The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series will take to the streets (and runways) of downtown St. Petersburg, Fla. for the 17th and 18th time this weekend. It’s the fifth straight and sixth overall year that the series contests their first race of the year on the shore of Tampa Bay.
Previous race winning drivers and teams at the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda events in St. Petersburg, Fla.
|2017 Race #2||Oliver Askew||Cape Motorsports||2|
|2017 Race #1||Robert Megennis||Team Pelfrey||1|
|2016 Race #2||Yufeng Luo||Pabst Racing||3|
|2016 Race #1||Jordan Lloyd||Pabst Racing||1|
|2015 Race #2||Jake Eidsen||Pabst Racing||1|
|2015 Race #1||Jake Eidsen||Pabst Racing||1|
|2014 Race #2||RC Enerson||Team E Racing||2|
|2014 Race #1||Victor Franzoni||Afterburner Autosport||1|
|2013 Race #2||Scott Hargrove||Cape Motorsports||1|
|2013 Race #1||Scott Hargrove||Cape Motorsports||1|
|2012 Race #2||Spencer Pigot||Cape Motorsports||2|
|2012 Race #1||Spencer Pigot||Cape Motorsports||1|
|2011 Race #2||Petri Suvanto||Cape Motorsports||1|
|2011 Race #1||Spencer Pigot||Andretti Autosport||1|
|2010 Race #2||Sage Karam||Andretti Autosport||1|
|2010 Race #1||Sage Karam||Andretti Autosport||1|
Race weekend basics:
- The official name of the pair of races is: Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Allied Building Products
- Saturday’s Race 1 is scheduled for 20 laps or 40 minutes
- Sunday’s Race 2 – is scheduled for 25 laps or 40 minutes
- Each entry is permitted to use three sets of new Cooper Tire slicks, and can also carry over one set that has to be used in the first practice session of the event
- Each entry is permitted to use three sets of new Cooper Tire rains.
- Driver points are distributed as follows: 30 – 25 – 22 – 19 – 17 – 15 -14 – 13 – 12 – 11 – 10 – 9 – 8 – 7 – 6 – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – an additional one point will be awarded to the pole sitter, and to the driver who leads the most laps
Last year, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda witnessed a rebirth with the launch of the new Tatuus USF-17 Mazda and a scintillating title tilt between Cape Motorsports’ Oliver Askew and Pabst Racing’s Rinus VeeKay.
One of USF2000’s major selling points is it provides a first introduction to the potential Verizon IndyCar Series stars on IndyCar race weekends at the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder. And drivers will be vying for the $325,000 Mazda Motorsports advancement scholarship, with a chance to step up to Pro Mazda the following year.
It’s been Cape’s wheelhouse in USF2000 as the team has had seven straight driver’s championships. But there are plenty of multi-car teams nipping at their heels, hungry to wrest the title from the Cape’s grasp.
With 24 solid entries, the USF2000 series is deep in both quality and quantity this season.
Kirkwood, Cape’s “Magic 8 Ball”
“Seven-up” isn’t just a soda – it’s also the term that describes Cape Motorsports’ level of domination in USF2000 these last seven years.
But the “Magic 8 Ball” nearly forecast something out of the ordinary for 2018: Cape not returning to go for an eighth straight championship in the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder.
The story has a happy ending though, with a new beginning. Cape will return with a single-car effort, adorned in the Cape’s ubiquitous “Magic 8 Ball” livery, and with its U.S. F4 champion Kyle Kirkwood aboard the No. 8 Tatuus USF-17 Mazda for a full USF2000 season.
Kirkwood, then, has the somewhat unenviable task of sustaining the legacy the Capes have built-in USF2000, as the team’s eighth straight champion. If he does, he’ll follow last year’s champion in Oliver Askew, who is quite possibly Kirkwood’s best friend as the two have enjoyed parallel careers and growth to this point.
Kirkwood and Askew – the pair of Jupiter, Fla. natives who are seemingly joined at the hip and 2016 Team USA Scholarship recipients – will once again be teammates in 2018, albeit in different championships. Askew moves up to Pro Mazda this season by way of winning last year’s title and the Mazda Motorsports advancement scholarship that comes with it.
This is a tried-and-true methodology where the last five Cape USF2000 champions have leapt to Pro Mazda with the same team (before Askew, it was Anthony Martin last year, then Nico Jamin, Florian Latorre, and Scott Hargrove) while a newcomer fills their stead at Cape’s USF2000 outfit. You’d have to go back to Matty Brabham in 2013 to find the last Cape USF2000 champion who didn’t move up to Pro Mazda with the same team, as he did so with Andretti Autosport.
For Kirkwood’s part, having the confidence in both Askew and the Cape team will fuel his motivation to add another title to his resume this season.
“It definitely does. Especially with my teammate Oliver Askew who’s now moved up to Pro Mazda,” Kirkwood told TSO Ladder. “We’ve always run together, we’ve always been head-to-head, and seeing him win the championship last year gives me the confidence that I can go out there and do the same thing. I’m really fortunate to be with this team. What they’ve shown by winning the driver’s championship for the last seven years has given me a really big confidence boost.”
