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Hunter McElrea readies for 2023 Indy Lights title run

With last week’s announcement that he would return to Andretti Autosport for his sophomore season, McElrea looks to finish strong in the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca doubleheader finale

When Hunter McElrea announced that he would return to Andretti Autosport for the 2023 Indy Lights season, it was perhaps the earliest the 22-year-old California-born, Australia-raised New Zealander has known exactly what he would be racing the following year. And for McElrea, it was a no-brainer.

“I’ve loved driving for Andretti so this makes sense,” said McElrea. “Linus (Lundqvist) has had the championship sealed for a while and, like most of the field, my opportunity to move into INDYCAR would really only be if I won the championship. And this year, there just aren’t any seats. So put that together and it makes sense. It’s so nice to have the deal done early – it’s a huge weight off my mind. I’m still finalizing all the sponsor deals I secured my naming rights sponsorship with Smart Motors, so huge thanks to them. I appreciate that they’ve stepped up with me again next year, I couldn’t do it without them. I’m really excited.”

McElrea can now take the time to plan for next season and evaluate what worked and what didn’t in 2022. Given the fact that he is gunning for second place in the championship behind runaway champion Linus Lundqvist, clearly much more worked than did not.

McElrea came to the US in 2018 to attend the Chris Griffis Memorial Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Pabst Racing, in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship car. He set the quickest time of the weekend, leading three of the six sessions. He then won the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires scholarship shootout over 18 other international junior formula champions, earning a full USF2000 season. Finishing an agonizingly close second in the 2019 USF2000 championship, he finished fifth and third in two successive Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires seasons. Moving up to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires this year, McElrea adapted quickly – he has scored two race victories (Mid-Ohio and Iowa), three pole positions, and nine top 10 finishes, and completed 91% of the 476 laps contested so far this season.

But what has impressed observers as much as his race craft is his poise outside of the race car.

“I feel that the job outside the car has really stepped up this year,” McElrea continued. “I’ve had an engineer in previous years, but it’s been shared with the other team drivers. Now, I have my own engineer (Matt Sanderson), my own tire guy, and three mechanics. There are more resources, and that just comes from stepping up a rung on the Road to Indy ladder. The team is so much more structured. Even the debriefs are INDYCAR-level debriefs, so we’re learning that as well.

“The driving part I got used to really quickly: I was on pace pretty much straight away. It was a lot faster than, say, the Indy Pro 2000 car, but you adapt pretty quickly to that. But driving fast is only part of it. I think I’ve proven a lot this year from where I was early in the season until now. It’s been a good year, especially in the second half – since Detroit, I’ve had the most wins, the most poles, the most points. That shows my trajectory through the season.

“We’re strong now, but with another year to grow and refine everything, we’ll be even stronger. I want to make sure I’m ready for INDYCAR and we’re hoping there will be more seats available next year.”

McElrea moved from Wisconsin to Indianapolis last year and feels that he has benefited from the opportunity to connect often with his engineers and mechanics, and with team management.

“It’s nice that I’m living in Indy now. I get along well with everyone on the team, they’re a great group of people. To be able to go into the shop, debrief with my engineer, work on helmet issues or whatever – it’s a good place for an aspiring INDYCAR driver to live!”

The Andretti team will take a few weeks to process the data from 2022 and take a break from a whirlwind second half of the season, then get back into a regular testing schedule through the Fall and Winter. The Indy Lights series is on the upswing, with more teams and cars expected on the grid in 2023, and McElrea plans to be ready.

“We’ll get back to testing in mid-October. It will be interesting, once we switch to the Firestone tires. Everyone will get thrown into that at the same time, but it will add to the learning curve for the rookies. It’s going to be a good field next year, with the drivers coming from Indy Pro 2000 and with the Cape brothers moving up. More cars will make for even better racing.

“I’m also looking forward to taking a bit of time off after the season. It’s been a blur since Detroit!”

Indy Lights will have two races at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca – 12:25 p.m. Saturday at 10:00 a.m. Sunday (all times Eastern) ahead of the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

Cape Motorsports Signs Jagger Jones for 2023 Indy Lights Program

Editor’s note: This Indy Lights release is also available via our companion site, #3: Cape Motorsports, , \rJagger Jones\r The USF2000 rookie of the year makes the jump to the top rung of the Road to Indy ladder BROWNSBURG, Ind. (September 7 2022) – Cape Motorsports has signed the first of two drivers for its…

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Indy Lights moves to Firestone tires for 2023 Season

By Steve Wittich

After a nine-year hiatus, Firestone and INDYCAR have announced that the Akron, Ohio manufacturer will return to become the sole tire for the Indy Lights series in 2023. The announcement came at the grand opening of Firestone’s Advanced Tire Production Cente as part of an expanded partnership with INDYCAR.

“We look forward to expanding our partnership with INDYCAR to supply tires for Indy Lights starting in 2023,” said Lisa Boggs, Director of Motorsports, Bridgestone Americas. “We know the importance this series has for technology advancement and driver development and are proud to be a part of the journey.”

Bridgestone brands Firestone and Dayton supplied tires for the top rung of the Road To Indy for 23 seasons between 1991 and 2013. Goodyear was the tire supplier for the first five seasons, while Cooper joined the series in 2014 and is in their ninth season with Indy Lights.

One of the many previous Firestone Indy Lights logos

“We want to thank Cooper Tires, who has been a partner with Indy Lights since 2014,” said Indy Lights Director Levi Jones. “Their assistance while INDYCAR assumed operational control was crucial to our success. With Firestone, we cannot wait to begin this new era, which will align the entire INDYCAR paddock and help our rising stars reach their goal of competing in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.”

The Indy Lights teams and drivers have had closer integration with INDYCAR in 2022, including paddocking with NTT INDYCAR SERIES and receiving marketing support from Penske Entertainment. Partnering with Firestone adds to that integration.

“Firestone continues to be a phenomenal partner,” said INDYCAR President Jay Frye. “We are proud to see that our relationship is expanding into supplying tires for both of our series. Their attention to detail, safety and performance is unmatched. Supplying their world-class product to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and Indy Lights reflects Firestone’s commitment to INDYCAR’s present and future.”

The premier American junior open-wheel series began life in 1986 as the American Racing Series and has produced 34 Indy car race winners.

Those 34 American Racing Series/Indy Lights graduates have won 267 Indy car races since Paul Tracy became the first graduate to win a race in 1993. Six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Scott Dixon is the most successful of the Indy Lights alumni. The 2000 series champion has won an astounding 51 Indy car races and trails only A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti on the all-time list.

Recent Indy Lights graduates that have won an NTT INDYCAR SERIES race include Colton Herta, Felix Rosenqvist, Rinus van Kalmthout (VeeKay), and Pato O’Ward.

HMD Motorsports veteran Linus Lundqvist currently leads the points as Indy Lights heads to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. You can the eighth race of the season at 10:35 am (Eastern) on Peacock Premium or the INDYCAR Radio Network at or the INDYCAR App powered by NTT DATA.

Previewing the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires season

Here is Steve’s preview of the upcoming Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires season. Action gets underway at Road America tomorrow.

By Steve Wittich

The 2020 Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires season got underway in St. Petersburg, Fla., but the teams and drivers were only able to complete one practice session before the COVID-19 pandemic brought things to a screeching halt.

After 117-days with no racing, the second rung of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is ready to get back on track at one of America’s most iconic circuits.

The drivers will be fighting for an advancement scholarship that has been increased by 47% over the original 2020 value of $609,245.

Indy Pro 2000 at Road America

The Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires series will be visiting the 4.014-mile, 14-turn Road America natural terrain road course for the 17th and 18th times in 2020. The pair of Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix of Road America Presented by Cooper Tires Honoring First Responders are scheduled for 15-laps or 50-minutes.

The middle rung of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder returned to the Elkhart Lake, Wisc. track in 2016 after a five-year hiatus. In three of the four years since the series return, the same driver has won both races in three of the four years.

Only twice has the pole-sitter failed to finish on the podium and the last time that happened was in 2007 when Marco DiLeo (Maxwell Racing) finished eighth.

Juncos Racing, with Conor Daly (2010), Victor Franzoni (2017), and Rasmus Lindh (2019) lead all teams with three pole starts at Road America. The Speedway, Ind. team also leads all teams with seven podium finishes at Road America.

