By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
The 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda season starts this weekend with the doubleheader race day on Saturday at the Streets of St. Petersburg. It will mark the culmination of a massive changing of the guard in the first step on the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires.
A new chassis makes its debut in St. Petersburg as the Tatuus USF-17 will replace the aged Van Diemen DP08 in the championship class. The Van Diemen has been in service since 1999.
Heading into the season, there are 22 cars on the entry list for St. Petersburg with 21 in the championship class and one in the national class, for the older Van Diemens.
The six-time defending USF2000 series champions have two rookies driving for them this year with Ricky Donison and Oliver Askew behind the wheel of the No. 2 and No. 3 Mazdas. Donison won numerous karting championships in India, while Askew won the Mazda Road to Indy Shootout and thus a Mazda scholarship. Askew will race the Soul Red livery as a Mazda scholarship recipient.
The team led five of the six practice sessions at the spring testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway with Askew being the lone representative of the team at the top of the time sheet.
Past champions for the team in USF2000 include Matthew Brabham, Scott Hargrove, Nico Jamin and Anthony Martin.
ArmsUp had a moderately successful 2016 season with main driver Victor Franzoni behind the wheel. Franzoni was set to drive for the team, but a last minute change of plans saw him advance to Pro Mazda.
The team confirmed driver Devin Wojcik early in the offseason to race the No. 7 Mazda and recently Bruna Tomaselli was named as the driver of the lone national class entry in the No. 8.
Newcomers to the championship, DEForce signed two drivers very early in the offseason to pilot their Nos. 11 and 12 entries, which will be piloted by Kory Enders and Moises de la Vara, respectively.
Both drivers ran for DEForce at the Pro Mazda season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca last year but with new cars, everyone has a clean slate.
2016 was RJB Motorsports’s first major foray into the USF2000 championship with two cars. For 2017 the team scaled back to one car, but are looking to put 2016 behind them.
The team confirmed Chandler Horton as their driver at the Performance Racing Industry show and the No. 20 Mazda he will drive has new backing from Menard’s hardware stores. Horton had been karting since 2011 and recently made the step up.
After quietly dropping the ‘Services’ from their name in the offseason, the team returns to USF2000 with three entries in the championship class. Driving those cars are three very different drivers with three very different stories.
Rinus Van Kalmthout (referred to as Rinus VeeKay by the series) announced his intentions to compete in the championship during last year’s unveiling of the USF-17 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway shortly before the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500. He had initially signed with Benik-Carlin, but following that partnership dissolving he tested with Newman Wachs Racing and then signed with Pabst Racing to drive the No. 21 Mazda.
Calvin Ming was signed to drive the No. 22 Mazda and has an extensive racing background with karting, Skip Barber, F1600 and Mexican F4. Meanwhile, the No. 23 Mazda will have 2016 USF2000 rookie Lucas Kohl behind the wheel after spending 2016 with John Cummiskey Racing.
Colin Kaminsky is the son of former Pro Mazda National Class driver Bob Kaminsky and is driving a car owned by his family’s team. Kaminsky’s No. 27 entry will receive support from John Cummiskey Racing during the season.
John Cummiskey Racing
The Brownsburg, IN team owns two Tatuus USF-17s but could only field one driver at St. Petersburg. Russian Kris Wright will be behind the wheel of the No. 34 Mazda after extensive testing.
The team raced last season with two cars at almost every race, but sponsorship has been difficult to come by.
Newman Wachs Racing
After being dormant for several years, Newman Wachs Racing returned from inaction to race again with three cars at least for the first race weekend of the year. The three seats will be occupied by two veterans and a rookie.
Dakota Dickerson returns to the USF2000 championship after having raced the Soul Red car in 2016. He will drive the No. 36 car in an interesting agreement that will have him step up to Pro Mazda with the same team in 2018. Andre Castro is a newcomer to the series and will drive the No. 37 car, while 2016 F4 U.S. champion Cameron Das is set to drive the No. 38 car for the opening round at the moment.
The yellow squad will start the 2017 USF2000 season with three cars, but given last year’s championship and how it turned out, no telling how many will stay through the whole year.
In the No. 80 car is returning driver Robert Megennis. The 2016 rookie of the year drove for the team last year and in F1600. In the No. 81 car is Kaylen Frederick. The team has not yet confirmed him for the full season so watch this space, Frederick was very fast all through spring testing.
The No. 82 car is driven by returning Team Pelfrey driver Ayla Agren, who returns after a two-year hiatus with other organizations, previous success with the Pelfrey coming in the form of winning the F1600 championship in 2014.
Exclusive Autosport is a new team to USF2000 and the Canadian-based team has three cars with which to attack the full season.
The No. 90 car will have Parker Thompson guiding it. Thompson, also a Canadian, was the 2016 championship runner-up to Anthony Martin and managed to put together a near-last minute deal in the hopes of redeeming last season’s mishaps.
In the No. 91 car is Luke Gabin, who, similar to Thompson, is returning for his third season in USF2000. In the No. 92 car is Georgia native Dev Gore, who enters as a rookie after numerous years karting.
The year starts off with this weekend’s doubleheader at St. Petersburg before moving to Barber Motorsports Park and then the two races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course.
After a three week break, the championship heads to the doubleheader at Road America before going to its only oval race of the season at Iowa Speedway. A quick turnaround is expected as the championship heads to Toronto for two races, Mid Ohio for two races at the end of July and then to Watkins Glen for a single race to end the championship on Labor Day weekend.