The 14-race season is finely poised at the halfway stage, with American Spencer Pigot and Canadian Scott Hargrove separated by just three points. At stake is a MAZDASPEED scholarship prize worth in excess of $550,000, which will assist the series champion's graduation to the next level of the Mazda Road to Indy, Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, in 2015.
Pigot, 20, from Orlando, Fla., began his campaign in dominant fashion, winning each of the first four races for Juncos Racing, but since then Hargrove, who won last year's Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, has whittled away at the deficit on the heels of two wins at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis road circuit and a second-place finish at the Lucas Oil Raceway oval for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing.
The battle for third place is even closer, with young Americans Kyle Kaiser (Juncos Racing) and Neil Alberico (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing) holding identical point tallies after seven rounds of competition.
Canada's Grist Looks to Build on Momentum of Maiden Victory
Andretti Autosport rookie Garett Grist also will be among those expected to challenge for wins. Grist, 19, won once in 2013 as a rookie in the USF2000 championship, and has made a strong impression since graduating to Pro Mazda this year. The youngster from Grimsby, Ont., Canada finished third in the preseason Cooper Tires Winterfest, winning once at NOLA Motorsports Park. He endured a disappointing start to the regular season but has since made steady progress, culminating in an impressive victory from the pole in the most recent race at Lucas Oil Raceway.
Local Driver Toppe and Brazil's Donato to Make Pro Mazda Debuts
Toppe is a regular on the USF2000 circuit and currently sits seventh in the championship chase. The teenager, who scored his first USF2000 race win during the preseason Cooper Tires Winterfest at NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans, will be contesting his hometown race with the benefit of his experienced JDC MotorSports squad, which fields full-season programs for Michael Johnson and Ryan Booth.
Donato contested a partial season of 10 USF2000 races in 2013 with a best finish of fifth and will turn his first official Pro Mazda laps with another experienced outfit in M1 Racing of Cresson, Texas.
Bumgarner Busy Prior to the Race Weekend
Filipina-American racer Michele Bumgarner, who drives for World Speed Motorsports, will be the featured guest at a Grand Prix Kick-Off Party at OKRA Charity Saloon, 924 Congress, Houston today. The party, from 6-9 p.m., co-hosted by the Filipino Young Professionals of Houston, will rally support for Asia Society Texas Center (ASTC), one of the non-profit finalists competing to win 100 percent of OKRA's proceeds during the month of June 2014. If ASTC wins, July's funds will be used to support educational programs for children and families. Admission is free to the kick-off party and food and drinks will be available for purchase.
On Thursday, June 26, Bumgarner will join motorsports marketing strategist LeeAnne Nash in addressing the National Association of Women Business Owners during their monthly luncheon in Houston. The pair will talk about how far women have come in motorsports and how racing is driving businesses to succeed. They will also offer up a pair of VIP credentials for the race weekend.
Four Drivers Visit Texas Children's Hospital
Pro Mazda drivers Pigot, Hargrove, Alberico and Booth will pay a visit to Texas Children's Hospital at 1:00 p.m. on Thursday as part of the Racing for Kids program which this year celebrates its 25th anniversary. The four drivers, along with Racing for Kids founder Dr. William Pinsky, will visit young patients and hand out Racing for Kids caps and coloring books, sign autographs, pose for photos and talk about their racing careers. Racing for Kids has visited more than 27,000 children in over 525 hospitals around the world.
Toppe, Gutierrez Join James Hinchcliffe at K1 Speed Karting Center
Also on Thursday, local driver Clarke Toppe and Mexican teenager Jose Gutierrez, who scored his first podium finish for Juncos Racing last month in Indianapolis, will join Verizon IndyCar Series star James Hinchcliffe for a Speed Group meet-and-greet and karting action at the K1 Speed Karting Center at 14900 Northwest Fwy, Houston from 7-8 p.m. Giveaway prizes include race tickets and gear from each of the drivers attending.
Local Aggie Pursues Racing Dream, Educates Fellow Aggies
Houston-area resident Bobby Eberle will not only be racing this weekend with World Speed Motorsports, he will also be giving back to his alma mater through education. A 1990 graduate of Texas A&M University with a degree in aerospace engineering, Eberle is working his way up the ladder system and along the way has established a program to educate engineering students about race engineering. Five current Texas A&M engineering students will be helping Eberle's race team this weekend and gaining valuable experience in the process.
"There's nothing like real-world experience to complement the fantastic job that Texas A&M does in educating future engineers," said Eberle. "The students get to participate in team meetings, get briefings from the chief engineer, and also get feedback from me. I'm so happy to be doing something that helps the students and gives back to Texas A&M."
Eberle, the crew and the students of the Aggie Racing Team will all be available for interviews throughout the course of the weekend.
On-Track Action Begins Friday
The Pro Mazda competitors will take to the 1.7-mile track for a pair of 30-minute practice sessions on Friday, June 27, at 9:15 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. CDT. Qualifying will take place at 9:15 a.m. on Saturday. Race 1 will start later that afternoon at 1:05 p.m., with Race 2 on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. Both races will take place just prior to the green flag for the Verizon IndyCar Series 'Double Down in H-Town' – the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader. Live timing and commentary for all sessions will be available at www.promazdachampionship.com, and the pair of races will be featured in the third highlight show of the season on the NBC Sports Network scheduled for broadcast on August 24.