David Malukas and BN Racing hold the qualifying track record with a lap timed at 119.8151 seconds set in 2018. The same team, with Toby Sowery at the wheel, also holds the race track record with a lap at 121.3306 seconds, set the same year.

Indy Pro 2000 winners at Road America

2019 Race #2Kyle KirkwoodRP Motorsport
2019 Race #1Kyle KirkwoodRP Motorsport
2018 Race #2David MalukasBN Racing
2018 Race #1David MalukasBN Racing
2017 Race #2Anthony MartinCape Motorsports
2017 Race #1Victor FranzoniJuncos Racing
2016 Race #2Aaron TelitzTeam Pelfrey
2016 Race #1Aaron TelitzTeam Pelfrey
2010Conor DalyJuncos Racing
2008Peter DempseyAndersen Racing
2007Ron WhiteMaxwell Racing
2006Ron WhiteRoss Smith Racing
2005James HinchcliffeAIM Autosport
2004Michael McDowellStar Race Cars
2003Michael McDowellStar Race Cars
2002Guy CosmoRacers Edge Motorsports

Win in the opener, win the championship?

Winning on the season-opening weekend of Indy Pro 2000 action is NOT a good indicator of who will end up claiming the advancement scholarship at the end of the year. Only seven eventual champions won at the first event of the year.

Eventual champions that won at the season opening event are:

1999Joey Hand
2000Bernardo Martinez
2001Scott Bradley
2005Rafa Matos
2009Adam Christodoulou
2014Spencer Pigot
2018Rinus VeeKay

Win at Road America, win the championship?

The eventual Indy Pro 2000 champion has won at Road America a total of six times, including Aaron Telitz, Victor Franzoni, and Kyle Kirkwood in three of the last four years. The other winners in Wisconsin that went on to win the championship are Guy Cosmo (2002), Michael McDowell (2004) and Conor Daly (2010).

Here are your team-by-team and driver-by-driver season previews. (in order of how they finished in the team standings last year)

Juncos Racing

The Speedway, Ind. based Juncos Racing, led by Argentinian race Ricardo Juncos, came within two points of winning their third straight Indy Pro 2000 driver’s championship. That would have been the fifth driver’s title on the middle rung of the Road To Indy, for the family-oriented team.

Conor Daly (2010), Spencer Pigot (2014), Victor Franzoni (2017), and Rinus VeeKay (2018) are the drivers that have won for Juncos Racing. Of note: three of those four are scheduled to make NTT INDYCAR® SERIES starts in 2020.

The team has a total of 45 Indy Pro 2000 wins and has won at least one race in 11 straight seasons.

Juncos Racing will head into the 2020 season looking for their fourth straight Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires team title with team returnee Sting Ray Robb and newcomers Artem Petrov and Nate Aranda.

Robb is returning to the same team for the first time in his Road To Indy career, and that continuity should allow him to fight for a title. Still only 18-years-old, this will be Robb’s fourth year in the series, and over his 45 races, he has two poles, seven podiums, and 19 top-five finishes.

 Sting Ray Robb concentrates in the cockpit of his Juncos Racing PM-18 during testing at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

Robb, who has improved each year in the series, holds the Indy Pro 2000 track records for the streets of St. Petersburg and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

“My earliest memories are of wanting to drive something – anything fast – I had to be a race car driver,” said Robb, before St. Petersburg, in March. “There is no Plan B – I was born for this – my name is Sting Ray, after all! With Juncos, Road to Indy, and the amazing support of my fans, friends and family, I’m in hot pursuit of my dream. I’m super excited to be returning to Juncos for the 2020 season. We worked hard last year, with lots of progression throughout the season, capping it off on a high note with two poles.

“I’m looking forward to carrying that momentum to this season and working with the Juncos crew again. I’m stoked to be once again racing through the streets of St. Petersburg – street races are very demanding with no room for mistakes and no forgiving corners… that must be why I love it! The fans and crowd at St. Pete are fantastic, can’t wait to get back out there.”

Robb led the last two sessions at the recent Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course open test and ended up as the second quickest driver on the combined timesheet.

Petrov started the final five races of the 2019 season with RP Motorsport, showing that he has the pace to be competitive. The native of St. Petersburg, Russia, spent the 2016 and 2017 season racing in the Italian, Russian (SMP) and German (ADAC) Formula 4 series, where he won three times. In 2018, the 20-year-old made a move to the FIA Formula 3 European Championship.

Petrov qualified in the first three rows in all of his Indy Pro 2000 races, proving quickly that the Russian had the pace to fight at the front of the grid. However, a pair of first-lap mistakes resulted in some disappointing finishes.

Nate Aranda, a 19-year-old from Albuquerque, NM, and a Lucas Oil Formula Car Championship race winner, will be behind the wheel of the team’s third PM-18.

TSO Ladder quick thought(s)

  • Ricardo Juncos and technical director Ernesto ‘Ernie’ Gonella are known for the ability to develop drivers and turn them into winners. For Robb and Petrov, the raw talent is there, and it’s just a matter of when not if they’ll start winning races.

RP Motorsport

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 travel situation, RP Motorsport will be taking the season off.

Exclusive Autosport

The Canadian team, owned by Michael Duncalfe, is about to embark on their third season in the Indy Pro 2000. Over the course of the past two years, Exclusive Autosport has put together an impressive team resume, including five wins, four poles, and 26 top-five finishes.

Braden Eves will be joining the Brownsburg, Ind .based team, driving the No. 1 (TSO Note: Steve loves this) PM-18 in the new grey and blue scholarship winning livery as the reigning Cooper Tires USF2000 Champion.

The 21-year-old Meyer-Shank Racing affiliated driver won six USF2000 races last year, including a gutsy must-win performance in the final race of the season at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in September. Eves was also one of three USF2000 drivers to complete all 352 laps during the 2019 USF2000 campaign.

“I’m super excited to be heading to a race weekend,” said Eves. “We’ve had our time away, and now we’re back into race mode. This is a very competitive field, so it’s going to be difficult, just like it was for me last year. Hunter McElrea was extremely good all last year, so to win the title in a do-or-die moment was huge, and that’s what it’s going to take again this season. But having done that was such a confidence boost, and with all the testing we’ve had and the pace we’ve shown, we’re in an even better position than we were last year, so we just have to get the job done. I know Exclusive Autosport is up to the task.”

Eves took part in the recent open test at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course but had an issue with his transponder. Our spies at the track told us that he was among the quickest drivers at the test.

He also led the lone practice session in St. Petersburg, Fla. by an impressive half-second.

 Braden Eves up on the wheel of the No. 1 from the Exclusive Autosport stable during the lone Indy Pro 2000 practice in St. Petersburg, Fla. (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

TSO Ladder quick thought(s)

  • It probably surprised a few people when Eves didn’t follow Kirkwood’s lead and sign with RP Motorsport (which looks even better in hindsight), but sometimes it’s about feeling comfortable. With his results in testing, it appears that Eves made a wise decision. We will be watching if being a one-car team has an impact on their ability to improve the car throughout the weekend.

DEForce Racing

Angleton, Texas-based DEForce Racing will field the largest squad on the Indy Pro 2000 grid with four drivers. The David and Ernesto Martinez led team made their Road To Indy debut with Indy Pro 2000 entries for current drivers Kory Enders and Moisés de la Vara at the 2016 season finale.

Enders and de la Vara will be joined by Road To Indy veteran Parker Thompson and USF2000 grad Manuel Sulaiman.

All of Enders 47 career Road To Indy starts have been with DEForce Racing. The 22-year-old who lives in Sugarland, Texas, finished the 2019 season with some good momentum, with two podiums in the final three events.

Mexican born and Texas-based, de la Vara, like his teammate Enders has made all 36 of his Road To Indy starts with the same team.

With 78 career Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires starts under his belt, it’s hard to believe that veteran Parker Thompson is still only 22-years-old.

“PT” made his Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires debut with JDC Motorsports in 2015, and across five seasons has finished 5th (USF2000 2015), 2nd (USF2000 2016), 3rd (USF2000 2017), 2nd (Indy Pro 2000 2018) and 3rd (Indy Pro 2000 2019) in those championships.

