By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
The 2018 season for the Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda begins on the streets of St. Petersburg with a 25 car entry list. This year’s championship looks to be a tough one on paper so let’s look at what will make up the 2018 USF2000 season.
First, the tracks. USF2000 has had some venue changes for 2018. Gone is Barber Motorsports Park and Iowa Speedway but returning is the third race at Mid-Ohio, the Carb Night Classic at Lucas Oil Raceway and the doubleheader at Portland International Raceway which has been absent from the schedule since 2006.
The calendar remains at 14 races with the only solo race weekend being the oval event at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis. USF2000 shares that evening with the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires and also USAC.
There will be several drivers returning to the championship in order to make a run at the Mazdaspeed scholarship awarded to the championship winner. Among those returning are Lucas Kohl, Kaylen Frederick and Calvin Ming for Pabst Racing, Kory Enders and Colin Kaminsky for DEForce Racing, Darren Keane for Newman Wachs Racing and Bruna Tomaselli for Team Pelfrey.
There are several solid additions to the field. Mazda Road to Indy Shootout champion Keith Donegan was runner-up at the Formula Ford Festival and parlayed his scholarship prize into a race seat with ArmsUp Motorsports.
Donegan’s driving the Soul Red Mazda livery, following in the footsteps of Luke Gabin, Dakota Dickerson and Oliver Askew. The USF-17 is unlike what the Irishman’s been driving.
“Well, it’s a new team and the first time here with the team, so we’ve had a little issue with just getting the seat positioning and getting comfortable in the car,” Donegan told Motorsports Tribune. “But we got over them (during the test). We’re making some progress. Developing the car a lot and every time we’re going out we’re making progress, but we’re still a little bit away – a little bit further than I want to be.
“So we’ll keep on looking at data and chipping away and hopefully we’ll get there.”
He won his chance at the USF2000 title in a five driver mock race and his prize was $200,000 toward a ride. The news traveled back to Ireland quickly.
“It was a pretty big deal back home because not many Irish people really come out here,” said Donegan.
“They all go to the UK to race. And then it was kind of like, especially when people heard that I was going to Arizona to compete in the Shootout, people were like, ‘Oh, that’s really cool.’ Then when I won and it all became a reality, people were like, ‘Oh my God. I can’t believe this.’
“And then all of a sudden you have people, you had people that were interested in motorsport that were never interested before.”
2017 British F4 champion Jamie Caroline announced days ago that he would be racing this year for BN Racing, a massive gain for the MRTI ladder. Caroline had no ride for 2018 because of a lack of funding, then got a deal to race in the U.S. and with it will bring a nice British following to the MRTI.
Another great addition was 2017 F4 U.S. champion Kyle Kirkwood, who won the championship for Cape Motorsports and remains with the Florida-based squad for 2018.
The Cape brothers have won the last seven USF2000 championships and with fellow Jupiter, Florida, native Oliver Askew remaining with the team in Pro Mazda, Kirkwood looks to be a solid contender for the championship.