ALMETTO, Fla. – The dust has barely settled on a thrilling season of Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda competition, but most teams are already looking to get a head start on their 2013 campaigns.
Twelve different USF2000 teams and a total of 28 drivers representing seven nations will converge on the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway next week, on October 10/11, for the second annual Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Open Test.
The two-day event hosted by INDYCAR is named in honor of the hugely accomplished mechanic-turned-team manager who spearheaded the Sam Schmidt Motorsports Indy Lights organization before passing away unexpectedly in September 2011. Over 50 drivers will take part in the outing which utilizes the F1/MotoGP road course and brings together the USF2000, Star Mazda and Firestone Indy Lights ladder series.
“We are thrilled with the interest in this test and the talent that is entered,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “I have to take my hat off to INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for making this fantastic program possible. It is a great platform to showcase the Mazda Road to Indy. We are excited to meet future drivers for our series and also to witness the progress of our graduates as they move up the ladder system.”
Several newcomers have earned an opportunity to take part in the open test as a result of INDYCAR and USF2000 alliances with a variety of other development series. Among them are 17-year-old Jake Eidson, from Littleton, Colo., winner of the Skip Barber Winter Series presented by Mazda (and very much in contention to add the SBRS Summer Series title going into the final two races of the season this weekend at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut); Nathan Blok, 18, from Beachburg, Ont., Canada, who recently clinched his second Quebec Formula Tour 1600 Championship title; Michael Adams, 18, from Courtice, Ont., Canada, provisional winner of the Ontario F1600 Championship; and Antti Buri, 23, from Turku, Finland, winner of the MSA Formula Ford Championship of Great Britain.
Eidson will drive for Indianapolis-based Belardi Auto Racing alongside fellow Skip Barber standouts Danilo Estrela, 19, from Goiania, Brazil, who finished second in the SBRS Winter Series after winning a MAZDASPEEDMotorsports Development Driver contract, and Adrian Starrantino, 18, from Simi Valley, Calif. Highly rated Rotax Grand National Karting Champion and SKUSA SuperNats S2 Champion Nick Neri, 16, from Palmetto, Fla., will share a fourth Belardi car with young Brazilian Yukio Duzanowski.
Blok will take up his prize drive with Afterburner Autosport, joining locally based karting standout Joe Ruch, from Frankfort, Ind., who impressed observers at last year’s Mazda Road to Indy Scouting Combine after winning a nomination from the SKUSA Central States Challenge, and Skip Barber racer Ryan Verra, from Calgary, Alb., Canada.
Fellow first-year USF2000 team JAY Motorsports, which recently clinched the SCCA FE National Championship with Patrick Gallagher, will field Ontario F1600 champion Adams in one of its Van Diemen-Mazdas, while British FF champion Buri – seeking to mark himself as the latest in a long line of “Flying Finns” – will take up his ride with JDC MotorSports.
The Minnesota-based squad also will welcome back Michael Johnson, from Flint, Mich., the first paralyzed racer on the Mazda Road to Indy. F1600 Championship Series points leader Brandon Newey, 20, from Carmel, Ind., 16-year-old Sennan Fielding, from Chesterfield, England, who raced this year in the British Ginetta Junior Championship, and Kevin Aabol, from Sandefjord, Norway, also will pilot cars for JDC MotorSports.
“I am very grateful to have this opportunity to test with JDC for my first drive in the USF2000 Series,” said Newey. “It will be an honor to drive at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the Chris Griffis Memorial test and I could not be more excited. USF2000 is getting more and more competitive every year and would be a great step up for me to take next season. With all of the success of the Mazda Road to Indy, it will be great to finally be a part of it.”
Ayla Agren, 19, from Slemmestad, Norway, is the only female on the entry list but her previous exploits both in karting and, more recently, in the Skip Barber Summer Series presented by Mazda have marked her as another potential future star. Agren will drive for Andretti Autosport, for which Ryan Hunter-Reay recently became the first American driver since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006 to win the IZOD IndyCar Series crown.
“My goal for next year is to move up to USF2000 and learn how to work with a professional team,” said Agren. “Just to be able to test with a team like Andretti is an amazing opportunity for me. Last year I tested with Cape Motorsports, and after a year of racing in the Skip Barber Summer Series, it will be very interesting to see what the difference in my driving will be. And I am looking forward to applying what I have been taught at Skip Barber during this summer in a different car.”
Indianapolis-based Andretti Autosport is the only squad to field cars in all four levels of the Mazda Road to Indy and won the 2010 USF2000 title with Sage Karam. Luca Forgeois, 17, from New York, N.Y., who won the 2011 USF2000 National Class crown, also will drive one of the Michael Andretti-owned cars alongside TJ Fischer, 19, from Fremont, Calif., who has shown well in the Mazda-powered Formula Car Challenge and is mentored by Michael Andretti’s brother, Jeff.
Matthew Di Leo, 17, from Innisfil, Ont., Canada, will attend the Open Test in his family-run MDL Racing Van Diemen, looking to get a head start on his 2013 campaign in which he will be regarded as one of the pre-season favorites after claiming four podium finishes this year and finishing fourth in the championship.
Dalton Kellett, from Stouffville, Ont., Canada, who also showed well in his first season of USF2000, will return with Pabst Racing Services alongside veteran National Class campaigner J.R. Smart, from Madison, Wis. The pair will be joined at the test by Tristan Viidas. The 16-year-old from Tallinn, Estonia, finished second in the 2012 Formula BMW Talent Cup.
RC Enerson, 15, from New Port Ritchey, Fla., who finished a close third in this year’s National Class, losing out on the title at the final race, also will use the Mazda Road to Indy Open Test to graduate into a Championship Class car with ZSports Midwest with Team E Racing, which will field a second National Class entry for three-time USSK FE champion John West IV, from Sarasota, Fla.
Additional National Class FE cars will be run by two-time SCCA FE National Champion Scott Rettich (Alliance Autosport), from Dayton, Ohio, Joel Janco (Robinson Motor Sports), from Key Largo, Fla., Eric Cruz (Cruzinc Racing), from Guam, Jim Libecco (JAY Motorsports), from Solon, Ohio, and James Dayson, of Vancouver, BC, Canada (ArmsUp Motorsports).
A crew from the Mazda Motorsports Hour shown on the Velocity Network will attend the test to tape for future broadcasts. Tomorrow’s show will feature the USF2000 rounds at Baltimore and Virginia International Raceway and will air at 12:00 pm ET.
Each Mazda Road to Indy ladder series will receive one hour of track time in the morning and 75 minutes in the afternoon during the test. USF2000 on-track sessions are scheduled for 9:00 am and 1:00 pm each day. Live Timing & Scoring will be available at www.usf2000.com.