 Parker Thompson, a championship contender, behind the wheel of the No. 9 DEForce Racing PM-18 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

Thompson’s impressive career numbers in his 78 starts include 12 wins, 12 poles, 32 podiums, 53 top fives, 17 races led, and 14 races with the quickest lap.

Rounding out the DEForce Racing foursome is 2018-2019 FIA Formula 4 NACAM champion, Sulaiman. The Mexico City, Mexico native, grabbed two podiums on the way to a sixth-place USF2000 championship finish in 2019.

Thompson and Sulaiman finished the recent Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course test with the 3rd and 4th quickest lap times.

TSO Ladder quick thought(s)

  • The team has brought in driver coach Jonatan Jorge to work with the team. The former driver has recently worked with Kyle Kirkwood, Rinus VeeKay, and Oliver Askew. How Thompson responds to “JJ” is something we’ll be watching closely.
  • Can Enders, de la Vara, and Sulaiman find consistency? All three have all shown at various times that they have the pace to be regulars on the podium, but will need to be more steady from race to race, and lap to lap.

Fatboy Racing!

If you are looking for the team having the most fun at the track, just find team owner Brendan Puderbach, driver Charles Finelli, super mechanic Jim Locke, and Tiny Tim, the best pit cart in any racing paddock.

Finelli is an experienced racer, who is back for another season of Indy Pro 2000 action.

To learn a little more about the Fatboys, watch this documentary by David Porteous.

TSO Ladder quick thought(s)

  • It’s clear that this group always has fun at the track, but they can also be serious racers, and it would be great to see them add a second car for a younger driver.

Turn 3 Motorsport

The Peter Dempsey led Turn 3 Motorsport made their Indy Pro 2000 debut halfway through the 2020 season with an entry for 2019 Radical Cup Champion Antoine Comeau.

Comeau, a Canadian based in Chicago, Ill. will be back for a full season and will be joined by Indy Lights refugee Danial Frost.

 Turn 3 Motorsport driver Antoine Comeau at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for testing (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

Comeau got up to speed quickly for his first time in an open-wheel car, finishing in three of his seven starts in the top ten.

Frost, who was set to contest the 2020 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season with Andretti Autosport returns to take another shot at the Indy Pro 2000 title.

The Singaporean won Indy Pro 2000 races at Lucas Oil Raceway on the Streets of Exhibition last year. Still only 18-years-old, Frost finished the season with six podiums and a fifth-place championship placing.

TSO Ladder quick thought(s)

  • The addition of Frost should help push Comeau forward by allowing him to see the data from a quicker driver.
  • If he takes it, Frost has an opportunity to improve every part of his craft by learning from Dempsey.

BNRacing w/Team Benik

Two prominent names, in the karting world, Nick Mitchell & Bryn Nuttall, have joined forces to form BN Racing with Team Benik to field cars for Sabre Cook and Jacob Loomis.

Cook was busy in 2019. Off-track, she won the Infiniti Engineering Academy US engineering award that included a year-long placement with the Renault Formula One team.

On-track the 26-year-old was one of 20 drivers chosen to take part in the inaugural season of the W Series. Cook had three top-ten finishes, which equates to a 12th place finish and a return trip to the series in 2020.

With the cancellation of the 2020 W-Series, it would be great to see Cook contest the whole Indy Pro 2000 season.

Before her move to cars in 2017, the Golden, Colorado resident was a stand-out in the ultra-competitive shifter-kart category.

Loomis made four Indy Pro 2000 starts in 2019 with his family team. That included an impressive sixth-place finish at Road America.

The 20-year-old Texan moved from karts to cars in 2016 and has four podium finishes across the 2017 and 2018 F4 United States Championship Powered By Honda seasons.

The team missed the recent test at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, but the drivers should have quick cars this weekend. Nuttall, with David Malukas, won a pair of Indy Pro 2000 races at Road America in 2018.

What TSO Ladder is watching.

  • Cook only got better as the W-Series got deeper into their season, and the higher horsepower Indy Pro 2000 car should better match her background in shifter-karts.

Andretti Steinbrenner Racing

Devlin DeFrancesco will be joining with Andretti Steinbrenner Racing to contest the 2020 Indy Pro 2000 season. For all three, it’s some type of return.

For Andretti, it’s a return to Indy Pro 2000, where they won 25-races and one championship between 2011 and 2015.

For Steinbrenner, it’s a return to the Road To Indy, where he teamed with Colton Herta to win six races across a pair of Indy Lights seasons.

Canadian DeFrancesco’s a return to North America after spending the last nine years racing in Europe.

The 20-year-old from Toronto scored wins in the F4 British Championship, the Euroformula Open Championship, and Spanish Formula 3 Championship.

 Devlin DeFrancesco returns to the North American racing scene with Andretti Steinbrenner Racing in the Indy Pro 2000 series (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

“I’ve had an incredible time racing in Europe over the past nine years but I’m really looking forward to coming home to North America and racing with Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport,” said DeFrancesco. “My season in Asian Formula 3 was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ability to travel to and from Europe for the rest of 2020 is very much up in the air.

“We have been talking about the possibility of coming back to race in North America and those plans have now been brought forward. I’m very appreciative of the opportunity from Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport.

“I can’t wait to get started and be back on track. I’ve been doing a lot of virtual racing with my sponsor Allinsports in The Race All-Star Series but I can’t wait to be back on track for real.”

“My goal and ambition is to eventually follow the ‘Road to Indy’ and compete in the NTT IndyCar series but I know I have a lot to learn and many steps to take prior to that.

“The car will be new for me, many of the tracks are new and of course the team is new for me as well. However, I know what they have achieved in the past and I’m fully aware of what an amazing opportunity I have ahead of me. I am extremely grateful.”

DeFrancesco, who also has experience in GP3 and the FIA Formula 3 Championship, got his first taste of the PM-18 in the recent open test at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. He ended up with the fifth quickest lap.

What TSO Ladder is watching.

  • I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it. Results, especially for Americans and Canadians, in Europe don’t always indicate pace. Also, the disparity between teams in Europe is much bigger, and DeFrancesco spent the past two seasons with mid-level teams. This opportunity with Andretti Steinbrenner Racing should be his best chance to show his pace since 2017 when he finished third in the Euroformula Open Championship while driving for Carlin.

Pabst Racing

Last but not least is Pabst Racing. The USF2000 stalwart is making a move up the Road To Indy ladder with a pair of familiar drivers. Hunter McElrea and Colin Kaminsky, who both drove for the team in USF2000, will be behind the wheels of the team’s PM-18s.

McElrea, an American born Kiwi, who calls Australia home, missed out on the USF2000 championship by a slim five-point margin.

The 20-year-old won four races, including one at Road America, started on five poles, and stood on 12 podiums in his first season of racing in the United States.

“This race (Road America) last year was a turning point for me, with my first win, so to start the season here is very cool,” said McElrea. “We’ve had really good tests as well, so it gives us a great deal of confidence going into the weekend, especially since it’s the team’s home track. Because of the extra time we’ve had, I feel that the team and I are even more prepared than we were at the start of the year, so I’m ready to get the season started.”

Kaminsky, who began his racing career in the SCCA, has made 38 USF2000 starts across three seasons, but made a big leap forward in 2019.

The 21-year-old won three poles and grabbed six podiums on the way to fourth place (tied for third in points) championship finish.

The dynamic Pabst Racing duo will be joined at Road America by Kaminsky’s dad, Bob. The Illinois native is an Indy Pro 2000 stalwart and has many laps logged on the 4.014-mile, 14-turn natural terrain road course.

What TSO Ladder is watching.

  • McElrea and Kaminsky’s relationship is more like brothers than teammates, and that unique relationship has brought out the best in each driver. The two were quick in the Chris Griffis Memorial Test at IMS last fall, and all indications are that they have been quick in private testing.
  • Usually, when a team moves to a new category, it can take a season to work out the kinks. With an experienced group, including team owner Augie Pabst, and engineer Tonis Kasemets, it would be surprising if the Oconomowoc, Wisc. based team missed a beat.
 Pabst Racing team-owner Augie Pabst at the Portland International Raceway (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

By Steve Wittich

The 2020 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship season got underway in St. Petersburg, Fla., but the teams and drivers were only able to complete one practice session before the COVID-19 pandemic brought things to a screeching halt.

