping to prove this season in the Pro Mazda Series presented by Cooper Tires.
Driving for Andretti Autosport (AA), the soon-to-be 19-year-old makes his debut in Pro Mazda this weekend in St. Petersburg, Florida, during the season opening St. Petersburg Pro Mazda doubleheader. The young Canadian, who last season competed in USF2000 for the veteran open wheel squad, says that while he wasn’t comfortable at first with moving up the ladder a year early, he knew that it was the smarter decision to remain with the Andretti team.
“To be honest, this wasn’t where I expected I was going to be this season (in Pro Mazda), but I’ll take it,” said Grist, who is currently finishing his final term of high school at Grimsby District Secondary School in Ontario. “When the Andrettis announced they were going to be closing their F2000 program going into this year, I knew I had two options: either stay in USF2000 and find a new team to work with, or move up with the team I’m at now.”
“I’m excited and glad to be with Michael Andretti and everyone at Andretti Autosport again this season. Our first year definitely had a lot of high points, but I didn’t accomplish everything personally that I wanted to; I’m hoping that with this group of guys helping me out again that we can make 2014 an even stronger year for this whole team.”
Grist began his junior karting career in his native Canada in 2009, winning the ASN Canada FIA Junior Rotax National Championship in his rookie season and qualifying to compete at the karting World Finals as a member of Team Canada in both 2009 and 2010. He also won the Western Canadian Challenge Junior Rotax championship in 2010 before moving up to test his hand at single-seater Formula racing in 2011.
The young gun raced in Formula Ford and F1600 in 2011 and 2012, racking up a combined seventeen top ten finishes between the two season runs, including three victories in Ontario Formula Ford in 2011 and a fourth place finish in the F1600 Formula F Series championship with Bryan Herta Autosport in 2012. Grist also received the prestigious Team Canada Racing scholarship before hooking up with the Andretti Autosport team for the 2013 season, when the young teenager’s career took off.
Last year, in a breakout season, Grist took the Cooper Tires USF2000 championship by storm, notching a win, a pole, four podium and ten top 10 finishes in his rookie campaign in both the series and with his Andretti team. The Ontario native parlayed that record into a third-place finish in the championship standings and Rookie of the Year honors, but says he feels like last season should have been even bigger for he and the team despite a thrilling runner-up result at Lucas Oil Raceway and the victory in the last round of the triple-header at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
“We had a good year last year, but we definitely had a few races get away from us,” Grist lamented as he recalled his 2013 campaign. “I feel like we easily could have and probably should have won all three races (at Mid-Ohio) that weekend, we just had a few things go wrong here and there.”
“The race at LOR though, was amazing for us. We dropped back a pretty long ways in the middle of the race, and then it started getting down to crunch time around the last 20 laps or so, and the car just came to life; we started picking our way through and got all the way to second. Ran out of time to get the leader, but it was a great day and really bolstered my confidence a lot.”
Grist also competed in this year’s Cooper Tire’s Winterfest, where he notched a win and four top four finishes in four starts to come home third in the winter series championship standings behind Spencer Pigot and Scott Hargrove.
Off-track, Grist is also very active in giving back to the community in his home province. Grist is an avid supporter of the SickKids Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, and pays frequent visits to the hospital to spend time with many of the young patients. Grist and the AA team also have the patients submit helmet designs that are then used on his helmets and auctioned off, with any proceeds going back to the hospital.
“It always means a lot when we can go do the work that we do with the SickKids Hospital; the kids love it and they love coming up with designs for the helmets,” Grist explained. “We’ve done it the last three years in a row, most recently at the Toronto Indy, and we had all the IndyCar guys sign it too. That was a really cool deal.”
“Sometimes it’s fun for me to see what they come up with; one year there must have been all little girls in the hospital at that time because I remember the helmet had caterpillars, and butterflies, and bunnies all over it, but it’s great, you know, to see the smiles on their faces and for them to be a part of it.”
Grist is also a member of the Sofina Foods Driver Development Program, the Derek Daly Academy and is a former Inside Track Magazine Kart Racer of the Year.
Looking forward to 2014, though, the young gun is adamant he’s ready to compete with the best of the division in 2014 and show that despite the fact he may not have the experience that some of his competitors do going into the season, that he can be a force to contend for the championship.
“I know it’s going to be a learning process, we have high goals, but we also have to be realistic about our goals this year,” Grist said. “I think overall we’ll be contesting for wins at the very least, but for me personally, I want to keep learning and getting better as a driver, and make little gains at the beginning until I can learn more about the car and get better after the first couple races.”
“I think by the end of the season we’ll be able to make a big splash. I’m excited to get this season started.
Grist rolls off for Race 2 of the doubleheader in St. Petersburg tomorrow afternoon preceding the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He finished Race 1 in 17th on Saturday evening, after problems derailed a promising early effort.