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Local Teenager Enerson Begins USF2000 Title Challenge in St. Petersburg
A field of over 20 talented young drivers representing nine different nations will line up for a pair of races this weekend as the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda gets under way with the Peninsula Pipeline Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Among those expected to be fighting for top honors is 17-year-old high school student RC Enerson, from nearby New Port Richey, Fla., who won the recent six-race Cooper Tires Winterfest mini-series with locally based Team E Racing and thereby marked himself among the "regular season" title favorites.

USF2000 represents the first step of the Mazda Road to Indy, one of the most successful driver development programs in the world which provides a unique, scholarship-funded path all the way from karting via USF2000, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires to the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500. All three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy will see action this weekend in support of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg IndyCar Series opener.

The new season will feature an intriguing mix of returning veterans and rookies, all of them intent upon following in the footsteps of other rising stars such as Matthew Brabham and Scott Hargrove. Brabham parlayed his 2012 MAZDASPEED scholarship prize into another title-winning season in Pro Mazda in 2013, and now will attempt the trifecta as he graduates into Indy Lights with another fully paid ride. Hargrove, the 2013 champion, has plans to follow the same route as he graduates into Pro Mazda with his own MAZDASPEED scholarship.

Enerson, who finished third in the 2012 National Class and went on to place ninth in the top-level Championship division last season, is improving all the time. He burst out of the blocks quickly at Winterfest, winning twice and adding two more podium finishes, and is keen to perform at the highest level in front of his home crowd in St. Petersburg.

He will have no shortage of challengers. Among those with prior experience in USF2000, much is expected of  Australian Scott Andrews (JDC MotorSports) and Texan teammate Clark Toppe; Englishman Michael Epps, Canadian Daniel Burkett and Frenchman Florian Latorre (Belardi Auto Racing); rapidly improving 15-year-old Austin Cindric (Pabst Racing); Norwegian Henrik Furuseth, who drives for locally based (in Palmetto) JAY Motorsports; Peter Portante (ArmsUp Motorsports) and Dutchman Jeroen Slaghekke (Afterburner Autosport).

It will be well worth keeping an eye on a gifted group of rookies, too. Among them will be Jake Eidson, who has a winning pedigree which includes three Skip Barber titles, last year's F1600 Championship Series crown - driving for St. Petersburg-based Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing - and a coveted Team USA Scholarship. Eidson dipped a toe in the USF2000 waters by competing last year both at Sebring and on the streets of St. Petersburg. Furthermore, he has chosen to remain with the Cape brothers' team which has won the last three USF2000 crowns with Petri Suvanto (2011), Brabham (2012) and Hargrove (2013).

Others rookies to watch will include Wisconsin native Aaron Telitz (ArmsUp Motorsports), who secured a MAZDASPEED scholarship when he won the Skip Barber National Championship Shootout; Brazilian Victor Franzoni (Afterburner Autosport), winner of the opening round of the recent Winterfest; Frenchman Nico Jamin (Belardi Auto Racing), who has shown well in European Formula Renault; Skip Barber and F1600 race winner Adrian Starrantino (JAY Motorsports); and young American karting graduates Will Owen (Pabst Racing) and Andrew List, who will represent his family's ambitious new D2D Motorsports team.

The USF2000 contenders will be first to venture out onto the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary circuit for practice at 8:00 am EDT on Friday, March 28. Following a second half-hour practice at 3:00 pm, qualifying will start at 11:00 am on Saturday and then the green flag for Race 1 will fly at 4:40 pm. Race 2 on Sunday will start at 8:50 am. Live commentary, plus timing and scoring, will be available for every session at www.usf2000.com, and visit RoadToIndy.TV for an inside look at USF2000 drivers and teams.

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