After 117-days with no racing, the lowest rung of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is ready to get back on track at one of America’s most iconic circuits.

The drivers will be fighting for an advancement scholarship that has been increased by 50% over the original 2020 value of $328,225.

 A fleet of USF2000 cars streams into Turn 3 at Road America in 2018 (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

USF2000 at Road America

The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship first made an appearance on the 4.014-mile, 14-turn Road America natural terrain road course in 1993 with current Chip Ganassi Racing Director Chris Simmons winning that race.

The pair of USF2000 Grand Prix of Road America Presented by Cooper Tires Honoring First Responders 12-lap / 40-minute races will be the 29th and 30th for the lowest rung of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires at Road America.

If you need proof that passing at Road America is plentiful, look no further than the less than 50% winning percentage for the pole sitter. In the six races since the introduction of the USF-17, the pole sitter has only won once.

The qualifying track record was set by Pabst Racing’s Rasmus Lindh in 2017 and stands at 129.2583 seconds. The race track record is 8-years-old and was established by Scott Anderson (Belardi Auto Racing) in 2012.

Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship winners at Road America

2019 Race #2Braden EvesCape Motorsports
2019 Race #1Hunter McElreaPabst Racing
2018 Race #2Kyle KirkwoodCape Motorsports
2018 Race #1Kyle KirkwoodCape Motorsports
2017 Race #2Rinus VeeKayPabst Racing
2017 Race #1Rinus VeeKayPabst Racing
2016 Race #2Anthony MartinCape Motorsports
2016 Race #1Anthony MartinCape Motorsports
2012 Race #3Scott AndersonBelardi Auto Racing
2012 Race #2Matthew BrabhamCape Motorsportsm
2012 Race #1Matthew BrabhamCape Motorsports
2011 Race #2Petri SuvantoCape Motorsports
2011 Race #1Spencer PigotAndretti Autosport
2010 Race #2Sage KaramAndretti Autosport
2010 Race #1Sage KaramAndretti Autosport
2006 Race #2J.R. HildebrandCape Motorsports
2006 Race #1Dane CameronCape Motorsports
2005 Race #2Jay HowardAiken Racing
2005 Race #1Joey FosterCape Motorsports
2004 Race #2Bobby WilsonCape Motorsports
2004 Race #1Adam PecorariAndersen Racing
2003 Race #2Charlie KimballPR1 Motorsports
2003 Race #1Charlie KimballPR1 Motorsports
2001 Race #2Tonis KasemetsPabst Racing
2001 Race #1Tonis KasemetsPabst Racing
2000 Race #2Marc-Antoine CamirandKey Motorsports
2000 Race #1Aaron JustusCape Motorsports
1993Chris SimmonsSOTARE Racing

Cape Motorsports at Road America

The now Brownsburg, Ind. team, led by Nicholas and Dominic Cape, have won 13 races at Road America, including race #2 last year.

Aaron Justus, in 2000 was their first winner, and he is joined by Matthew Brabham, Dane Cameron, Braden Eves, Joey Foster, J.R. Hildebrand, Kyle Kirkwood, Anthony Martin, Petri Suvanto and Bobby Wilson, as driers that have won at Road America for “The Capes.”

Cape Motorsports is also the team leader for poles (nine) and podiums (26) at Road America.

Win in the opener, win the championship?

It certainly doesn’t hurt to win at the first race of the season, but it’s not the end of the world if a driver doesn’t win. The eventual champion won the first race of the season in 14 out of 33 seasons. That does include the last two USF2000 champions, Braden Eves (2019) and Kyle Kirkwood (2018). It does not include 2017 champion and current NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver Oliver Askew.

Win at Road America, win the championship?

Eventual champion Chris Simmons was a winner the first time USF2000 visited Road America in 1993. Scott Dixon’s race engineer is joined by Aaron Justus (2000), Bobby Wilson (2004), Jay Howard (2005), JR Hildebrand (2006), Sage Karam (2010), Petri Suvanto (2011), Matthew Brabham (2012), Anthony Martin (2016), Kyle Kirkwood (2018) and Braden Eves (2019) as USF2000 champions that have won at Road America.

And now, here is our team-by-team and driver-by-driver preview of the 2020 USF2000 season.

Pabst Racing

Pabst Racing has won the last three USF2000 team championships but is still looking for their first driver’s championship. They have been close though, taking home a quartet of second-place championship finishes (Hunter McElrea, Rasmus Lindh, Rinus VeeKay & Jake Eidson) in the last five seasons.

Augie Pabst, a second-generation team owner, assembled an impressive team of three sophomores to wrest the driver’s championship away from Cape Motorsports.

Note from TSO Ladder: This is one of the most heated and fun to watch rivalries from weekend-to-weekend. Both teams know who their competition is and badly want to win.

The lone returnee to the Wisconsin based team is Badger State-born Yuven Sundaramoorthy. The recent high school grad was one of only three drivers to complete all 352 laps in 2019 and collected five top tens on the way to a 12th place championship finish.

The 17-year-old spent the off-season racing in the MRF Challenge Formula 2000 Championship, where he won twice and finished on the podium four times.

Sundaramoorthy made three USF2000 starts at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 2018, and that was where he had his best race weekend in 2019, so don’t be surprised to see him be near the pointy end of the grid as he returns to tracks in the USF-17 for the second time.

“Confidence is key in this series, and with a solid year under my belt, I’m excited to return with Pabst Racing and tackle 2020,” said Sundaramoorthy, before St. Pete. “I developed some good chemistry with the crew, and I tried to absorb learnings at each racetrack. Even in this recent October test at IMS., I could feel so many improvements. I know it’s going to be a successful year.”

Second generation pilot Eduardo Barrichello confirmed that he would be joining the Oconomowoc, Wisc. based team. The 18-year-old spent the 2018 USF2000 season with two different teams where he finished in the top 10 on seven occasions.

The Brazilian who calls Orlando, Fla. home, spent the 2018 season in the F4 United States Championship Powered By Honda championship.

Barrichello led three of the five sessions, and ended up second on the combined timesheet in preseason testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and was the quickest driver in the lone practice session in St. Petersburg, Fla. With increased pace, comes increased expectations.

 Pabst Racing newcomer and USF2000 sophomore, led the lone practice session on the streets of St. Pete. (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

“I had no expectations going into St. Pete last year, but this year I’m more relaxed,” Barichello said in March. “I know what I need to do to get it right, and with experience comes confidence. And, it’s great to be so close to IndyCar – it’s an extra boost because we all want to be there. It’s great motivation.”

Before his rookie Road To Indy campaign, Matthew Round-Garrido was well known to Formula Ford fans in the United Kingdom. The oldest of the Pabst Racing trio at 20, Round-Garrido spent three years in the popular category, finishing 3rd in the hotly contested 2018 Avon Tyres National Formula Ford Championship.

Mechanical issues meant that the native of Stourbridge in the United Kingdom got off to a forgettable start to his rookie season, where he raced in two series and for two different teams. The highlight of his season split across USF2000, and Indy Pro 2000 was a podium finish in Toronto.

TSO Ladder quick thought(s)

  • It will be interesting to see how the addition of an Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires program impacts the team’s successful USF2000 program.
  • Last year’s four-driver USF2000 squad had a chemistry that was fun to watch from the outside. All four drivers were clearly having fun and equated to top results on track. Will the 2020 trio be able to replicate the on and off-track chemistry?

Cape Motorsports

Until proven otherwise, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship drivers championship runs through Cape Motorsports. The team, founded and run by brothers Nicholas and Dominic Cape, has won a baker’s dozen USF2000 driver’s championships, including the last nine in a row.

The team that made a move from St. Petersburg, Fla. to Brownsburg, Ind. during the off-season, will run a quartet of cars. A trio of veteran drivers, Michael d’Orlando, Kyle Dupell, and Reece Gold, will be joined by rookie Josh Green.

The team had four of the top five times in the recent open test at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, so expectations should once again be high.

Gold, still only 15-years-old, returns to the team for a second straight season. The Floridian, who was the 2018 Lucas Oil Formula Car Series, finished the 2019 USF2000 season in 10th place.

Gold was one of only three drivers to complete all 352 laps year, had eight top 10 finishes. If Gold can improve his qualifying pace, his consistency should allow him to be in championship contention.

