Gomes claims inaugural INDYCAR Academy shootout
Aspiring racers hope to reach the IZOD IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500 via the Mazda Road to Indy developmental program, which encompasses the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, Pro Mazda Championship and Firestone Indy Lights.
Andre Gomes hopes to follow that path.
Gomes, a 25-year-old computer technician from Nashua, N.H., won the inaugural Skip Barber Racing School INDYCAR Academy shootout last weekend at Sebring International Raceway.
He receives a sponsored ride in either the 2013 summer Skip Barber Regional Race Series presented by Mazda or the 2013 winter series. IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights team owner Bryan Herta also announced that the winner will be given a hospitality and garage pass for the Indianapolis 500, including a chance to be with the No. 98 Barracuda Racing car on the starting grid.
"It's such an amazing experience," Gomes said. "I got here and I was obviously very nervous. I'm sure everybody was very nervous. I was very surprised at how quick everybody was. All of us, we have very little or no experience, and I thought everybody was really quick even without, or especially without any experience.
"I'm speechless. It's such a great feeling to be here and win this one-of-a-kind shootout. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for everybody working hard to make this happen. That includes the mechanics, but everybody -- even the guy that made my sandwich today. If I have no food, I can't drive."
The program included four on-track sessions with drivers receiving a maximum 70 points per session. The points were awarded on the fastest lap of each session (worth 35 points) and the fastest average lap of that session (35 points). Points were then awarded on a descending scale for the rest of the group as they would be given in a Skip Barber Race Series event.
How a driver conducts himself on the race course similar to the Rookie Orientation Program at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway prior to the Indy 500 or a rookie test in the IZOD IndyCar Series also is gauged. An additional 70 points were awarded on the evaluation of the Skip Barber Racing School instructors with points based on based on the driver's attitude, desire, and ability to apply feedback among other factors.
"To be honest, this is an amazing opportunity for people who have never raced," said Bruce MacInnes, a long-time Skip Barber Racing School instructor. "When I started racing, there was nothing like this and Skip Barber Racing School has become a venue for the best guys in America.
"These are the cream of the crop of all of the kids we taught in three-day racing schools throughout the year. I just did a slaloming exercise with every one of them. Best kids I've ever seen. It's amazing. I've been here 37 years and these kids are brilliant."