A quartet of hungry Pabst drivers
Kirkwood will fly Cape’s flag solo, and in order to maintain the team’s somewhat incredible run of championships, he’ll have to beat a now four-headed monster from Pabst Racing.
The Oconomowoc, Wis.-based team’s methodical growth has occurred over the last several years where Augie Pabst’s team has leapt from two cars up to three, and this year, expands to four. Pabst usually starts well, having been a regular winner here with the previous generation Van Diemen chassis, but had a rare shutout from victory lane last year in the debut with the new Tatuus.
The inter-team dynamic will be fascinating to watch between the quartet of youngsters, three of whom are USF2000 veterans and the fourth who appears an up-and-coming rookie.
Pabst’s two holdovers are Calvin Ming and Lucas Kohl, with the Guyana and Brazilian drivers both primed to secure their first series victories after finding their way to the podium multiple times last season. The teenaged Kaylen Frederick shifts to Pabst from Team Pelfrey and will look to build on an impressive debut season. Newcomer Rasmus Lindh of Sweden immediately announced his arrival to the MRTI paddock at October’s Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy test in Indianapolis with Team BENIK and has followed up with further strong tests with Pabst over the winter.
Pabst deservedly achieved its first team’s championship last year, Ming and Kohl playing “best supporting actor” roles to Dutch star Rinus VeeKay, who was both the model of pace and consistency all season. In a year without Askew in the field, VeeKay could well have won last year’s title. Alas, with four highly capable drivers, Pabst is a good bet to finally take its first driver’s title this season. Quite who emerges as the lead driver of this quartet will be a storyline throughout the year.
Kohl, who enters his third season in USF2000 and second with Pabst, continues to mature with Pabst and with driver coach Roberto Moreno.
“It’s good to have as many fast teammates as you can get. If we all go fast, we have each other’s data,” Kohl said.
“You try to regularly be on the podium every weekend, and get some race wins. I’ve done a lot of go-karting, me and Roberto. I did a winter tour, and some in SKUSA. I do a lot of cycling. It helps (race craft); you have to be on the limit every lap to get a great result. For me, being on the track almost every weekend in a go-kart was really important.”
Newman Wachs, DEForce poised to win in year two
If your first year is a year to lay the groundwork, the second year is an opportunity to take the next step and properly join the top flight of contenders.
For Newman Wachs Racing and DEForce Racing, the time may be now to break up the Cape and Pabst juggernaut at the top of the USF2000 field.
Newman Wachs returned to open-wheel racing after a lengthy hiatus going back to the old Atlantic days, while DEForce formed in the 2016-’17 offseason and had made immediate strides.
Newman Wachs has a three-car lineup, led by Boca Raton, Fla. native Darren Keane for what will be his first full season after running a majority but not all of 2017. Keane, who has quickly matured and developed under the watchful eye of veteran sports car ace Ozz Negri, looks at the very least a likely podium finisher if not a potential first-time race winner.
“Obviously, the goal is to win, but if we can’t, and I can’t expect that for myself, I can wish that, but I can’t all out of whack if that doesn’t happen. I think we’re definitely going to have a good year,” Keane told TSO Ladder. “We’ve had a really good offseason, and the Newman Wachs guys and myself have really developed the car well. I think we’re in good shape for the season, and I know we’re going to be running up front all season in the top five.”
Keane had an off-kilter first season where he debuted with Team BENIK at the Indianapolis road course and moved to Newman Wachs from Road America onwards. He did so without the benefit of a teammate most weekends, as Newman Wachs’ planned three-car effort for the year quickly evaporated due to budgetary constraints. Dakota Dickerson, Andre Castro and a handful of others made starts, but none lasted more than three weekends.
In rookies David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga, Keane has two steady sets of data to feed off at the weekends. TSO still expects Keane to be the pace-setter of the three of them, with Osborne featuring some potential given his nomination as a Team USA Scholarship finalist in 2017.
“It’ll be nice to have teammates this year,” Keane explained. “It’ll be a lot better because you can try stuff with the different cars to get to set-ups quicker. Also, they’ll be quicker than me in some places, so I’ll learn from, and they’ll learn from me. It helps the effort having extra knowledge because it gives us more data to work with.”
For DEForce, a four-car effort showcases the team’s rapid and increased commitment, especially given two of the team’s four deals were concluded in the final weeks leading up to St. Petersburg. For the David and Ernesto Martinez-owned team, “DEForce” could be more than just a team name this year – it could well be a testament to their level of performance.
Sugar Land, Texas native Kory Enders quietly impressed as his rookie year progressed. At 20, he’s right in that perfect age wheelhouse of succeeding in USF2000 and potentially moving into Pro Mazda, and he’s already tested in that championship prior to his sophomore USF2000 campaign. Don’t be surprised if Enders, who’s quickly gelled with DEForce engineer Peter Dempsey, delivers DEForce’s first win in the series.
“It’s great. Peter has been a fantastic addition to the team,” Enders told TSO Ladder. “I’ve worked with him for a couple of years. When he was with Juncos (Racing), he helped us out a few times, and he fits in with the team.