“I’m super happy to be back with Cape for 2020,” Gold offered, before St. Pete. “With the team having just won another championship, I am feeling ready to give it my all this year and try to continue that success. After a lot of learning in my rookie year, I feel that I can fight for wins and podiums this season. Thank you to Cape Motorsports and to my sponsor – The Ticket Clinic – for their continued support.”

At 21-years-old, Kyle Dupell is the eldest and most experienced of the Cape Motorsports quartet, making 18 USF2000 starts across the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

The Oregonian finished 15th in his rookie season, a full-campaign with Team Pelfrey that included four top 10 finishes. Duppel returned to USF2000 action with Newman Wachs Racing for the final four races of the 2019 season.

Michael d’Orlando returns to USF2000 competition after a partial season of F4 United States Championship Powered By Honda action that saw the 18-year-old nab five top 10 finishes, including a trip to the podium at Circuit of The Americas in the final race of the year.

The Hartsdale, New York native, took part in nine USF2000 races with Team Benik.

d’Orlando was the quickest driver in the series open test at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and relishes the opportunity to get back at the track with his teammates.

 Michael d’Orlando on track during the recent open test at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course where he topped the combined timesheet. (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

“I’m lucky to have such great teammates as well – Reece, Kyle, Josh and I, we all push each other to do better,” said d’Orlando after the Mid-Ohio test. “I have a brother that I race against, but I feel as though these guys are my brothers as well. Through the Road to Indy iRacing eSeries, we kept in communication, and that made the three months better, but it was difficult not to see each other and not get out racing. It’s taken a toll, but that’s behind us, and now it’s time to go racing again.”

The final member of the Cape Motorsports squad is Team U.S.A. Scholarship winner Josh Green. Before taking part in the USF2000 event at Portland International Raceway last year, Green completed a full season of F1600 Championship Series action. The 17-year-old had eight wins, five poles, and 18 podiums on the way to a second-place championship finish.

“I’m extremely excited to join Cape Motorsports for the 2020 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship,” said Green, when signing with the legendary team. “The team has an enormous pedigree, and, after testing with them earlier this year, I’m super excited to continue working with them and get my head down for the 2020 championship. I’m extremely lucky to have had so many things come my way over the course of this last year, and I’m hugely thankful for all the opportunities that have been given to me. Being given the chance to work with such a prestigious team as Cape Motorsports is a huge honor.”

Green was the second quickest driver at the recent Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course test and will look to become the ninth Team U.S.A. Scholarship winner to also win the USF2000 championship, joining, Braden Eves, Kyle Kirkwood, Oliver Askew, Matthew Brabham, J.R. Hildebrand, Bryan Sellers, Clay Collier, and Mike Brokowski.

TSO Ladder quick thought(s)

  • All four drivers showed race-winning pace during the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course open test. If that is any indication of what to expect this season, the inner squad battle to determine who the team number one is, could take the whole season.

Jay Howard Driver Development

The only five-car team on the grid, Jay Howard Driver Development, finished an impressive rookie USF2000 campaign with three wins, one pole, seven podiums, and 15 top-ten finishes.

Returnee Christian Rasmussen finished third in the championship, but was most impressive in the second half of the season, outscoring all other drivers in the final four events (eight races) of the 2019 season.

The 20-year-old finished the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course open test with the seventh quickest time.

 One of the title favorites, Christian Rasmussen, on track at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for testing (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

“I’ll try and continue where I left off at the end of last season,” said the Dane after that test. “I’m pretty calm about me being the ‘favorite’ – I don’t plan to let it affect me, I will come to each day with the same approach as always, with the same preparation and the same mindset. We have a good team, and I’m ready to be back at the racetrack.”

The second Jay Howard Driver Development driver is another returnee and is also named Christian. At 6′ 4″, Christian Bogle is the tallest Road To Indy driver and is planning on another busy season of racing. The 19-year-old competed in the USF2000 championship and F4 United States Championship Powered By Honda, with a pair of race wins in the latter series.

The driver from Louisiana was new to racing in 2018 and is once again planning a joint USF2000 and F4 program, with some Indy Lights testing thrown in to help his development.

Bogle’s confidence should be high headed to Road America. He won a pair of F4 races on the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course the weekend before the USF2000 open test at the same track.

The third sophomore to join the team is Nolan Siegel, who spent the 2019 USF2000 season with Newman Wachs Racing.

The former standout karter, who is still only 15-years-old will look to build on a successful test at Homestead-Miami Speedway where he ended up with the seventh quickest time, less than one-tenth off championship favorite and teammate Rasmussen.

The fourth driver is a native Hoosier and 19-year-old who ended the recent open test only a tenth of a second behind championship contending teammate Rasmussen.

Wyatt Brichacek made his USF2000 debut in the finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in September. His move to the Road To Indy comes after two seasons of F4 United States Championship Powered By Honda competition and a season spent in the Lucas Oil Formula Car Series.

The final member of the Jay Howard Driver Development quintet is Bijoy Garg, a Californian, who will be making his Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires debut.

Garg turned the 12th quickest lap during the recent open test at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, and he finished in second and eighth in the pair of F4 events at the same track this year.

TSO Ladder quick thought(s)

  • We’re curious to see how Rasmussen reacts to being the clear championship favorite to start the season.
  • While Rasmussen is the clear leader at the team, it will be fascinating to see which of the other four drivers becomes Rasmussen’s wingman.

DEForce Racing

The D and E in DEForce Racing are David and Ernesto Martinez, who founded the team in 2016.

David is a former Indy car driver, who finished in the top 10 in three of his four starts. Ernesto was a standout karter, team manager, and is known for his ability to develop drivers.

In addition to a four-car Indy Pro 2000 effort, the Angleton, Texas-based team has entered a pair of drivers in the lowest rung on the Road To Indy ladder. Last year, a trio of drivers combined for two podiums, and ten top-five finishes.

Despite being only 16-years-old, Francisco Porto, who is better known as Kiko, has made 31 F4 starts in North America, including three wins and eight podiums on the way to a second-place finish in the 2019 F4 United States Championship Powered By Honda title chase.

Porto was the second quickest rookie during the lone practice session in St. Pete in March.

Unfortunately, Mathias Ramirez, who is one of the best shifter kart pilots in the U.S.A., is not able to make the grid, but the Texas-based team has found a replacement.

Nicholas ‘Nico’ Christodoulou may only be 15-years-old, but he has had a ton of seat time for someone his age.

 The familiar brilliant blue livery of DEForce Racing with Nico Christodoulou at the wheel during testing at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship will be the third championship that the Canadian will take part in this season. The Toronto, Ontario native has two wins and seven podiums in the currently paused 2019–20 NACAM Formula 4 Championship season. He also made two starts at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in the F4 United States Championship Powered By Honda at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

TSO Ladder quick thought(s)

  • Given their past success, it’s clear that both drivers have plenty of talent. How quickly they adapt to USF2000 will determine their ceilings during their rookie seasons.

Legacy Autosport

Last year, Legacy Autosport ran a total of six different drivers in their two USF-17s and, despite the rotating amongst the seats, had solid results, with the sextet combining for two podiums and a dozen top-ten finishes.

The team added experienced NTT INDYCAR SERIES engineer Matt Curry to help move the program forward this year.

Returning to the series after missing the last three events is Cameron Shields. The Aussie, who is mentored by Will Power, won the Freedom 75 on the Lucas Oil Raceway oval last May.

When his season ended, the 19-year-old from Toowoomba, Australia, was seventh in points with a win, two podiums and five top-ten finishes in nine starts.

 Legacy Autosport pilot Cameron Shields on track at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course during Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship testing. (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

Shields was the quickest driver in the final test session at Homestead-Miami Speedway and ended the two-days of testing fifth on the combined timesheet.

High school freshman Ayrton Ori returns to Legacy Autosport after contesting the final four races of the 2019 USF2000 season with the team. The native of Orlando, Florida, has extensive experience in F1600 machinery.

TSO Ladder quick thought(s)

  • It was clear that Shields was dejected after his rookie season came to a premature end. However, Sheilds kept coming to the race track, and through hard work, was able to put together a deal to get back into the series in 2020. In a year that should have a wide-open battle for the advancement scholarship, TSO Ladder will be watching to see if the perseverance Shields has shown off the track translates to the same fire on the track.

