During 2015, a trio of super sophomores (Nico Jamin, Jake Eidson and Aaron Telitz) dominated the USF2000 season, standing on 40 of 48 possible podiums. Meanwhile, positions four through ten in the 16 race championship were held by rookie drivers, and all seven of those drivers are returning in the hopes that the sophomore domination of 2015 will continue into 2016.

It certainly won’t be easy for the top sophomores as two returnees (Victor Franzoni and Jordan Lloyd) and a great crop of rookies will be looking to join the fight from the drop of the green flag for the Priority Marine Construction Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Andersen RacePark  on Saturday.

Need proof that it won’t be easy? The quickest dozen drivers were all within one second of the quickest time during testing at Barber Motorsports Park last week.

This year’s pair of  races will be the 13th and 14th USF2000 events that have been contested on the Streets of St. Petersburg. Previous winners include: current IndyCar drivers Sage Karam, and Spencer Pigot, current Indy Lights drivers Scott Hargrove and RC Enerson, and current Pro Mazda driver Jake Eidson, who won both races one year ago.

Current USF2000 teams with wins at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg include: Cape Motorsports with /WTR (5 victories), Pabst Racing (2 victories) and Afterburner Autosport (1 victory)

Does winning the season opening race at St. Petersburg matter? So far, no. Of the three times that USF2000 has opened up on the shores of Tampa Bay, a winner during the inaugural weekend has gone on to win the season championship just one time.

TSO’s (Steve) predictions: 

  • Number of different race winners: 6
  • Number of drivers with a chance to win the title heading to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in September: 3
  • Champion: Anthony Martin
  • Rookie of the Year: James Munro

Winners of the past four driver’s championships, Cape Motorsports with /WTR certainly didn’t waste any time signaling that they had no plans on giving up the top spot by signing Anthony Martin (4th in 2015), Parker Thompson (5th in 2015) and Nikita Lastochkin (8th in 2015).

Martin (No. 8) and Thompson (No. 2) were both very impressive in one car teams during the 2015 campaign and should benefit greatly from being able to share data with their two other teammates.

Anthony Martin is in a playful mood as he heads into 2016 Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda campaign as a championship favorite. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Anthony Martin is in a playful mood as he heads into 2016 Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda campaign as a championship favorite. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Martin, a 21-year old from Perth, Australia was the more consistent of the two drivers, nailing down five podiums and 14 top fives in 16 races, and after leading testing at Barber Motorsports Park heads into the 2016 season as the odds-on favorite to win the title.

The 18 year-old Thompson was a little more erratic with five races outside the top 10, but the Red Deer, Alberta native certainly punched above his teams weight and if testing is any indication he will spend 2016 fighting for top spot on the podium with his new teammate.

The No. 2 sponsored by Weyburn Energy and piloted by Parker Thompson should spend a lot of time at the head of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda field in 2016 (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

The No. 2 sponsored by Weyburn Energy and piloted by Parker Thompson should spend a lot of time at the head of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda field in 2016 (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

Moscow, Russia native Lastochkin was the model of consistency as he had 12 of 16 results fall within 7th and 10th place. The 25 year-old will need to increase his pace if he wants to keep up with his very quick teammates.

Last year wast he first year for the Team Pelfrey USF2000 program and while struggle might be too strong of a word, the team was certainly not happy with their overall effort. The Palmetto,Florida based team has made wholesale crew changes for 2016 and adding experienced USF2000 pilot Aaron Telitz to the Pro Mazda side of the house could pay dividends as he helps the team sort out their USF2000 cars.

Kiwi rookie James Munro (No. 83 ) was second quickest in testing at Barber Motorsports Park and should give the team its best chance at unseating Cape Motorsports with /WTR. The 19 year-old Munro has oodles of open wheel experience to draw upon, including Formula Ford (2013 champion) Formula Masters China (2014 champion) and three season of his home country’s Toyota Racing Series.

Also driving the familiar yellow and black Team Pelfrey entries will be:

TJ Fischer (No. 82), a 22 year-old who spent the last two season racing Formula Renault in Europe.  Fischer, originally from Wilsonville, Oregon, was also a scholarship Wide Receiver for Pacific Lutheran University. Fischer might not be a household name, but the driver with an engineering background was the second quickest rookie in testing and should contend for top fives as the season progresses.

Fourteen year-old Jordan Cane (No. 81)  is the closest thing to a phenom that the Mazda Road To Indy has ever had.  Described as a “natural” by more than one person that would know, the Bognor Regis, UK native won seven races and scored 10 podiums on the way to a fourth place F1600 Formula F Championship Series finish in 2015. This despite missing the first two events due to age restrictions. It would not be surprising to see Cane up front on occasion; however, this will be his first time racing on street-circuits and ovals, so our excitement is tempered just a little.

The fourth member of the Team Pelfrey squad is 16 year-old Robert Megennis (No. 80), who after a stand-out karting career, scored eight podiums in the F1600 Formula F Championship Series during his debut season in cars. Expect this to be a year of learning for the New York, New York native.

Slowly, but surely, Pabst Racing has been catching up to the front running Cape Motorsports with /WTR (Jake Eidson was right on champion Nico Jamin’s heels all season long), and with three quick sophomore drivers, this could be the year they overtake them.

