The title pretty much says it all. It’s been exciting and intriguing sitting with the Dallara IL-15 Indy Lights car here in at the Autosport International Car Racing Show in Birmingham, England, chatting with IndyCar fans and interested young drivers. The car is a real eye-catcher and has been the focus of many photographs and it’s been the target of many questions and inquiries, as well. Everyone we’ve spoken with was thrilled to hear that all of this year’s Mazda Road to Indy events will be available online through live video streaming, and I expect the broadcast audience to include significant viewership from overseas.
I’ve had the chat to talk to a few drivers and players in the sport here on the show floor, and I’ve gathered enough intel to pen a new update for the blog. Here’s a little more insight into the 2016 season:
I spoke with American driver Chase Owen yesterday, and we discussed the path that he is looking to follow before making his planned USF2000 debut in 2017. Owen is very new to racing and has run only a couple Skip Barber regional series, although he tested impressively with Afterburner Autosport at COTA in November. Chase was initially focused on jumping onto the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy this year, but has elected instead to invest in massive track time and will likely join Cliff Dempsey Racing here in the UK to run in as many Formula Ford races as possible, including all three available championships and both the Formula Ford Festival and the Walter Hayes Trophy. One of Owen’s primary goals is to gain an invitation to the new MRTI Shootout, which will bring the champions of over 20 national junior formula series together at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to vie for the $200k scholarship. I’ve spoken with many Formula Ford drivers here at the show and they are all incredibly excited and motivated by the MRTI’s new effort to connect with series all over the country. The Shootout gives them all a true opportunity to race their way into the IndyCar ladder.
Speaking of Afterburner Autosport, insider info points to the team coming back with a vengeance for 2016, with the potential for a full tent of four cars. I’ve been told that the team has at least three contracts out to drivers right now, and that they’ll be testing extensively at Buttonwillow Raceway Park in California in mid-February. Skip Barber Shootout winner Dakota Dickerson tested with the team last year and I expect him to sign with Afterburner for his rookie campaign.
I’m being told that Pro Mazda race winner Weiron Tan will be boarding a plane in London on Sunday, bound for the US, in order to return to America to fire up testing for the 2016 campaign. I had initially learned that Tan was aiming to jump to Indy Lights with Andretti Autosport, but I have learned that this will not be the case. I cannot divulge the Malaysian’s actual plans, but I’m told they will likely announce the program by the end of next week. It’s definitely a game-changing move, I can tell you that.
There is a great deal of excitement surrounding the USF2000 championship right now, as drivers continue to be on the move. I originally expected that Norwegian pilot Ayla Agren would be returning with Team Pelfrey for her second year, but after talking with a couple of my sources, it appears that the quick young lady for Norway does not yet have a full budget in place and may be putting together a program to begin the season in a John Cummiskey Racing entry. I don’t have any additional info on drivers in line for a JCR seat, but I’ll keep digging. In other news, Cape Motorsports has announced their first two drivers, signing Parker Thompson and Nikita Lastochkin. Based on information in their official press releases, it appears that they are intent to run a third USF2000 car in 2016. I had tabbed Luke Gabin with the ride, but I think it’s a safer bet that he will return to the fourth USF2000 car at Team Pelfrey. This would put Aussie Anthony Martin on the top of Cape’s wish list, although Martin has been working hard to try to make the jump to Pro Mazda, having spoken with a couple teams, I’m told.
I spoke with Team Pelfrey’s Nigel Tuckey today, and they have a number of big announcements coming down the pipe, both in terms of their USF2000 and Pro Mazda drivers and crew members. With their acquisition of the 8Star Indy Lights operation, they now have the most expansive ladder program in the series, beginning with their F1600 program and leading right through USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. Tuckey admitted that they do not have any drivers signed for their Indy Lights squad at this time, but there is a great deal of interest. I still believe that Juan Pierahita and Scott Hargrove are in the mix,