By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
The 2016 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda proved to be anything but dull for Anthony Martin.
The 21-year-old Australian signed to drive for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, the team that has won the championship every year since 2011, after spending the previous season with John Cummiskey Racing. Expectations were high for the 2015 USF2000 Rookie of the Year, and rightfully so.
The first race weekend of the 2016 season didn’t exactly go to Martin’s liking.
Despite a top five and a top 10 in both races at St. Petersburg, neither Martin nor teammate Parker Thompson were able to get a podium for the team, marking the first time that the Cape brothers’ team have been shut out of a podium on a doubleheader race weekend in the series since 2010 at Road America.
The next two races at Barber Motorsports Park gave Martin two top five finishes, among them his first podium of the year. Thompson on the other hand was able to sweep the weekend and earning for himself a nice points lead heading into the May. However, the month proved to be very beneficial for Martin.
Martin won the first race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course but finished fourth in the second race while Thompson was victorious. Despite that minor setback, Martin was able to win at the only oval race of the year at Lucas Oil Raceway as he managed to get his No. 8 Mazda around Thompson by using lapped traffic.
After Lucas Oil Raceway, Martin went on to sweep the race weekend at Road America, strengthening his championship hopes, but those two wins were only marginally beneficial after what happened in Toronto.
Late in the first of two Canadian races, Martin spun and hit the wall, dropping him to 16th and resulting in his only DNF of the season. Race two was much better for the Aussie’s point total as he finished second behind Thompson.
As bad as Martin’s luck was in Toronto, it was just as good for him at Mid-Ohio for his championship hopes. Martin swept the three races at the Lexington road course while Thompson finished second in two of the three races after a flat tire delayed him in the first race. Martin had a near insurmountable lead heading into Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Martin would end up scoring two podiums while ArmsUp Motorsports’s Victor Franzoni swept the final race weekend of the season. Martin was able to secure enough points to beat Thompson 394 to 374.
2016 marked the first time a driver with Australian heritage had won the USF2000 title since Matthew Brabham in 2012 (Brabham is Australian American, having been born in the U.S.).
It would also mark the end of the road for the old Van Diemen chassis that has been the cornerstone of the USF2000 championship in its previous iterations since 1999. For 2017, Tatuus has built the USF-17 to compete and the tub for that chases will be the basis for the new Pro Mazda car for 2018.