“He does know how to push a driver, and he’s really got a lot of time out of me. He’s been able to help me find my potential and unlocking more and more potential as we go each day. He’s a great driver coach, he really is.”
Enders may not be the team’s only threat. Jose Sierra joins for a full-season effort after impressing in a one-off at Toronto, where he finished fourth. Sierra was the 2017 FIA F4 NACAM runner-up.
Newcomers Colin Kaminsky and Zach Holden complete the quartet, neither having planned to be here even a few weeks ago but now taking up stead in the third and fourth entries. Kaminsky ran a majority of races last season either under his family banner or later, with John Cummiskey Racing. Holden made his USF2000 debut with BN Racing at Watkins Glen and looked set to link up with them for a full 2018 season before that changed in the final week leading into St. Petersburg. The Greenfield, Ind. native is a karting standout, and another potential surprise driver this season.
Pelfrey, Exclusive seek winning return with new lineups
If Newman Wachs and DEForce are poised to win their first USF2000 races this season, Team Pelfrey and Exclusive Autosport will want to win more regularly this season after sporadic victory lane pop-ins in 2017.
Pelfrey’s 2017 season started strongly but quickly hit a couple of pitfalls. Robert Megennis never seemed to regain his form after a finely executed first win at St. Petersburg, while Kaylen Frederick impressed but never won. A double exclusion at the Indianapolis road course put pause to their title hopes, and the team was unable to recapture the early season magic.
Entirely the opposite occurred at Exclusive, with Michael Duncalfe’s Saskatoon, Saskatchewan based team improving as the year went on. Parker Thompson entered the year as a presumptive title favorite but didn’t fully hit his stride until Toronto, with a popular home weekend sweep.
For Team Pelfrey, a new trio enters into its three cars this year. South African Julian van der Watt, American Kyle Dupell and Brazilian Bruna Tomaselli take over the trademark Pelfrey Nos. 80, 81 and 82 yellow and black machines. Tomaselli is the only sophomore, and the young Brazilian will look to grow and develop this season. Pelfrey does have a recent history of producing fantastic freshmen – Frederick and Megennis were revelations in their first seasons – and under the tutelage of veteran engineer Rick Cameron and team manager Jonny Baker, expect the pair of freshmen here to progressively improve as well.
Exclusive has a pair of newcomers in Manuel Cabrera, and Igor Fraga joined by veteran sports car driver Jayson Clunie, who ran a partial USF2000 campaign. Cabrera won last year’s Formula PanAm series and a ticket to the USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout; Fraga, like Sierra at DEForce, is an FIA F4 NACAM race winner who moves into a similar car this year. These two aren’t household names yet but could well do so later this year.
Soul Red Scholarship standout Donegan heads to ArmsUp
The true family feel at ArmsUp Motorsports, the Sheboygan Falls, Wis.-based outfit led by Gregg and Brent Borland, is back with a one-car effort and Mazda’s Soul Red colors adorning the usually silver chassis with Irishman Keith Donegan picking this team. He’ll have the opportunity to shine working at this close-knit outfit and with veteran engineer John Walko.
ArmsUp was respectable in a deep field last year with Devin Wojcik, while Donegan naturally has the potential to emulate Victor Franzoni (2016) and Aaron Telitz (2014) as recent ArmsUp USF2000 race winners. It is an even-numbered year, so that bodes well for all involved here…
“Sweet” Jamie Caroline arrives on U.S. shores
If you don’t know the name Jamie Caroline yet in the U.S., you might want to jot it down. Because some of his moves are as memorable and “can’t get it out of your head” on track as Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” is on the radio.
Rather than more words here, here’s what happens when you type Jamie Caroline into YouTube.
He’s also last year’s British F4 champion. He’s widely being hailed as a potential championship contender, even with this deal with BN Racing being struck as late as it has been.
BN made an early splash last year with David Malukas, and Caroline could well do the same this year.
Russell McDonough is the team’s second driver and while not as highly rated as Caroline, he’ll provide a second set of data and input for Caroline to build off of.
Benik, Sol.O’s hopes
The Cape (1 car), Pabst (4), Newman Wachs (3), DEForce (4), Pelfrey (3), Exclusive (3) and ArmsUp (1) teams make up 19 of the 24 cars, leaving five remaining cars from three teams that will try to make their mark on the field.
We mentioned BN above with its two cars, and that leaves karting standouts Team Benik and the new Sol.O Racing to round out the field.
Benik had a roller coaster debut season in USF2000, with a number of different drivers taking turns in the team’s two cars.
Sabre Cook and Michael d’Orlando are first up this weekend in the team’s two entries. Cook has tested for multiple teams, and the Colorado native will look to progress up the order in her first start. D’Orlando is another karting veteran making a step up to cars.
The Sol.O Racing team features F4 driver Mathias Soler-Obel, driving in his family-run, Atlanta-based team. As a debuting single-car team, they’ll have a steep mountain to climb, but will no doubt give the effort to succeed. Soler-Obel won the first season of the Lucas Oil School of Racing, so he does have a pedigree of winning.