By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
One of the best off track stories from the 2016 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda season is returning to the series for 2017 as Luke Gabin signed with Exclusive Autosport.
Gabin had tested for the team late in 2016 before making a deal to join and he had worked with several people on the team previously, making Exclusive a no-brainer.
“It was a pretty last minute [deal], I sort of had talks with Michael (Duncalfe, team owner) in November when we tested and I really liked the team and I was sort of just feeling out options and we came to an agreement,” Gabin told Motorsports Tribune.
“I had a sponsor come on board so we were able to make it happen in the end. It was between a lot of teams and I think Exclusive has a really strong program right now with the engineers they have on board, Parker [Thompson] as my teammate and Jay running the cars of course.
Jay being Jay Green, owner of Gabin’s 2016 team JAY Motorsports. Green had a hard time getting Gabin to the final races of the championship but was able to put everything together thanks to an Australian backer. Gabin has full faith in Green’s abilities.
“I trust Jay a lot and he puts a lot of confidence- he makes me have a lot of confidence in Michael and the engineers we have on board so I think it’s going to be a really good year with the cars the way they are right now and going into Homestead I think we’re going to make them better.”
To make the cars better it helps to have a fast teammate. Gabin will be alongside 2016 USF2000 runner-up Parker Thompson as both driver head into their third year of USF2000 trying to unseat Cape Motorsports from their throne as having won the last six drivers’ championships.
“I think having Parker on the team is going to be real real awesome, having his experience with Cape and bringing a wealth of knowledge running up front most of the time. I’ve never really had sort of a fast teammate so it’ll be really good to compare lap times and learn from each other,” Gabin said.
The biggest uncertainty facing Gabin is the fact that Exclusive Autosport is a new team in USF2000 but it has a lot of veteran people behind it. Going with a new team can have several drawbacks but with the right people that can be overcome.
“I think it’s a gamble any which way that I go at this point because all the new cars, everyone’s sort of learning and having Jay and some experienced engineers that have been in the series before even though we’re fundamentally a new team it has a lot of backbone support from people that have been in USF2000 for a long time.”
But what’s the offseason been like for Gabin? Gabin spent 2016 in the U.S. for the most part and was away from his family. In fact, his family weren’t even able to come see him race nor were they able to meet Green. However, he was able to go back to Australia for a bit to see his family before the racing season gets under way.
“They still haven’t had the chance to meet Jay, which is kind of interesting but I think they have a lot of faith in Jay and how well we sort of ran last year on a tight budget, but I went home for Christmas for two weeks and that was really good being able to see my family again and just kind of hanging out by the beach in Australia with a nice little bit of relaxation before I came back and things got all stressful again and trying to make 2017 work.”
When not at the track, the Australian worked for Dan Andersen’s karting team helping to prep the karts and earning money to help him race.
“I’m still working with a lot of karting drivers and Andersen’s racing team doing some shop prep but 2017 is still going to be a tough year for me, I’m still trying to find money to complete the season, I have money from some sponsors for the St. Pete Grand Prix so it’s still going to be tight but I’m hoping I can win some races and turn some heads and bring some more people on board to complete it.”