Over 200 people, including 30-plus drivers, were on hand to take part in the ceremonies which recognized the future stars of open-wheel racing and the teams that allowed their talents to shine.
Series announcer Rob Howden, founder of Howden Media Group and a staunch supporter of young talent with five different websites dedicated to promoting and supporting the next generation of racers, was master of ceremonies. Howden, who will be the voice of the entire Mazda Road to Indy in 2014, led a fast-paced program Sunday evening which culminated in the distribution of over $1.2 million in prizes and awards.
Matthew Brabham, 19, of Andretti Autosport, who clinched the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires crown prior to the Houston double-header finale, took home over $645,000 in prizes and awards which included the highly coveted Mazda Road to Indy scholarship package from Mazda to advance to Indy Lights in 2014. Brabham's record-setting year, which featured new series milestones for most wins (13), most consecutive wins (7), most podiums (15) and most fastest race laps (13), also earned him the BBS Rookie of the Year ($7,500) and Gregory and Appel "Securing Tomorrow" Award ($2,000) for most wins in a season. Brabham, of Boca Raton, Fla., is the first driver to advance in succession from USF2000 to Pro Mazda and now Indy Lights via the Mazda Road to Indy scholarship program.
Scott Hargrove, 18, of Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing emerged as the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda champion after securing the title with another podium drive in Race 1 at Houston. Hargrove, of Vancouver, BC, Canada, surged into the championship lead with a flourish at the start of the season posting three wins in the first four events after a partial year of USF2000 competition in 2012. It was a lead he would not relinquish. Four wins, nine podiums, five fastest race laps and six poles ensured the Canadian talent the series title. Hargrove was presented with a scholarship package from Mazda valued at over $383,000 to advance to Pro Mazda next year.
Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions, the series promoter, kicked off the evening with a look back at the outstanding season in both series. He also allowed a glimpse into the future, noting the commitment from INDYCAR to the ladder system, a soon to be released 2014 schedule which will see all three levels competing almost entirely in support of IndyCar Series events, and anticipated increases in field sizes for both Pro Mazda and Indy Lights.
Andersen presented the Spirit Awards ($1,500 each), which are given by each series to the team or driver that embodies the "heart of a champion" as they aspire to reach their goals. In USF2000, the award was presented to Jay Green and JAY Motorsports – a one-car outfit fielding 16-year-old French talent Florian Latorre, who entered the Houston weekend challenging for a top-three finish in the championship. Juan Piedrahita of JDC MotorSports was the recipient in Pro Mazda. Piedrahita, who has five podiums to his credit including a second-place finish, endured a series of misfortunes in what should have been a breakthrough year but never wavered in his determination and positive outlook.
New inductees into the Hall of Fame, which recognizes the achievements of graduates of both series, were also announced by Andersen. In USF2000, the inductees were Otmar Szafnauer, who drove in the series in 1993/1994 and is currently the Chief Operating Officer for the Sahara Force India F1 team, and Charlie Kimball, who is paving roads as the first licensed driver with diabetes to win an IndyCar race.
The inductees in Pro Mazda included race and championship-winning sports car driver and 1999 series champion Joey Hand; IndyCar driver Tristan Vautier, the 2011 champion who was in attendance at the banquet and presented the Rookie of the Year awards; Michael McDowell, the 2004 champion who has been competing successfully in NASCAR since 2008; and Joel Miller, the current USF2000/Pro Mazda driver coach and driver who recently helped Mazda capture the Rolex Sports Car Series' GX Class manufacturer's title with five wins.
In addition to the series champions, drivers finishing in the top five in the respective championships were brought to the stage to be recognized for their achievements. Diego Ferreira, 19, of Maracay, Venezuela, was the Pro Mazda championship runner-up ($50,000). The Juncos Racing driver posted one win and 11 total podiums in a spirited battle to dethrone Brabham. Andretti Autosport's Shelby Blackstock, 23, of Nashville, Tenn., was also a race winner and his six additional podium finishes and nine top-five results secured a third-place finish ($25,000) in the standings.
