By Steve Wittich
For the first time since Matthew Brabham won the title 2012, it will be a freshman USF2000 pilot that will walk away with the Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarship valued at almost $400,000, and a chance to move up to the Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tire Championship.
After 13 races, Oliver Askew has been exactly one point per race better than Rinus VeeKay. The 20 year-old carries that bakers dozen point lead into the Mazda USF2000 Watkins Glen Grand Prix Presented by Cooper Tires, the final race of the year.
If Askew, who has been outscored by VeeKay by 31 points in the second half of the season (see below for 2nd half USF2000 points), finishes the lone race of “Soul Red Finale” weekend on the podium, the Floridian will walk away with his third scholarship in the past twelve months (the Team USA Scholarship, and the Mazda Road to Indy $200K Scholarship Shootout being the other two).
The lowest that VeeKay can finish and still win the title would be sixth, and that would require Askew to finish dead last.
Laddies, and gentlemen, start your Excel spreadsheets.
Askew, who drives for Cape Motorsports can draw on his past experience in karting and at shootouts, will also be able to draw on the knowledge of his team owners, brothers Dominic and Nicolas Cape. Drivers from the St. Petersburg, Fl based duo’s stable have won the last six USF2000 drivers championships.
“I’ve been in this situation countless times in my career, and what is on the line is very similar to what I went through last year at the MRTI Shootout at Mazda Raceway. The mindset that I’ve developed through this year will be the same in the final race at Watkins Glen, I will be focusing on the elements within my control, and will maximize the opportunity given to me.”
VeeKay, who is 16 years-old, has shown maturity beyond his years in rookie season in cars, and is taking the same approach to Saturday’s finale.
“You start the race and just forget about everything else,” explained VeeKay. “Otherwise you can go crazy! Don’t worry about plans, and just react to what’s happening.”
No matter what happens on Saturday afternoon, the 16 year-old VeeKay will be happy with his first year of racing.
“To get 11 podiums in 13 races so far is a great year,” said VeeKay. “It was a difficult beginning, but to get where we are now – I was reading on Twitter the other day, and I didn’t realize it, but I have never lost a position in a race. I have equaled my qualifying position, or moved up. It was the best start you can have in your first year in racing.”
Some other stats and facts related to the title tilt between Askew and VeeKay:
- Askew leads VeeKay in victories by a seven to two margin.
- VeeKay leads Askew in podiums by a margin of 11 to 10.
- VeeKay leads Askew in top five finishes by a 12 to 11 margin.
- VeeKay leads Askew in top 10 by a margin of 13 to 11.
- Askew has seven poles compared to one by VeeKay.
- Askew has a significant 21-5 lead over VeeKay in bonus points
- Askew has 199 points on road courses,which tops VeeKay by 8.
- VeeKay is the only USF2000 driver to complete every lap so far in 2017, and has finished even with or higher than his starting position.
- Askew leads VeeKay in average starting position – 1.6 to 4.5
- VeeKay leads Askew in average finishing position – 2.6 to 3.6
Parker Thompson, who has won three out of the last four races, has been the class of the field since a non-team related mechanical issue hindered the top speed of the No. 90 Exclusive Autosport Mazda/Tatuss (hint, hint – it had to do with the throttle) was discovered between the Iowa Speedway and Toronto rounds. The 19 year-old will finish third in the championship, but will be pushing hard to add a fourth win, and seventh podium, in the hopes of finding a sponsor to continue his dream of becoming a Verizon IndyCar Series driver.
Kyle Lavigne from NBC’s Motor Sports Talk site has a fantastic feature about Thompson: MRTI: Parker Thompson hoping to end USF2000 year on high note
Two drivers are making their Mazda Road To Indy presented by Cooper Tire debuts at Watkins Glen International, and another pilot is returning to USF2000 for a return engagement.
Formula Ford National Champion, Walter Hayes Trophy Winner, Formula Ford Festival winner, and Mazda Road to Indy $200K Scholarship Shootout finalist Niall Murray will make his first MRTI appearance with Newman Wachs Racing this weekend. The 22 year-old came close to putting together a 2017 USF2000 program, and aspires to race in the U.S.A. in 2018. Murray hopes to travel back to “The States” in December, and take part in the Scholarship Shootout for a second time.
“Last year we met Brian Halahan from Newman Wachs Racing at the Mazda Road to Indy Shootout and we’ve kept in regular contact since,” said Murray, from Dublin, Ireland. “I’m absolutely over the moon that this opportunity has finally come together. Having come so close last December, USF2000 is a series I’ve wanted to race in since, so I will be making sure I make the most of every lap. We’ve worked very hard behind the scenes to make this happen, and I have a lot of people around me to thank for this so I’ll be making sure to give them a good performance. I’m hoping this run in the car will help me if I make it back to the shootout again this year, and prove to the judges that I am very serious about my intentions of racing in the USA in 2018.”
Zach Holden will parter with David Malukas at BN Racing. This will be the first time that the rookie team will enter a second car. Holden, who had a stand-out karting career, just made the move to cars in 2017, and is currently competing in the F1600 Formula F Championship Series with K-Hill Motorsports. The 17 year-old is in the hunt for that championship as the popular entry level series heads to New Jersey Motorsports Park for their finale.
After being absent at the last few rounds of competition, Team BENIK will return for the finale with a familiar name. Callan O’Keeffe, who scored a top five in first MRTI appearance on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in May will return. The 21 year-old South African is currently sits sixth in the 2017 BRDC British Formula 3 Championship.
Rookies Kaylen Frederick (Team Pelfrey) and Calvin Ming (Pabst Racing) have both had up and down seasons, but between them have eight podiums. Both drivers have shown the pace, and would love to end the season with their first win.
One last thing we’ll be watching — Pabst Racing, who have dethroned Cape Motorsports as the team champions, would love to add their first drivers title to their haul. TSO expects VeeKay’s teammates Ming and Lucas Kohl to do everything within reason to try to place themselves between VeeKay and Askew.
Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda second half points
|1||Rinus Van Kalmthout||153|
|11||Moisés de la Vara||51|
Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda schedule
|8am – 8:30am||USF2000 Practice #1|
|1pm – 1:30pm||USF2000 Practice #2|
|3:15pm – 3:45pm||USF2000 Autograph Session|
|8am – 8:30am||USF2000 Qualifying|
|1:15pm – 2pm||USF2000 Race|
Don’t miss any of the action:
- live timing – Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, USF2000, and IndyCar Race Control
- on twitter –Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, USF2000, Cooper Tire, Mazda Racing and TSO Ladder
- via the Road To Indy TV app – Android or Apple iOS
- on all social media channels via the #TeamCooperTire and #MRTI hashtags