35-Car Grid Set to Challenge in USF2000 Season-Opener at Sebring
Interest in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, the first step on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, has skyrocketed over the winter, such that a high-quality field of 35 entries is poised to take the green flag in the opening rounds of the 14-race championship. The pair of races will be held in support of the 60th Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida at historic Sebring International Raceway on March 15-16.
A total of 22 Championship Class cars currently grace the entry list, along with 13 National Class cars which include 10 of the newly eligible SCCA Formula Enterprises Van Diemen-Mazdas. Previously, the largest field since USF2000 was re-introduced in 2010 after a three-year hiatus comprised 19 cars at the 2011 season finale on the streets of Baltimore.
“When I look at the entry list, I am not only excited about the number of entries but the talent that is on board for this season,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions, the series promoter. “There are numerous drivers who I believe are truly future stars. In the relatively short time the Mazda Road to Indy ladder has been in place, it has proven to be a system that works. We have tremendous partners who are committed to paving the way for drivers to make it in this sport and continually strive to make this program better. It’s an exciting time for our series.”
Orlando, Fla., Resident Spencer Pigot Sets the Bar in the Championship Class Field
Eighteen-year-old Spencer Pigot, who finished second as a rookie in the 2011 USF2000 title-chase, will be among the favorites for honors at Sebring. Driving for championship-winning Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, Pigot dominated last month’s Cooper Tires Winterfest Championship winning five rounds of the six-race mini series which comprised three races each at Sebring and Palm Beach International Raceway.
"The Cooper Tires Winterfest was great for me in so many ways," said Pigot. "The competition was really strong, with 20 cars showing up at Sebring. To get five out of the six wins, that’s really good for me, for my confidence, for the team, for everyone, so now we’ve got to go out and live up to it and do it all again in the regular season."
Defending SCCA National Champion Scott Rettich Heads FE Contingent in National Class
Reigning SCCA Formula Enterprises Pro Series champion and Camden, Ohio, resident Scott Rettich of Alliance Autosport is among a large contingent of drivers who are taking advantage of an off-season rule change to permit the cost-effective Formula Enterprises (FE) cars into the USF2000 National Class alongside the more traditional Van Diemen-Zetecs. The strong field also includes 2011 SCCA Pro Formula Enterprises Rookie of the Year Patrick Gallagher, who will drive for JAY Motorsports.
Paralyzed Racer Michael Johnson Set for USF2000 Debut
There are plenty of stories about race car drivers who have overcome adversity to chase their dreams. Few are as inspirational as that of Michael Johnson, who will make his professional racing debut at Sebring with JDC MotorSports.
Johnson is paralyzed from the mid chest down, the legacy of a dirt track motorcycle racing accident when he was 12 years old. At that stage he already had 14 championships to his name, and even as he began to recover from the life-changing injury, he found the competitive spirit still burned strong. Two years later, Johnson began competing again, this time in karts. He graduated to cars in 2010 with the Skip Barber Racing School, and in 2011 finished third in the hotly contested Skip Barber Summer Series, earning three wins and seven podium finishes.
"It’s been a challenge getting the license issues all figured out and just getting my driving figured out, but I love racing," said Johnson, 19, from Flint, Mich. "I’ve done it my whole life and I don’t want to stop. I want to prove to my dad, friends, family that I can do it. Right now the biggest challenge is trusting the car. It has a lot more performance than the Skip Barber car, and the braking is a little bit demanding. I think with a little more seat time, more practice and just improving my mental game, I’ll be there. It’s going to take me a little bit but I’ll get there."
Matthew Brabham Seeks to Uphold Family Honor at Sebring
The only driver to beat Pigot during the Cooper Tires Winterfest was highly rated rookie Matthew Brabham. The name Brabham will be familiar to regular race fans. His father, Geoff, won the Sebring Twelve Hours for Nissan on two occasions, including once with his brother Gary in 1991, and this year will be among five drivers being inducted into the Sebring Hall of Fame. Brabham’s grandfather, Sir Jack Brabham, clinched the first of his three Formula One World Championships at Sebring in 1959, despite running out of fuel and literally having to push his Cooper across the finish line to claim fourth place in the first and only United States Grand Prix to be held in Florida, while his Uncle David has scored three class victories in the Twelve Hours, as well as finishing second overall last year in Highcroft Racing’s HPD-ARX.
Brabham, who holds dual American and Australian citizenship after being born in south Florida and then raised in Australia, has every intention of following in their footsteps.