Miller Vinatieri Motorsports

Back for a second year of action is Miller Vinatieri Motorsports and lead driver Jack William Miller.

The team owned by former Indy car driver Jack Miller and N.F.L. kicker Adam Vinatieri will run a pair of cars for the second straight season.

A native Hoosier, Miller, is still only 17-years-old and will be starting his fourth season in formula cars. His rookie season of USF2000 action followed a season and a half of F4 United States Championship Powered By Honda competition.

During the recent open test at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Miller led a test session and ended up with the third-quickest time on the combined timesheet.

 Jack William Miller during testing at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The second generation had the third quickest lap of the test. (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

Pairing with Miller will be Max Kaeser, a fellow 17-year-old who resides in Keystone Colo. Kaeser tested with the team at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test last fall after two seasons of SCCA Formula F competition.

The team has brought on Skip Essma to engineer the two-car effort. Essma has INDYCAR engineering experience at Chip Ganassi Racing and Newman Haas Racing.

“We are glad the restart to the season is here,” expressed Jack Miller, Co-Owner of the M.V.M. program. “We were ready to go in St. Pete, but we all know how that ended. With the extended time off, we have been able to complete multiple days of testing at Road America and Mid-Ohio as they will be important locations due to the quantity of the events at each facility this year.”

TSO Ladder quick thought(s)

  • After four DNFs and an avoidable contact penalty in his first five races, Miller settled in and finished nine of the last ten laps. “JWM” clearly has the pace but needed to slow down to speed up. That mission was accomplished in the final third of the season, and TSO Ladder will be watching to see if the pace comes back with the improved race-craft.

Exclusive Autosport

Last but certainly not least. (I went by the 2019 team standings)

After three wins, nine podiums, and a third (Parker Thompson in 2017) and fourth (Igor Fraga in 2018) place championship finishes, Exclusive Autosport only took part in the first five rounds of the 2019 championship with a single driver.

This year, the Canadian team with a shop in Brownsburg, Ind. is back on the grid in a big way, signing a roster of potential race-winning drivers.

 Prescott Campbell in the No. 1 Lucas Oil School Of Racing sponsored USF-17 from the Exclusive Autosport stable (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

In what we hope becomes a tradition, Prescott Campbell will be carrying the No. 1 as the Lucas Oil Formula Car Series champion. The 19-year-old Campbell was able to win the hotly contested championship despite missing a round with a broken leg sustained in a karting mishap.

Campbell, a 19-year-old Californian who is pursing a motorsport engineering degree at Oxford-Brookes University, was the fastest driver during the recent test at Homestead-Miami Speedway but understands that he has a lot to learn.

A second 19-year-old Californian, Christian Brooks, will hope to duplicate his previous career success. A standout karter with multiple marquee wins, Brooks made a move into formula cars last year. He collected a pair of wins and eight podiums on the way to a third-place finish in the 2019 F4 United States Championship Powered By Honda.

Replacing Manuel Cabrera in the third Exclusive Autosport entry will be karting standout Josh Pierson, a 14-year-old from Wilsonville, Ore.

TSO Ladder quick thought(s)

  • Campbell and Brooks should be able to push each other up the grid, and it will be interesting to see if the Exclusive Autosport duo will be able to challenge that Pabst Racing and Cape Motorsports drivers for wins.

Don’t miss any of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires action:

Note – Unfortunately due to split Road To Indy and INDYCAR schedule there will be no video this weekend. However, you will be able to listen to Rob Howden’s call.

JAY Motorsports and Luke Gabin are on quest for sponsorship to make the next USF2000 event.

I came across this post on Facebook earlier today and while it’s not an uncommon tale, it’s a tale that the TSO Ladder needs to do a better job of highlighting and sharing when we hear about it, so please hear us out. If you are a Toronto based business looking for some extra exposure…

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New Mazda powered USF2000 Tatuus USF-17 completes six-day testing program.

USF2000 logo

The Mazda powered, Cooper Tire shod, Tatuus designed USF-17 completed it’s successful six day shake-down testing today with a final one-day test on the oval at Lucas Oil Raceway.

Matt Brabham spent the day putting the USF-17 through it's maiden oval test at Lucas Oil Raceway (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Matt Brabham spent the day putting the USF-17 through it’s maiden oval test at Lucas Oil Raceway (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

The USF-17 also spent time testing at the National Corvette Museum Motorsports Park, Barber Motorsports Park, and Road America.

Handling driving duties for the first five days of testing was Joel Miller. Miller is currently the USF2000 driver coach/steward, while also helping develop and pilot Mazda’s factory prototype program in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The 28 year-old with a mechanical engineering degree from the University of California Riverside has previous F2000 experience, was the 2007 Skip Barber National champion and the Pro (Star) Mazda vice -champion in 2008.

USF-17 project manager Scot Elkins and test pilot Joel Miller use the universal language of driver and engineer during a break in testing at Road America (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

USF-17 project manager Scot Elkins and test pilot Joel Miller use the universal language of driver and engineer during a break in testing at Road America (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Miller told TSO that “getting back into an open wheel car again (Indy Lights in 2011 was his last time), puts a big smile on his face.”

Matthew Brabham, the 2012 USF2000 champion, USF2000 race winner at Lucas Oil Raceway, and 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 participant, took over the testing at the 0.686 mile Brownsburg, Indiana oval.

“It’s an honor to test the new chassis,” said Brabham.

Driver Matt Brabham, USF-17 project manager Scot Elkins, and Tatuus engineer Corrado Casiraghi discuss handling characteristic and possible changes (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Driver Matt Brabham, USF-17 project manager Scot Elkins, and Tatuus engineer Corrado Casiraghi discuss handling characteristic and possible changes (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

“Today went really smoothly. We had no issues and ran tons of laps. The systems in the car are a big upgrade compared to the old car, which makes it a lot more comfortable to drive.

“It felt really quite different from the old USF2000 car and had different characteristics in the way it drives and handles obviously.”

Scot Elkins, project manager and USF2000/Pro Mazda Race Director, was chosen to by Dan Andersen to lead the bottom two rungs of the Mazda Road To Indy into the car of the future. Elkins, a Terre Haute, Indiana native, has extensive experience dealing with complex projects that involves multiple manufacturers, and was the perfect choice to develop the car that will produce the next generation of open-wheel pilots.

The Indiana State grad, who is also currently the Chief Operating Officer at the Motorsport Safety Foundation served as the Technical Director for Champ Car from 2004 through it’s merger with the Indy Racing League in 2008. During that time Elkins, who has also spent six years leading the IMSA competition department, was the project manager for the introduction of the Atlantic Series Swift 016.a and Champ Car’s DP-01.

Each day of testing consisted of similar programs. Before lunch, Elkins would guide a team of Mazda Road To Indy, Tatuus , Cooper Tire, Elite Engine, Cosworth and PFC engineers, mechanics and technicians while working on basic car set-up through the use of shorter on-track runs.

After a quick break for lunch, the driver would take on a large chunk of the work load, doing multiple race length runs to test the validity of earlier findings.

Sharing a common tub with the Tatuus F4-T014 FIA Formula 4 chassis, the USF-17 features numerous additional safety and performance upgrades.

The USF-17 showing off at Road America (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

The USF-17 showing off at Road America (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

The Tatuus F4-T014 is most popular F4 chassis in use worldwide and is the basis of the: Italian Formula 4 Championship, ADAC Forumla 4 (Germany, Austria and the Netherlands), SMP F4 Championship (Russia, Sweden, Finland and Estonia), Spanish Formula 4 Championship and the United Arab Emerates Formula 4 Championship.

Jeff Horton, INDYCAR’s director of engineering has been working with Elkins on all of the upgraded safety enhancements which include a double bulkhead, side intrusion panels, front and rear wheel tethers, and an INDYCAR type head surround.

Upgrading the performance from a standard F4 package will be:

  • the 170hp proven Mazda MZR 2.0 liter engine built by Elite Engines
  • adjustable twin element rear wing
  • 13×8 (front) and 13 x10 (rear) wheels
  • PFC Formula 3 quality brakes with driver adjustable brake bias
  • upgraded Cosworth electronics package including ECU, GCU and data logger
  • three way adjustable Dynamic dampers with Hyperco springs (six spring rates available)
  • upgraded uprights for oval racing
  • ride-height, camber, toe adjustment, roll center, anti-squat and anti-dive adjustments on the rear axle and ride-height, camber and toe adjustment available on the front axle.

