02.05.2016 – In any pyramid of progression, having a strong and wide base is extremely important. The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda is the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy, and its strength and participation numbers are crucial to the overall stability of the IndyCar ladder system. With that said, I’m excited to predict that we’ll see between 24-26 drivers on the grid for St. Petersburg, although considering the momentum of the series right now and the launch of the National class for SCCA-spec cars, we could see as many as 30 cars at the opener. My research has identified 12 teams with plans to start the year, and right now, I have 15 drivers who have officially announced their intentions to campaign the full schedule. I’m expecting that we’ll see a barrage of driver announcements over the next two weeks, as well.
I wanted to bring everyone up to speed and where we sit, so here’s a Team-by-Team breakdown of this year’s USF2000 paddock:
As I’ve detailed in previous updates, I expect that Skip Barber Shootout winner Dakota Dickerson will be announced with Afterburner Autosport for the 2016 season, although nothing has been made official as of yet. I did speak with a team rep, and while he would not confirm Dickerson, he did let me know that they are very close to signing two other drivers for this year, and that we should expect to see announcements rolling out over the next couple of weeks.
Predicted: Dakota Dickerson
I spoke with ArmsUp Team Manager Brent Borland this weekend and he said that while things had been quiet through January, the phones have heated up and the team has been discussing programs with a couple of pilots to put together drives for the 2016 season. Borland told me that he expects to have 2-3 cars on the grid for St. Petersburg, although he was not willing to name names. I’ve tried to do an end-run to identify the drivers, but my sources do not have any viable intel at this time.
As has traditionally been the case, Cape signed two of the top returning drivers in the USF2000 standings, first announcing Canadian Parker Thompson, who finished fourth overall in 2015. They then tested Nikita Lastochkin at COTA and after he impressed in the official outing, they promptly signed him to run in 2016. In the press release announcing Lastochkin’s confirmation, Cape mentioned a third car for this year, although no additional news has been offered. A couple of 2015 drivers still remain unsigned at this time and could be high on the Cape’s wish list – Aussies Anthony Martin and Luke Gabin – so this only serves to provide a little more mystery to the 2016 silly season. I’m hearing that both are still battling to assemble the necessary budget, so we’ll see what plays out.
Confirmed: Parker Thompson, Nikita Lastochkin
Potential: Anthony Martin, Luke Gabin
The team announced its intent to run a two-car squad in the USF2000 series last week, led by Sam Chastain. The squad has run in the F1600 and F2000 Championship Series during the last three years, and I’ve been told that they will definitely have a second driver under the team this year. My bet would be that one of the top drivers from the F2000 Championship Series will be Chastain’s teammate this spring.
Confirmed: Sam Chastain
It’s always tough to see a team forced to leave a championship when a driver decides to stop participating in a series, as was the case with JAY Motorsports last summer following the ‘Day Before The 500’ event at Lucas Oil Raceway. So, it was refreshing to get word that the team is 90% confident in their return to the USF2000 circuit in 2016. I spoke with Team Principal Jay Green and he confirmed that they have tested a number of young drivers and they expect to be back in the paddock with two cars this year.
After running Canadian Parker Thompson to fifth overall as a one-car effort in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda in 2015, JDC MotorSports is preparing to enter the series with a two-car program. The team, which is coming off a huge Prototype Challenge class win at last weekend’s IMSA Rolex 24 in Daytona, has not yet made an official announcement of any drivers, but I have learned that Californian Tazio Ottis has been testing one of JDC’s Van Diemens at Buttonwillow under the guidance and engineering of Eric Purcell. I expect that Ottis will run the entire USF2000 schedule in 2016. Team Principal John Church told me that they have two seats still available for the season, including the car that Thompson drove to seven top-five finishes last year, four of which came in the last five races of the year. This is a potent championship-worthy car for the right driver.
Predicted: Tazio Ottis
JOHN CUMMISKEY RACING
Coming off a strong debut season that saw the team take fourth in points with a rookie driver and a single car effort, John Cummiskey is focused on fielding a multi-car effort in 2016. JCR confirmed my prediction of them running former F1600 Championship Series title winner Ayla Agren for her sophomore season in the USF2000 series earlier in the week, and they announced the addition of Brazilian karter Lucas Kohl on Thursday. I’ve been told that he’s very close to having a third driver in a car for this year as well.
Confirmed: Ayla Agren, Lucas Kohl
The 2015 season was a breakout year for Pabst Racing, when they put Jake Eidson in their car and he promptly won two of the five Cooper Tires Winterfest races, and then scored four victories and 14 podium finishes during the USF2000 season, coming home second overall in the championship. Eidson is working hard to move up to Pro Mazda this year, so for 2016, Pabst should remain strong after re-signing SCCA Formula Continental national champion Yufeng Luo back into his #23 to head into his sophomore season after finishing seventh in points. The team added ninth place overall championship finisher Garth Rickards to the team back in early December, and Team Principal Augie Pabst has let me know that they will be announcing a third driver within a week.
Confirmed: Garth Rickards, Yufeng Luo
Rumored: Jordan Lloyd
Although it has not been widely publicized as of yet, Andersen Promotions will be adding a National class component to the USF2000 series in 2016 for SCCA-spec cars, and the first team to announce their intentions to run was Spencer Racing. The Wixom, MI based squad ran Eric Filgueiras in the F2000 Championship Series last year and the young Florida pilot finished second overall
Confirmed: Eric Filgueiras
As one of the newest teams to jump on-board the Mazda Road to Indy, RJB Motorsports was front and center at the PRI Show in December when they announced that Team USA Scholarship driver Michai Stephens would join the team alongside Clint McMahan. The driver line-up is set and they began official testing this week at Roebling Road in Georgia. RJB will be focused on working through the expected new team gremlins so that they’re ready to hit the track running at the official series test on March 5-7 at Barber Motorsports Park.
Confirmed: Clint McMahan, Michai Stephens
After being forced to miss his planned USF2000 debut last year after breaking his leg last winter, Max Mällinen is expected to be in St. Petersburg with Swan Racing. At this time, we expect this to be a one-car effort.
Confirmed: Max Mällinen
With teams on all three rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy and a feeder program in the F1600 Championship Series, Team Pelfrey is busy trying to organize their drivers into waves of graduation. Entering USF2000 with four rookies in 2015 made it tough to put race wins and podiums on the team resume, and despite understanding the need to balance a combination of sophomores and rookies, Team Pelfrey will roll into 2016 with another all-freshmen cast. The team made their final announcement on Thursday, adding 2013 New Zealand Formula Ford and 2014 Formula Masters China champion James Munro to the squad.
Confirmed: Jordan Cane, Robert Megennis, TJ Fischer, James Munro
You are all urged to comment below. I’d love to hear your input on the blog, and the series – RH