Tying Blackstock on points, Spencer Pigot, 20, of Orlando, Fla., garnered fourth-place honors ($15,000) with a win, four additional podiums and 12 top-five finishes driving for Team Pelfrey. Juncos Racing's Scott Anderson, 23, of Fort Collins, Colo., rounded out the top five ($10,000) with a second-place drive and six additional top-five finishes.
In USF2000, Neil Alberico, of Los Gatos, Calif., who celebrated his 21st birthday on Monday, finished runner-up ($10,000) to teammate Hargrove. The Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing driver battled back from a 77-point deficit at one stage to fight for the championship at Houston. Recording the most wins in the series with six and eight total podiums, Alberico also took home the Gregory and Appel "Securing Tomorrow" award ($1,000).
Garett Grist, 17, of Grimsby, Ont., Canada, was one of five drivers to claim victory this season in an ultra-competitive USF2000 field. With three additional podiums and seven top-five finishes, the Andretti Autosport driver secured third in the championship ($5,000) and Rookie of the Year honors ($1,500).
Henrik Furuseth, 16, of Oslo, Norway, vaulted from sixth in the standings to fourth ($3,000) with his two podium drives at Houston for PRL Motorsports, while Wyatt Gooden, 24, of Cleveland, Ohio, finished fifth ($2,000) in the standings posting three podiums with Afterburner Autosport.
Drivers in the Pro Mazda Expert Class and USF2000 National Class Presented by SCCA Enterprises were also recognized for their performances. Jay Horak of Mesa, Ariz., earned the Expert Class champion's title ($6,000) in a battle that came down to the final rounds. The M1 Racing driver's pair of wins at Houston secured the crown in a season that also included four second and two third-place finishes.
In USF2000, Alliance Autosport's owner/driver Scott Rettich of Camden, Ohio, took the title ($25,000 scholarship package) after leading his team to a record-setting perfect season of wins and breaking the record for most National Class wins in a season (11). Teammate Ryan Verra of Calgary, Alb., Canada, finished runner-up ($5,000 scholarship package) with a pair of wins.
Additional awards recognized drivers who amassed the most gains in position over the course of the season. In USF2000, the Tilton Hard Charger Award ($1,000) was presented to Rettich for a gain of 65 total positions. Zack Meyer, 21, of Toronto, Ont., Canada, earned the Quarter Master Hard Charger Award ($1,000) in Pro Mazda for a gain of 23 positions driving for JDC MotorSports.
With 14 wins, 22 podiums and 23 top-five finishes, Andretti Autosport claimed its first-ever Pro Mazda Team Championship ($12,500). Juncos Racing finished second ($7,500) with one win, 12 podiums and 20 top fives and Team Pelfrey third ($3,000) with one win, eight podiums and 22 top-five finishes.
In USF2000, Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing secured back-to-back Team Championships honors ($4,000) notching 10 wins, 17 podiums, 20 top-fives and its 101st USF2000 win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in September. Belardi Auto Racing finished second ($2,500) with one win, five podiums and 15 top-five finishes. Afterburner Autosport, which scored its second series win at Houston, finished third ($1,500) with four additional podium finishes and seven top-five results.
Additional awards included the INDYCAR Mechanic of the Year Awards ($1,000 each) which were presented to Fred Michael of Andretti Autosport in Pro Mazda and Dave Lehman of Belardi Auto Racing in USF2000. The tongue-in-cheek Golden Wishbone Awards, presented to teams that had logged the most "frequent flyer" miles at parts supplier Carl Haas Auto over the course of a season, went to World Speed Motorsports (Pro Mazda) and Belardi Auto Racing (USF2000), which included a $900 and $800 damper rebuild certificate respectively. PFC Awards included the Pro Mazda Crew Member of the Year Award ($1,000) to Rob Meixner of Juncos Racing, and a USF2000 Championship Class Champion's Award ($1,000 certificate) to Cape Motorsports.