"That’s the goal," said Brabham, 18, who has raced with some success in the Australian Formula Ford Championship for the last couple of years. "Dad gave me a few tips, a few stories as well, so I’m really looking forward to Sebring. These cars are fantastic to drive and the drivers are all really good as well, so it’s been great for experience. I really wanted to race overseas this year and the Mazda Road to Indy seemed to offer a fantastic opportunity. It’s really professional and it’s not just about the driving and learning, it’s all the media interest and all the other resources they offer, too."
Strength in Numbers: Eight Florida-based Drivers on the Grid
Six other drivers in addition to Pigot and Brabham will have short road trips to the USF2000 season-opening events at Sebring and St. Petersburg, the following weekend. These include Skip Barber Regional Series race winner RC Enerson of New Port Richey driving for ZSports Midwest with Team E Racing; Robinson Motor Sports’ Eric Filgueiras of Cocoa Beach, who showed good form during the inaugural Mazda Road to Indy Scouting Combine initiative last fall; popular driver Shannon McIntosh of St. Petersburg who returns for her sophomore season driving for the 2011 National Class Championship-winning team of Pabst Racing Services; mechanical engineering student and two-time 2012 SCCA FA class winner Collete Davis of Daytona Beach with One Formula Racing; two-time FE National Champion and Melbourne resident Mark Eaton of Robinson Motor Sports; and FE Pro competitor Wally Osinga of Special Addition Racing who resides in Seminole.
USF2000 Second-Year Drivers Looking to Make Their Mark
Additional challengers for the top step on the Championship Class podium this season will come from six other second-year USF2000 drivers. Leading the charge are 2011 fifth-place championship finisher Matthew Di Leo of MDL Racing; Roman Lagudi of Belardi Auto Racing, who finished third in the season finale at Baltimore, and teammate Luca Forgeois, the 2011 National Class champion; Timmy Megenbier of Afterburner Autosport, a podium finisher at Mid-Ohio; and Luigi Biangardi, one of the youngest drivers in the field at age 15, with ArmsUp Motorsports.
Canadian Drivers Set to Challenge
Four young talents will be flying their country’s flag in the Championship Class this season: Toronto-born Dalton Kellett, who currently resides in Stouffville, a highly rated karting talent and first-year engineering student driving for Pabst Racing Services; Thomas McGregor of Saskatoon, the 2011 Skip Barber Racing School Formula Southern Series champion and Andretti Autosport driver; Vancouver native Scott Hargrove, the Skip Barber Summer Series Rookie of the Year who drives for JDC MotorSports; and Matthew Di Leo, noted above, who lives in Innisfil.
USF2000 Enjoys International Appeal
Drivers from Korea, Norway and Northern Ireland will be placing bids in this year’s championship chase. Former Korean sports car champion Heamin Choi of Busan, Korea, will line up with Afterburner Autosport. Highly rated Norwegian youngster Henrik Furuseth of Oslo, Norway, is tapped to lead Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing’s first foray into the National Class. And Northern Irishman Isaac Lyons of Lisburn, who is seeking to make a comeback after scoring some top results in the Skip Barber Racing National Championship a couple of years ago, will lead the charge for Genoa/Primus Racing.
Ones to Watch
Several more drivers with strong credentials will be looking to heat up the championship chase in both classes. Championship Class contenders will include Trent Hindman of Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, the 2011 BF Goodrich/Skip Barber National Series Presented by Mazda championship runner-up/Rookie of the Year and Team USA Scholarship recipient; Andretti Autosport’s Shelby Blackstock, a Skip Barber Summer Series multiple race winner and Winterfest podium finisher; reigning Skip Barber National Champion Scott Anderson, who will carry the MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development colors on his Belardi Auto Racing entry, and teammate Colin Thompson, who won at Sebring in Skip Barber Regional competition; Neil Alberico of JDC MotorSports, who spent the 2011 season competing in Europe and is a Team USA Scholarship winner who finished third in the highly regarded Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch, and teammate Chris Miller, who finished fourth in his two-race series debut last year; Jason Wolfe of JAY Motorsports, who finished third in the SCCA Pro Formula Enterprises series last year; and Zac Silver of JDC MotorSports, who was the youngest winner of an SCCA Formula Mazda national event in 2011.
In National Class competition, additional drivers to watch include Robinson Motor Sports’ Paul Alspach, who claimed a pair of National Class wins during the Cooper Tires Winterfest at Sebring; Mazda Road to Indy Scouting Combine winner Bobby Kelley with ArmsUp Motorsports; team owner/driver Patrick Linn of PRL Motorsports, an FE podium finisher at Road Atlanta; and veteran FE Pro competitors and multiple race winners Eric Cruz of Cruzinc Racing and Jim Libecco of JAY Motorsports.