Returning to the team is Los Angeles, California resident Yufeng Luo (No. 23). Luo had an up and down rookie USF2000 season where errors muted some solid finishes, but the 17 year-old was able to score three top five finishes on the way to a solid seventh place championship finish. Luo and Pabst Racing were able to finish off 2015 on a high note, taking victory in the Formula Continental Class at the SCCA Run-Offs. If Luo can cut down on his errors, there is no reason he can not challenge for podiums in 2016.

Making the move from Team Pelfrey to Pabst Racing is sophomore Garth Rickards (No. 22). The Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania native was the quickest of the Pabst drivers at the recent test, and should be in contention for podiums and wins in 2016. With 11 top 10’s in 2015, the 23 year-old graduate of Shippensburg University showed plenty of pace, but had some awful luck interfere with some good results.

Making a return stateside is Toowoomba, Australia native Jordan Lloyd (No. 21). Lloyd began 2015 contesting the USF2000 championship with John Cummiskey Racing, but funding issues sent him home after only four races. Lloyd, who was a stand-out Formula Ford racer, joined the CAMS Jayco Australian Formula 4 Championship where he won 12 races on the way to the championship and a $200,000 “Road to the World” scholarship. Lloyd had five top five finishes, including one podium in the nine USF2000 races he took part in (Cooper Tires Winterfest, and regular season), and was near the top of the time-sheets in testing. It would not be surprising to see that Lloyd is still in the championship hunt as the series wraps up at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

John Cummiskey Racing had an impressive first full USF2000 season, despite losing one of their two Aussie drivers early on and spending the majority of the events as a one car team. Former Penske crew chief and team owner John Cummiskey is meticulous with his car preparation, and experienced engineer Louis D’Agostino has a way of speaking the language of young drivers. The team was close to a win with Rookie of the Year Anthony Martin in 2015, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them contend for a wins in 2016.

Sophomore Ayla Agren (No. 33) will lead the Indianapolis, Indiana based team. If the USF2000 path of the 22 year-old is anything like her measured F1600 Formula F Championship Series journey which saw her win the championship in her second try in 2014, she should be in contention for wins and a championship. The Baerum, Norway certainly started the season strong in testing at Barber Motorsports Park, leading the final test session and finishing with the fourth quickest time, only one tenth of a second off of leader Martin.

Joining Agren at John Cummiskey Racing will be 17 year-old rookie Lucas Kohl (No. 34). The Santa Crus do Sul, Brazil native was a highly touted karting prospect, but does not have much experience in cars. Kohl’s transition will be eased by his coach and mentor, former F1 and IndyCar driver Roberto Moreno. Kohl was impressive in testing, and after he gets used to the downforce and power of a USF2000 car, he should be fighting for top tens.

JAY Motorsports driver and former Skip Barber Championship shootout winner Luke Gabin spent the 2015 season with Team Pelfrey.  Gabin, a 20 year-old has plenty of natural pace, which combined with experienced and successful engineer Daryl Bear (engineer for RC Enerson when he was USF2000 runner-up) should be able to produce a run at the championship.

A surprise returnee and late addition to the field, Victor Franzoni, becomes an immediate championship threat as the two time USF2000 winner joins ArmsUp Motorsports for the full season. Franzoni spent part of 2015 in USF2000 and Pro Mazda, and has shown that he has plenty of speed no matter what team he is driving for. If legendary F2000 engineer John Walko can harness Franzoni’s pace and combine it with some patience, the rest of the field will have their mirrors full of the Sao Paulo, Brazil native.

Joining Franzoni at ArmsUp  for a second season of USF2000 action is 22 year-old Max Hanratty (No. 6). The Milwaukee, Wisconsin resident had a steady 2015 season and will look to learn from his speedy teammate.

Afterburner Autosport makes their full-time return to the grid with Mazda Scholarship winner and San Diego, California native Dakota Dickerson (No. 18) and 17 year-old youngster Felipe Ortiz (No. 17). This should be a learning year for both drivers.

Sturgis, Michigan based RJB Motorsports will be making their USF2000 debut with two-time Team USA Scholarship winner Michai Stephens (No. 19) and former F600 champion Clint McMahan. (No. 20)  A new team with rookie drivers isn’t always a recipe for success, but if the 24 year-old Stephens can-do-attitude rubs off on the team, then they should steadily improve as the year goes on.

Another new team on the grid will be Chastain Motorsports. Derived for the former Indy Racing League team, the team has been competing in the F1600 Formula F Championship Series prior to their move to the Mazda Road To Indy.

The first driver for the Noblesville, Indiana based team is Sam Chastain (No. 77). The 23 year-old is an experienced F1600 Formula F Championship Series pilot, who scored an impressive pair of top 10’s at on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course in his only two USF2000 starts in May, 2015.

Austin McCusker (No. 5), a high school senior from Glen Head, New York will be Chastain’s second driver. The 18 year-old Team USA Scholarship nominee has experience in both the F1600 Formula F Championship Series and F2000 Championship Series series and should get up to speed quickly.

JDC Motorsports rounds out the Championship Class grid with rookie Tazio Ottis (No. 72) . The 20 year-old native of Berkely, California is the reigning Formula Mazda category champion in the Formula Car Challenge Presented by Goodyear. Ottis will benefit from the experience of the John Church led team and should consider any top 10 finishes a win.

Making a return to USF2000 in 2016 is the SCCA spec based National Class which will have two entries at St. Pete. Spencer Motorsports has entered Eric Filgueiras and JDC Motorsports has entered local Tampa Bay TV broadcaster Robert Allaer.


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