The first container of 15 USF-17’s will loaded by Tatuss in Italy in the middle of August and teams should be receiving their brand new cars by the middle of September. The second container is scheduled to arrive in November or December and

TSO has learned that only four of the chassis in the first container of 15 cars are destined for existing Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda teams.

Exclusive Autosport is the first new team that has announced that they will joining the Mazda Road To Indy. The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan based squad is led by Michael Duncalfe, a former Star Mazda pilot and entrepreneur, and they have captured multiple Formula F/F1600 titles since 2013.

We have heard some other very intriguing team names that are set to join or re-join the Mazda Road To Indy, including a former championship winning Atlantic Championship team and a current SCCA Pro championship winning team (also former USF2000 competitors).

Some thoughts from Steve. 

So how did the USF-17 perform in testing?

Lap times were official, but after some new car gremlins appeared during the first day of  testing at National Corvette Museum Motorsports Park, the lap times for a brand new car, with only a couple of days of development work were outstanding. TSO learned that the USF17 was:

  • at 2016 race-pace and within a half-second of pole at Barber Motorsports Park
  • above 2016 race pace and good enough to qualify in the top 10 at Road America
  • at race and qualifying pace at Lucas Oil Raceway

Very impressive, especially for a brand-new car that has  had no team development and and also has only half of the downforce that the current Van Diemen package currently races with.

Re: that reduced downforce. That, at least in my (Steve’s) opinion, is the best thing that could happen to entry level series of the Mazda Road To Indy.

First, it allows drivers skipping F1600 and coming straight from karting to USF2000, a chance to develop a better feel for mechanical grip. That is a skill that becomes very important as they continue to progress up the open wheel ladder.

“The car will stay much more competitive across a long run without degradation,” declared Miller. “ And, as the fuel bleeds off, the balance changes which is something these drivers will deal with all the way up the ladder – and they’ll learn it now on the first level.”

Second, it should greatly improve the racing. Due to the current high downforce levels, following closely on the high speed corners of a natural terrain circuit and oval is an issue with the current package. The lower downforce USF-17 should allow drivers to follow each other more closely, making it easier to pass and improving the racing.

“It has less aero and downforce which makes the car slide around slightly more,” explained Brabham. “I think it will be fantastic for learning car control especially on the ovals. Hopefully it will make the racing closer and tighter too without as much aero wash in traffic.

“The mechanical grip from the Tatuus chassis is also a big improvement compared to the old car. It makes up for the less downforce.

How does the future of the lowest rung of the Mazda Road To Indy look?

Bright. Very Bright.

With 24 solid orders placed by 14 different entities, and more orders expected any day, the first two 15-car containers should be filled by the time the first batch are loaded into a container for the trip from Italy to the United States in mid-August.

The majority of current USF2000 teams (owners and drivers) stuck around for the test day at Road America, and the excitement among the team principals was quite evident.

One long-time USF2000 team owner told TSO that while the current car (a 10+ year old Van Diemen design, based off of a 30 year old car) has been a good one, it was time to catch up to the rest of the world and modernize the bottom rung of the Mazda Road To Indy.

Current USF2000 rookie Dakota Dickerson was interested spectator and is very keen to help a team develop the new car and the 20 year-old Mazda backed pilot clearly understands the benefit that can have in his future career development.

“The teams all love it, said Anderson. “Some teams are thinking about adding to the orders they have already made, and we have more serious potential buyers than we have cars left in the first order of 30. I couldn’t be happier with our next generation car.”

As is always the case in racing, the running costs of a car will determine whether or not it is successful. One of the primary goals that Elkins and Andersen have kept in mind from day one was reducing the operating costs for the teams. The cost of a rolling chassis is $51,800, and Andersen has made a strong effort to keep the cost of consumables at a manageable level.

“The component usage is fantastic,” explained Andersen. “Brake wear is better by far than the current car, as is the tire wear.”

The PFC brakes that will stop the USF-17 (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

The PFC brakes that will stop the USF-17 (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

“At Barber, we did three straight sets of mock qualifying and a race and the brake pads looked nearly brand new after 600 miles,” added Miller. “As far as wear and tear and consumables, this car is much more cost effective.”

A different business model? 

Another positive that you won’t hear mentioned too much, but that could potentially be huge junior series business model game changer, is that the purchase of this Tatuss chassis will be a great investment for a driver, parent, or long time sponsor. Because the basic tub will form the basis of both the USF2000 and Pro Mazda car, the $51,800 rolling chassis cost of the car can be spread out over a three or four year program. A true win-win-win situation for the parents/sponsors, teams and series.

It’s a win for the parent/sponsor because not only can the cost of the chassis be spread out over a multiple year program, the car will still have considerable value and will be easily sold.

It’s a win for the teams because they don’t have the initial capital outlay. Most junior level open wheel teams operate on such razor thin margins, not having that initial outlay could easily be the difference between continuing and not continuing.

It’s a win for the series because they have now have driver via their parents that are more invested to see out a three or four year program.

The next time the public and media will have the opportunity to see the US-17 run in anger, it will be in the hands of teams at the teams at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test. The annual off-season test will move back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway again in 2016, and is scheduled to take place on October 8th and 9th.

Urrutia Tops Indy Lights Spring Training Pre-Season Testing Times

Birmingham, Ala. – Santiago Urrutia, from Miguelete, Uruguay, set the pace today for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian at Barber Motorsports Park as the top rung on the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder, Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, took to the 2.3-mile road course for one final opportunity to prepare for next weekend’s championship-opening races on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.
Urrutia, who won last year’s Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, turned a best lap of 1:12.4479 this afternoon, fractionally slower than the record 1:12.3865 lap turned in qualifying last year by eventual series champion Spencer Pigot.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian rookie Santiago Urrutia led the way in the final test before the 2016 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire season gets under way. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian rookie Santiago Urrutia led the way in the final test before the 2016 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tire season gets under way. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

“We put the lap together on the last run, on new tires, and I was P1,” said Urrutia, who claimed a pair of podium finishes at Barber last year during his championship-winning Pro Mazda campaign. “This track is very physical, like [the oval at] Phoenix, so I need to train my neck a little bit! I’m happy but there’s a long way to go. Everyone is quick so I need to be quick.”
Urrutia, 19, edged out Sweden’s Felix Rosenqvist (Belardi Auto Racing) by a mere 0.0190 second, with Canadian Scott Hargrove, who won the 2013 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and finished second in the 2014 Pro Mazda title-chase, ensuring that three different teams would be represented at the top of the timing charts with a 1:12.6222 lap for Indy Lights newcomer Team Pelfrey.
“We’ve tried a huge number of things today, back and forth with different testing programs,” said Rosenqvist, who was fastest in another pre-season road course test recently at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida. “We learned quite a lot. I had some small issues in the afternoon so I think we can find something more for the race. There’s definitely more to come.
“This circuit is fantastic,” continued the winner of last year’s FIA European Formula 3 Championship. “I think it’s one of the top-five best circuits I’ve driven, it’s really nice and flowing. It’s a proper circuit – you’ll pay for it if you make a mistake. It’s very high speed and very physical, so it really tests the teams, the cars and the drivers.”
The quality field of 16 drivers completed a total of 1,433 laps today. Ed Jones (Carlin) was fastest in this morning’s three-hour session with a time of 1:13.0287, despite sitting out the final hour after spinning into the wall at the exit of Turn Five and damaging his Carlin car’s suspension. Jones also missed virtually all of the afternoon session due to an electrical sensor gremlin.
Hargrove was merely 0.0145 of a second shy this morning, while Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing), RC Enerson (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian) and Rosenqvist also circulated within 0.2 seconds of Jones’ fastest time.
The two junior levels on the Mazda Road to Indy, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, will take over at Barber tomorrow and Monday for two more days of testing. Meanwhile, the Indy Lights teams will now pack up and head south for next weekend’s Indy Lights Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Lucas School of Racing. The season opener will comprise the first two of 18 races to determine the winner of a Mazda Scholarship prize, valued at $1 million, which will include a guaranteed entry in three 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series events, including the Indianapolis 500.

