By Road to Indy
The list of Cape Motorsports’ Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires alumni reads like a who’s who of motorsports, including 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series drivers JR Hildebrand and Spencer Pigot, newly named Penske sports car teammates Ricky Taylor and Dane Cameron, Andy Lally, Scott Hargrove and 2017 IMSA champions Trent Hindman (Lamborghini Super Trofeo) and Jake Eidson (Porsche GT3 Cup).
The team’s history in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda is just as impressive. They have won 11 USF2000 Drivers Championships, nine Team Championships and seven Rookie of the Year titles with 122 series wins and 145 pole positions. In 2017, they took 20-year-old Oliver Askew to the team’s seventh straight driver’s title.
Askew’s rise from the karting ranks to open-wheel champion over the past year may have taken some by surprise, but not his Cape Motorsports team. The young Floridian’s prowess in England as part of the Team USA Scholarship team, his scholarship-earning win at the MRTI Shootout and his Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda title were exactly the sort of performance team owners Dominic and Nicholas Cape expected, and illustrates the reasons the team signed him. The brothers have stringent criteria for prospective drivers and Askew checked all the boxes.
“Oliver hit our radar about two years ago,” said Dominic Cape. “We have a particular kind of person and driver that we’re looking for. He has a very good karting background and he’s raced in Europe at a high level, so he knows what he’s doing. If you look back at any of our previous drivers, they’re all similar. He hits all the same marks as any of the drivers who have won a championship with us. We have won seven drivers’ championships in a row and they all are super talented.”
“We plotted a plan out for him in September of last year of what we wanted to achieve together in order to get him into USF2000,” said Nicholas Cape. “He had a lot of pressure all the way through the year, not only racing and winning but looking after all the off-track things that come with being the scholarship winner. He and (2016 USF2000 champion and 2017 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires runner up) Anthony Martin both did. We had two scholarship drivers this year and it was a great honor to have them both, along with a tremendous amount of pressure to succeed on the team members and drivers, and we almost pulled it off for both.”
The brothers are quick to note that the Cape Motorsports team members have an equally significant part to play in the team’s stellar history, as the continuity under the team tent is vital to the team’s success.
“All the hard work is attributed to having excellent people around us,” said Nicholas Cape, “and having them with us for a long period of time. Our lads are awesome, all with the same mentality and passion for winning. Don Conner and Will Paul, Reg and Colin have been with us for over a decade and John, Jeremy, Adam, Alan and Larry have all won championships with us over the past few years. Jonatan Jorge was an awesome addition this year as driver coach, so all these guys are the backbone of our team.”
The team began the year with Askew and Bangalore, India-native Ricky Donison in USF2000 and Martin in Pro Mazda. Askew hit the track with a bang, leading five of the six sessions in the series test at Homestead-Miami Speedway in March, then taking a victory and a second-place finish in the season-opener at St. Petersburg, Fla. He followed that up by sweeping victories at Barber Motorsports Park and the IndyCar Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and suddenly, Askew had a seemingly insurmountable lead in the championship. Were the Cape brothers surprised at the explosive start?
“We weren’t surprised in the slightest,” said Dominic Cape. “We expected that from him. We knew he was that good. Everyone thought we had the magic bullet for the Van Diemen, but everyone else did as well. It’s not magic, it’s just hard work and having the right guy in the car, year in and year out. You could just tell from the outset that he was going to be one of those guys who would get it done.”
Just when it appeared the title chase was all but decided, Askew ran into a string of bad luck, and combined with the performance of a surging Rinus VeeKay and Pabst Racing, Askew’s lead began to shrink. The team arrived at the lone oval race of the year at Iowa Speedway with no testing beforehand, which set them on the back foot until Askew put it all together just in time for qualifying. He took the pole position and the race win in a seminal moment for driver and team.
“We did a test at LOR in May and he was setting the pace there within 10 laps,” said Nicholas Cape. “He took to it right away. He found he liked oval racing, which not all drivers do. He did the same thing at Iowa, which was very impressive.”
“Everything’s race to race, we don’t care what the points are,” said Dominic Cape. “You have to win all the small battles to win the war; you have to stay focused. We had our share of problems like everyone else. We didn’t have the money to go testing at the oval so we struggled out of the box at Iowa but, as always, he came through in the end.”
Askew and Cape arrived at the one-race season finale at Watkins Glen with only a 13-point lead. Askew took the pole position and, with the team’s strategy in mind, wisely didn’t contend the issue when VeeKay made a pass for the lead early in the race. With VeeKay’s teammate Calvin Ming hot on his heels, Askew remained calm and brought the car home in second position to secure the championship title and the Mazda scholarship that will allow him to graduate into the 2018 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.
“Part of winning the championship is knowing how to win it,” said Dominic Cape. “We all sat down and made a game plan – we knew we’d be close on pole, so when we had that, it was all strategy to win the championship. It didn’t matter what anyone else did, it only mattered what we did. There was no point risking it all. Oliver did exactly what he had to do – and that’s exactly what we expected.”
It is unprecedented for a team to earn seven straight driver titles in a series, especially given the change in car for 2017. But the Cape brothers kept Askew and Martin on the straight and narrow throughout the season. Both brothers agree that there is a very simple formula for their success.
“We outwork everyone at the track,” Dominic Cape stated. “It’s a whole team effort. Most of these guys have been with us for a long time and you know their strengths and weaknesses. Anthony and Oliver were never in competition, they both worked together well and became good friends. They helped each other when they needed it. That helped both through the difficult times.”