PALMETTO, Fla. (December 9) – Teams and drivers from all three levels of the highly acclaimed Mazda Road to Indy have converged on Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, Ala., for the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Open Test. The two-day outing, which commences today, will provide an opportunity for several new team and driver combinations to gain a head start on their preparations for 2014 as others evaluate program possibilities for next season.
The challenging 2.3-mile road course is part of the “regular” season schedule as Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda will be showcased next April 25-27 alongside the premier IndyCar Series.
Each of the three levels on the ladder boasts a mixture of newcomers and returning veterans for the test, many of them gaining their first on-track experience since the conclusion of the 2013 season. While weather and other circumstances have prevented several teams and drivers from making the trek to the scenic Barber circuit, over 40 drivers will be taking part in the outing.
Newcomers and Veterans Among Strong USF2000 Entry
The first USF2000 open test in preparation for the 2014 season has attracted an interesting entry list featuring several returning veterans and some talented newcomers seeking to take their first step onto the Mazda Road to Indy with ultimate ambitions to compete in the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.
Two-time defending champion team Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing will field just one car at the test as the Florida-based organization also stretches its sphere of influence into Pro Mazda, but newcomer Jake Eidson will surely be among the pacesetters. Eidson, 18, from Littleton, Colo., emerged as a clear winner of the F1600 Championship Series this year, also driving for Cape Motorsports, and the three-time Skip Barber Series champion excelled in England this fall after winning a Team USA Scholarship.
Other newcomers to watch at the test will include Aaron Telitz, Jack Mitchell Jr. and Harrison Scott. Telitz, from Birchwood, Wis., recently won the Skip Barber Race Series Championship Shootout – and a MAZDASPEED Scholarship to compete in USF2000 next year – in the face of very stiff competition, including Eidson, and will drive one day apiece with Afterburner Autosport and ArmsUp Motorsports.
Mitchell, from Chicago, Ill., is another former Skip Barber standout who won a Team USA Scholarship in 2012 and went on to win this year’s Toyo Tires F1600 Series in Canada. Mitchell will drive a JAY Motorsports Van Diemen-Mazda. Fellow teenager Scott, from Althorne, Essex, England, has earned his opportunity to join the Mazda Road to Indy initiative following a series of impressive showings as a rookie in the MSA Formula Ford Championship of Great Britain.
“It’s going to be a great experience to go and see what it’s like out there,” said Harrison, who will join Afterburner Autosport for one day before spending Day 2 at the wheel of a JDC MotorSports Pro Mazda car. “It would be great to race in the USA and it’s certainly a possibility that we are looking at. From what I have heard the USF2000 car is quite similar to the EcoBoost Formula Ford I raced this year and should not feel too different from what I am used to, while the Pro Mazda chassis approaches an F3 car in terms of power and handling, so it should be good. Hopefully, I can prove my talent and impress.”
Plenty of gifted returning veterans will keep the newcomers on their toes, including MAZDASPEED driver Peter Portante, from Plainfield, Conn., winner of the 2012 Skip Barber Race Series Championship Shootout, who will join ArmsUp Motorsports for the test alongside Timothy Paul, from Mount Kisco. N.Y.; Henrik Furuseth, from Oslo, Norway, and Clarke Toppe, from The Woodlands, Texas, representing JDC MotorSports; the Belardi Auto Racing trio of Florian Latorre, from Libourne, France, Michael Epps, from Hemel Hempstead, England, and Daniel Burkett of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada; and Austin Cindric (Pabst Racing), from Mooresville, N.C.
Additional new faces in the crowd include Nathan Blok of Beachburg, Ontario, Canada and Patricio “Pato” O’Ward of Monterrey, Mexico (who won five of the six Pacific F2000 Championship races he contested this fall on his car racing debut), with JDC MotorSports; Victor Franzoni of Sao Paulo Brazil and Gustavo Myasava of Parana, Brazil, with Afterburner Autosport; Will Owen of Castle Rock, Colo., with Pabst Racing; and newly announced Nico Jamin of Rouen, France, with Belardi Auto Racing.