10.18.2017 – The launch of the new Tatuus USF2000 car in 2017 certainly leveled the playing field, delivering a tremendously exciting season of competition at the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires. As has been the case over the entire eight-year run of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda, a handful of drivers emerged from the crowd to challenge for the title and the prestigious Mazda scholarship that accompanies the crown. The USF2000 program is truly the level where experience normally shines through, but the new car and the quality of the freshmen class wrote a much different story. Looking at 2018, and the drivers who are already testing or are set to make their debut this coming weekend, I believe that we’re in for yet another thrilling season. The new schedule promises to fuel hard fought competition, as a new crop of young drivers enter the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy to follow in the footsteps of both Spencer Pigot and Zach Veach, who starred on every level of the MRTI on the way to full-time seats in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Pabst Racing scored its first USF2000 Team Championship last year, and they will field cars for three drivers at the Chris Griffis test. Lucas Kohl will be back in his USF-17 at IMS coming off a solid 2017 campaign that included his first podium finish. The team will also run Mexican driver Andres Gutierrez, who made his USF2000 debut last year at Mid-Ohio with DE Force. The third driver who will be running Pabst equipment is Hunter McElrea, a top Formula Ford driver in Australia who finished fourth in the 2017 Australian Formula Ford Series with a pair of wins.
Team Pelfrey is excited with their testing line-up, running their F1600 Championship Series driver David Osborne on Saturday. Jacob Loomis will be in that car on Sunday, coming off a season in the F4 US Championship with Global Racing Group where he currently sits 10th in points. Loomis also raced at Mid-Ohio in USF2000 this past July with the team. Pelfrey will be testing young American kart racer Michael D’Orlando both days, having already shaken him down in the former series-spec Van Diemen USF2000 car. D’Orlando spent this past season racing in the top CIK-FIA European karting programs, and should be quick out of the gate.
Exclusive Autosport posted three wins in their first season in the USF2000 paddock, establishing themselves as a winning team from the get-go. EA team boss Michael Duncalfe confirmed that they will do what they can to move Parker Thompson into Pro Mazda, having purchased two cars, but the current focus is to fill their four USF2000 seats. Canadian driver Jayson Clunie will be back, and he will run both days of the test this weekend. Thompson is expected to spend time in a USF-17 as well, to work on the team’s set-up for the track. They also have SCCA Runoffs Formula E runner-up Justin Gordon set to spend two days in the seat, running on the track where he scored his silver medal.
Newman Wachs Racing enjoyed a strong debut season in the USF2000, although they were hampered by a bit of a revolving door for their second seat alongside Darren Keane, who will run with the team on both days of the Indy test this weekend. Dakota Dickerson started the season with the squad, but budget shortcomings forced him out of the seat. NWR is a team stacked with experience and knowledge and I expect them to be in the thick of things in 2018 with a full year under their belts. Team Manager Brian Halahan confirmed that they have been logging significant testing already, and they will run highly-rated American kart racer Jake Craig at Indianapolis on the opening day of the weekend. F4 driver Max Peichel will be on-track on Saturday as well, along with Keane and Craig. On Sunday, Oscar DeLuzuriaga and David Osborne will run with the team, Osborne moving over from Team Pelfrey, who he will have run with on Saturday (as stated above). DeLuzuriaga has karting experience in Singapore and the UK and has tested in BRDC F3 machinery. NWR ran him last weekend at Autobahn in a test that included Craig.
John Cummiskey Racing will be back in action for the test, running Team USA Scholarship nominee Sabre Cook, who competed in SCCA Formula E this year. Before moving into formula cars, Sabre logged extensive shifterkart racing experience and was the 2012 Superkarts! USA Pro Tour S2 Semi-Pro Stock Honda champion before moving to the S1 Pro category. JCR will also have Lucas Oil Formula Car Race Series winner Myles Rowe in car at Indy. Both drivers tested on Tuesday at Autobahn.
BENIK officially announced their drivers for the test on Monday, confirming that Sweden’s Rasmus Lindh will be joined by American Jaden Conwright. Lindh is graduating from a successful karting career, and his coming off an impressive fifth place finish at the CIK-FIA World Championships at PF International in Great Britain. Conwright in a native Californian who came through the Formula Car Challenge at Sonoma Raceway before moving to Italy in 2016 to race in the Italian F4 Championship. This year, he’s been testing a BRDC F3 car as part of the Carlin Driver Development Program.
BN Racing has been busy, running four of the Team USA Scholarship finalists at Autobahn, including Sabre Cook, Jacob Loomis and eventual winners Jonathan Kotyk and Aaron Jeansonne. Kotyk and Jeansonne are now in England for the Formula Ford Festival and Walter Hayes Trophy with Cliff Dempsey Racing. For the Chris Griffis test, BN Racing will run Edenholm and Finlayson once again. In addition to his selection to the initial Team USA Scholarship group, Finlayson was a star in the SCCA Formula E category this year, winning 10 SCCA Majors events before qualifying on pole for the Runoffs at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway enroute to a dominant win. Edenholm is a 16-year-old karting graduate from Phoenix, Arizona who is aiming to begin a career through the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires.
Neither ArmsUp Motorsports or DE Force will be attending the Chris Griffis, but I expect they are both in position to fill their tents for the 2018 campaign. I’m also told that Cape Motorsports will run just a single Pro Mazda for Oliver Askew this weekend in Indy.
2018 CHRIS GRIFFIS MEMORIAL TEST
COOPER TIRES USF2000 CHAMPIONSHIP POWERED BY MAZDA
POTENTIAL DRIVER LINEUP
Pabst Racing (3 cars) – Lucas Kohl, Andres Gutierrez, Hunter McElrea
Exclusive Autosport (3 cars) – Parker Thompson, Jayson Clunie, Justin Gordon
Team Pelfrey (2 cars) – Michael D’Orlando, David Osborne (Sat), Jacob Loomis (Sun)
Newman Wachs Racing (3 cars) – Darren Keane, Jake Craig (Sat), David Osborne (Sun), Max Peichel (Sat), Oscar DeLuzuriaga (Sun)
John Cummiskey Racing (2 cars) – Sabre Cook, Myles Rowe
BENIK (2 cars) – Rasmus Lindh, Jaden Conwright
BN Racing (2 cars) – Zoey Edenholm, Elliott Finlayson
ArmsUp Motorsports – not attending test
DE Force – not attending test
Cape Motorsports – attending test with Pro Mazda car only