By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
Dakota Dickerson is ready to help lead the return of Newman Wachs Racing in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda.
Earlier in 2016, the Tatuus-built USF-17 was unveiled as the new model for the series, replacing a car with over fifteen years of use generated interest among several teams, including the once dominant outfit that left at the end of the 2009 season.
The team decided to rejoin open wheel racing and ordered four USF-17s, but not all would race in the USF2000 championship. Since the chassis of the car was also the baseline for the PM-18 that would race in the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires in 2018, a team could order a conversion kit that would convert a USF2000 car to a Pro Mazda car with roughly a dozen parts.
This decision by Anderson Promotions led to an interesting driver signing that is certainly a rarity in the Mazda Road to Indy. The 20-year-old Californian announced at the Performance Racing Industry trade show in Indianapolis that he will be driving for NWR in the 2017 USF2000 championship and in the 2018 Pro Mazda championship.
Racing with Afterburner Autosport as a rookie in 2016, Dickerson said the aim entering his sophomore year was to be somewhere he could contend for wins, but that the focus was also to go somewhere he could progress up the MRTI ladder with.
“The first thing was, we wanted to go with a team that we knew we could win with, so we were looking at the teams and at the results at IMS for the Chris Griffis test, we kind of narrowed it down,” Dickerson told Motorsports Tribune.
“Then we had a private test with NWR as well and that just went really, really well. So we knew that the pace was there and we knew that they could win and so the next thing was looking at 2018 – seeing who would also move up with us going to the Pro Mazda car. The whole way that the series is structured with the new car for USF2000 this year and the same platform being bumped up to Pro Mazda in 2018 (with the PM-18), it just makes sense for us to work together and put all this time and resources in the USF2000 car and move what we’ve learned from that into 2018. That’s kind of what’s led us to working together for two years and bumping up because with the Pro Mazda car out in 2018, we kind of want to get that jump on the other team that might be learning with other drivers.”
Dickerson wasn’t only testing with NWR, however. He also had a private test with Pabst Racing after driving their car for one of the two days at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test. He also tested for ArmsUp Motorsports in the second day of testing.
Having the same group of guys for Dickerson will be important, which was another factor that led to him signing with NWR.
“The continuity with the team is so important that just being able to know the language that you guys are talking about, knowing what we all need is going to be so important and carrying the knowledge that we all carry is going to be so important going into 2018,” he said.
However, the 2016 Soul Red Mazda driver wasn’t the only one enthusiastic about his signing, NWR team manager Brian Halahan also spoke to Motorsports Tribune about his new pilot.
“From us looking at it as a team, I wanted to get somebody in there that has a year of experience in USF2000, Dakota has that, has the track knowledge and is looking obviously to move on in the Mazda Road to Indy. So as we were discussing options, I believe and he believes this will probably be his last year in the series, if we win the championship together or not,” Halahan said.
“After our test was very successful, we got along great and we both have a future plan to be in there in 2018. One thing led to another in some discussions and it sort of made sense from both of our parts to go ahead and try to make that happen. Obviously, we’ve got to get through this year and as long as everything works out the way we both think it will be, it’s a right choice to move and we already have that continuity of moving up. I was hoping to do a second year with a driver, so obviously it’s all down on paper and we have our plan in place and we’ll see if we can make it all happen.”
Five other drivers have tested for the team so far this offseason and the team is done testing until they head to Sebring in January. Having the right teammate could pay big dividends for the team, but Halahan believes the team will have three cars on the USF2000 grid for 2017.
“I believe we’ll be a three car team, obviously we’ve got to fill the second seat with the right guy and have the right people for the third car. I’ve got enough guys to do the two cars properly and when you throw another one in the mix you’ve got to find more help, but I’ve got the people lined up if it does happen so we’re shooting for three,” Halahan added.
There is another difficulty that Halahan has faced in this whole process. Because NWR has been dormant for so long, getting a crew together that includes many who were with the team before has been a major challenge in rising the team up from the ashes.
“The hardest part is people. I’m trying to get a lot of the old crew together – some success on that. Other ones have moved on and losing all my contacts after being out of the sport for so long, it’s been a challenge,” Halahan continued.
“But actually now, everything is falling into place. [I’m] seeing guys in the shop, [we’ve] got mechanics lined up, three cars are built and running. We’re taking delivery of our other chassis next week, so it’s actually not as hard as I thought it was going to be so far. I’m sure there will be more challenges but as of right now it’s rolling smooth. We just have to get contact with the right people to bring them in.”
It’s all part of the master plan, which included signing at least one driver to a multi-series deal. Having the PM-18 based off the USF-17 was a big factor in making that business plan work.
“Originally that was our plan no matter what was to have two cars in Pro Mazda in 2018,” Halahan said. “So that plan’s already been laid out but with the tub and the other pieces that come along with it, it makes sense for another team to do that.
“I’m sure you’ll see other teams follow and do the same with the same program.”