Mazda Road to Indy Drivers Set for Spring Training in Alabama

Mazda Road to Indy Drivers Set for Spring Training in Alabama
Cosmopolitan Field will Converge in Birmingham for Final Pre-Season Test

PALMETTO, Fla. (March 2, 2016) – Almost 50 up-and-coming race car drivers representing no fewer than 18 nations will converge this week on Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., for the official Mazda Road to Indy Spring Training Test – the final opportunity for teams to prepare for the following week’s season-opening races on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

All three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy will be in attendance, with Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires competitors taking to the scenic 2.3-mile road course on Saturday, March 5, and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda fields sharing track time on Sunday and Monday, March 6-7.

The Mazda Road to Indy provides a clear path for teams and drivers with scholarship prizes at every level to assist in their progression from karting through USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights to the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500. More than $3.6 million will be up for grabs during the season which begins with the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11-13 and continues through to the finale for all three series at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., on September 9-11.

Indy Lights Enjoys Significant Boost for 2016

The top level of the unique driver development ladder, Indy Lights, benefits from a substantial surge of interest this year following the successful adoption of an exciting and brand-new Dallara-Mazda equipment package in 2015. A strong field of 16 cars is expected at Barber, representing a 25 percent increase over the average field last season.

The quality is impressive, too, with reigning FIA European Formula 3 Champion and two-time Macau Grand Prix winner Felix Rosenqvist, from Sweden, former FIA Formula 2 Champion and GP3 Series runner-up Dean Stoneman, from England, and 2015 Pro Mazda champion Santiago Urrutia, from Uruguay, joining an intriguing mix of veterans and rookies.

Defending Team Championship winner Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian will return with another stellar line-up comprising 2015 race winner RC Enerson, from New Port Richey, Fla., Urrutia, who makes the step with help from a substantial Mazda Scholarship after winning the Pro Mazda title, Brazilian Andre Negrao, a veteran of the GP2 Series in recent years, and Korean Heamin Choi.

Enerson, who will celebrate his 19th birthday on Sunday, set the fastest time in a one-day test session last week on the Phoenix International Raceway oval in Arizona.

Belardi Auto Racing, which guided Gabby Chaves to the 2014 championship, also has high expectations after Rosenqvist topped the times in an earlier test session at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida. The highly rated Swede will benefit from the experience of 21-year-old Ohioan Zach Veach, who will make his return to Indy Lights after finishing third in the 2014 title-chase.

After winning the 2015 driver championship with Spencer Pigot, who will achieve one of his life goals by graduating to the Verizon IndyCar Series at St. Petersburg, Juncos Racing will look to Pigot’s teammate from last year, Californian teenager Kyle Kaiser, to continue the good work. Kaiser will be joined by Canadian rookie Zachary Claman De Melo.

European open-wheel powerhouse team Carlin burst onto the North American scene in 2015 by winning its first three Indy Lights races, and Dubai-based Englishman Ed Jones will be looking to repeat that feat – and more – during his sophomore campaign. Carlin has expanded its operation from two to three cars with the addition of Puerto Rican Felix Serralles, who won at Milwaukee last year, and rookie Neil Alberico, who has finished second in both the Pro Mazda and USF2000 championships over the past three years.

Andretti Autosport also will field a strong three-car team for Tennessean Shelby Blackstock, who claimed a podium finish last year at Mid-Ohio, Pro Mazda graduate Dalton Kellett, from Toronto, Canada, and rising English star Stoneman, who also has an offshore powerboat championship on his resume.

Team Pelfrey will complete the field with two cars for series veteran Juan Piedrahita, from Colombia, and Canadian Scott Hargrove, the 2013 USF2000 champion who also finished second to Pigot in the 2014 Pro Mazda standings.

Canada’s Grist Heads Select Pro Mazda Field

Garett Grist, from Grimsby, Ont., Canada, has a score to settle in 2016. He began last year as one of the title favorites in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, joining defending champion team Juncos Racing after winning three times in 2014, and while he accumulated more points in the second half of the season than anyone else, including champion Santi Urrutia, a disappointing first half of the campaign left him languishing third in the points table. Now a six-time Pro Mazda race winner, Grist has his eyes set firmly on the championship and a coveted Mazda Scholarship to assist in graduation to Indy Lights in 2017.

Grist will have three teammates at Juncos Racing: highly rated Australian Jake Parsons, who finished second in last year’s Chinese Formula Masters Championship, returning veteran Will Owen, from Castle Rock, Colo., and young Argentinean Nicolas Dapero.
Malaysian Weiron Tan, a four-time winner last year, also has high expectations, joining Team Pelfrey, which guided Urrutia to the 2015 championship, alongside proven USF2000 race winner Aaron Telitz, from Birchwood, Wis.

Two of Telitz’s USF2000 rivals for the past two years, fellow former Team USA Scholarship winner Jake Eidson, from Littleton, Colo., and last year’s champion Nico Jamin, from Rouen, France, also will step up into Pro Mazda with another sure-fire front-running team Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing.

A pair of National class veterans, Bobby Eberle, from Houston, Texas, and Jay Horak, from Mesa, Ariz., will represent World Speed Motorsports and M1 Racing respectively.

Nine Nationalities Among 22-Strong USF2000 Entry

The first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder already is brimming with talent as drivers from as far afield as Australia, Brazil, China, England, New Zealand, Norway and Russia are set to challenge home-grown talent from both Canada and the United States in this year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

Among those seeking to follow in the footsteps of 2015 champion Nico Jamin are three of last year’s most promising rookies, Australian Anthony Martin, Canadian Parker Thompson and Los Angeles-based Russian Nikita Lastochkin. The trio finished fourth, fifth and eighth, respectively in 2015 and aim to continue the Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing team’s legacy by vying for a sixth consecutive championship crown.

Pabst Racing, which guided Jake Eidson to three wins and second place in the 2015 title-chase, will return with Pennsylvanian Garth Rickards and China’s Yufeng Luo, both of whom posted promising results during their rookie campaigns, plus Jordan Lloyd, who showed well in a few USF2000 outings before returning to his native Australia to win the inaugural CAMS Jayco Formula 4 Championship last year.

Team Pelfrey once again will field no fewer than four Van Diemen-Mazdas for Jordan Cane, from England, who won a record-equaling seven F1600 Championship Series races last year at the tender age of 14; New Yorker Robert Megennis, 15, who also made his mark with eight podium finishes; Californian TJ Fischer, who has competed in Europe the past two years; and Kiwi James Munro, who comfortably won the New Zealand Formula Ford title in 2013.

Other potential front-runners include John Cummiskey Racing’s pair of Ayla Agren, from Norway, who in 2014 became the first female to win the F1600 Championship Series, and Brazilian Lucas Kohl; 2014 Skip Barber Scholarship winner Luke Gabin (JAY Motorsports), from Australia, who finished sixth in the 2015 championship, highlighted by a podium finish in Toronto; two-time Team USA Scholarship winner Michai Stephens (RJB Motorsports); and Dakota Dickerson (Afterburner Autosport), who will step up to USF2000 on the strength of a Mazda scholarship after winning the Skip Barber Racing Championship Shootout, plus a Team USA Scholarship, in 2015.

The Mazda Road to Indy Spring Training test will commence with a pair of sessions for Indy Lights on Saturday, March 5, from 9:00-12:00 p.m. and 1:30-5:00 p.m., then continue with the Pro Mazda and USF2000 teams taking over with three sessions apiece on Sunday and Monday. Live timing for all on-track sessions will be carried on the respective series websites –, and

Cooper Tire and Lucas Oil School of Racing contests

From time to time, we like to pass along Verizon IndyCar Series and Mazda Road To Indy contests when we come across them.  Because, who doesn’t love free stuff. ———- Cooper Tire and Discount Tire are giving away a set of Cooper Tires.  You can find out how to enter at ———- The brand…

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Spencer Pigot: From the Indy Lights Title to the Rolex 24

Spencer Pigot: From the Indy Lights Title to the Rolex 24  Reigning Champ Teams with Mazda for Sports Car Debut DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – By winning the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship last September, Spencer Pigot became the first four-time Mazda scholarship winner having captured four titles in five years on the Mazda Road to…

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