Awards Summary – Pro Mazda:
Champion: Matthew Brabham, Andretti Autosport
Second: Diego Ferreira, Juncos Racing
Third: Shelby Blackstock, Andretti Autosport
Fourth: Spencer Pigot, Team Pelfrey
Fifth: Scott Anderson, Juncos Racing
Expert Champion: Jay Horak, M1 Racing
BBS Rookie of Year: Matthew Brabham, Andretti Autosport
Gregory & Appel "Securing Tomorrow": Matthew Brabham, Andretti Autosport
Quarter Master Hard Charger: Zack Meyer, JDC MotorSports
Pro Mazda Spirit Award: Juan Piedrahita, JDC MotorSports
First Team Championship: Andretti Autosport
Second: Juncos Racing
Third: Team Pelfrey
INDYCAR Mechanic of the Year: Fred Michael, Andretti Autosport
PFC Crew Member of the Year: Rob Meixner, Juncos Racing
Carl Haas Golden Wishbone: World Speed Motorsports
Awards Summary – USF2000:
Champion: Scott Hargrove, Cape Motorsports w/Wayne Taylor Racing
Second: Neil Alberico, Cape Motorsports w/Wayne Taylor Racing
Third: Garett Grist, Andretti Autosport
Fourth: Henrik Furuseth, PRL Motorsports
Fifth: Wyatt Gooden, Afterburner Autosport
National Class Champion: Scott Rettich, Alliance Autosport
Second: Ryan Verra, Alliance Autosport
Rookie of Year: Garett Grist, Andretti Autosport
Gregory & Appel "Securing Tomorrow": Neil Alberico, Cape Motorsports w/Wayne Taylor Racing
Tilton Hard Charger: Scott Rettich, Alliance Autosport
USF2000 Spirit Award: Jay Green, JAY Motorsports
First Team Championship: Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing
Second: Belardi Auto Racing
Third: Afterburner Autosport
INDYCAR Mechanic of the Year: Dave Lehman, Belardi Auto Racing
Carl Haas Golden Wishbone: Belardi Auto Racing
PFC Championship Class Champion: Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing
About USF2000: The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda debuted in 2010 and is a continuation of the highly-regarded USF2000 series which ran from 1990 through 2006, launching the careers of many of today's top drivers. Sanctioned by INDYCAR and managed by Andersen Promotions, the series is the first official step on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system. The top driver in the Championship class will earn a scholarship package from Mazda to advance to the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. The series also is part of the MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development Ladder program which assists young drivers in advancing from the Skip Barber Racing School to USF2000. Additional information can be found at www.usf2000.com.
About Pro Mazda: The Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires debuted in 2013 as a new series, replacing the Star Mazda Championship which ceased operation in 2012 after 22 years. The series is sanctioned by INDYCAR and owned and operated by Andersen Promotions. It is the second official step on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system with the series' champion awarded a scholarship package from Mazda to advance to Firestone Indy Lights competition the following year. For more information, visit www.promazdachampionship.com.
About Mazda: Mazda is the number-one brand for road-racers across North America. Thousands of Mazda powered grassroots racers compete in various classes with the SCCA and NASA highlighted by Spec Miata, the world's largest spec class with over 2,500 cars built. In 2006 Mazda established the MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development Ladder to assist racers in moving up through the ranks. In 2010 this was expanded to include the Mazda Road to Indy. Key to Mazda's success is strategic partnerships with the Skip Barber Racing School and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
MAZDASPEED Motorsports is managed by Mazda North American Operations (MNAO). MNAO is headquartered in Irvine, Calif. and oversees the sales, marketing, parts and customer service support of Mazda vehicles in the United States, Canada and Mexico through nearly 900 dealers. Operations in Canada are managed by Mazda Canada, Inc., located in Ontario; and in Mexico by Mazda Motor de Mexico in Mexico City. Consumer information can be found at www.mazdausa.com with press information at www.mazdausamedia.com. Racers and fans can follow the action on Facebook (Mazdaspeed Motorsports).
About Cooper Tire & Rubber Company: Cooper Tire & Rubber Company is the parent company of a global family of companies that specialize in the design, manufacture, marketing, and sales of passenger car and light truck tires. Cooper has joint ventures, affiliates and subsidiaries that also specialize in medium truck, motorcycle and racing tires. Cooper's headquarters is in Findlay, Ohio, with manufacturing, sales, distribution, technical and design facilities within its family of companies located in 11 countries around the world. For more information on Cooper Tire, visit www.coopertire.com,www.facebook.com/coopertire or www.twitter.com/coopertire.
Contact: Tamy Valkosky/ Public Relations