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.
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 #2
|2019 Race #1
|2018 Race #2
|2018 Race #1
|2017 Race #2
|2017 Race #1
|2016 Race #2
|2016 Race #1
|2012 Race #3
|Belardi Auto Racing
|2012 Race #2
|2012 Race #1
|2011 Race #2
|2011 Race #1
|2010 Race #2
|2010 Race #1
|2006 Race #2
|2006 Race #1
|2005 Race #2
|2005 Race #1
|2004 Race #2
|2004 Race #1
|2003 Race #2
|2003 Race #1
|2001 Race #2
|2001 Race #1
|2000 Race #2
|2000 Race #1
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 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.
“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?
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.
“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.
“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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- download the Road To Indy TV app from the Apple App Store or on Google Play to get video, audio, timing & scoring, news from TSO Ladder and much more – you can also get Road To Indy TV via Apple TV, Amazon Video, Roku or Microsoft Xbox One
- live timing – Road To Indy TV – Indy Lights – Pro Mazda – USF2000 – IndyCar Race Control
- on twitter – TSO Ladder – Team Cooper Tire – Road To Indy TV – Indy Lights – Indy Pro 2000 – USF2000
- on all social media channels via the #TeamCooperTire and #RoadToIndy hashtags
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.