By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
Becoming a sophomore in high school comes with a lot of responsibilities between school and other obligations, but when those obligations include a championship-caliber drive in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda, the cream rises to the top.
And rise it has for Kaylen Frederick, who, at 15 years old is the youngest driver in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires.
The Maryland native drives the No. 81 Team Pelfrey Mazda in USF2000 and is currently third in points with 144 behind series leader Oliver Askew’s 215 and Rinus VeeKay’s 191..
Not bad for someone who’s been racing for half his life.
“Well, I started karting when I was seven years old and it was just kind of a for fun thing until I did my first national class event and I did really well,” Frederick said.
“I got first place in my first race so we just kept kind of going with it and we started doing more national races. I got second for my first championship then we moved up into higher levels of karting”
After karting costs escalated, Frederick decided to move into F1600. He wasn’t allowed to compete in the first two race weekends because of his age but impressed in his debut with a sixth place finish, only .3 seconds behind third place.
He ended the season seventh in points with a win and three second place finishes. Frederick could have stayed in F1600 for another season but an outside factor made his decision easier.
“In F1600, Pelfrey was pretty fast and last year I was visiting half of the USF2000 races and I saw that even though we weren’t running up front I knew that we were going to get Tom Knapp in on the USF2000 deal and the Pro Mazdas were running really well so I knew that I just had to get in on that deal,” he said.
Tom Knapp was the chief engineer responsible for Team Pelfrey’s domination of the 2016 Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires season and he moved to the USF2000 program and so far that move has paid dividends.
In the first race of the 2017 USF2000 season, series sophomore Robert Megennis earned his first victory ahead of Askew while Frederick finished fourth. After a fifth in the second race at St. Petersburg, Barber Motorsports Park came calling and he answered with fastest lap in both races and two runner-up finishes to Askew.
Both St. Petersburg and Barber were tracks that Frederick had no experience on, so preparation was key.
“Before the actual event we get a pre-event notes thing with an onboard video and a bunch of track notes; general comments about the corners,” Frederick said.
“I go through that a couple of times and in the track walk I look at specific things like how high the curbs are, where you can get onto them, if its cambered, what the surface is like and stuff like that.”
But what ultimately describes a successful weekend for the rookie?
“A successful weekend is getting up to speed with the track quickly, being able to get to the qualifying session [and] know what marks I have to hit instead of going out thinking ‘oh I can push more over here a little bit more,’ Frederick added.
“I just need to know my marks that I need to hit and for the races that’s really important for consistency and not overcharging corners so you don’t wear out the tires.”
Frederick’s weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course was full of challenges. He qualified second for both races and finished second in the first USF2000 race until a technical infringement found during post race inspection led to his disqualification.
Fighting back in race two and thanks to some racing luck, Frederick was able to score his third podium finish of the season and with it, enough points to maintain third place in the USF2000 standings.
At Road America, Frederick earned a sixth and a fourth while VeeKay managed to secure second place in the championship for the time being with two wins while Askew finished 17th and third.
The next race for the USF2000 championship is at Iowa Speedway on July 9th.