PALMETTO, Fla. – Two levels of the three-step Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder will be in action this weekend, April 21-23, in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series at Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Ala. Young American drivers lead the way following the opening races of the season last month on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., although fifteen different nations and five distinct continents (North and South America, Asia, Australasia and Europe) will be represented as competitors in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda prepare for battle on the scenic and challenging, 2.3-mile, 17-turn road course.
Following an impressive debut for the brand-new Mazda-powered Tatuus USF-17 engine-chassis combination in St. Petersburg, another new team, Benik Kart, and four more drivers – Bayley Mickler from Australia, Toby Sowery from England, plus U.S. drivers Darren Keane and Flinn Lazier – have signed up to contest this weekend’s Mazda USF2000 Grand Prix of Alabama Presented by Cooper Tires.
The strong 24-car field will be led by 20-year-old Oliver Askew, from Jupiter, Fla., who turned a lot of heads for Cape Motorsports in just his sixth weekend of car racing – and only his second in the U.S. following a one-off outing last year with the Skip Barber Racing School at Road America. Askew, who earned his opportunity by winning the inaugural Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200k Scholarship Shootout last fall, fought back from an incident in the first practice session to finish second and then first in the opening double-header weekend of the new season.
“It feels really good to start the season with a points advantage,” said Askew, a former standout in the karting ranks who also earned a coveted Team USA Scholarship in 2016. “I think my success so far says a lot about Cape Motorsports and the people working around me. I have had a steep learning curve.
“Barber should be a good stop for us,” he continued. “I really enjoyed turning laps around there (in testing), even though it’s unlike any track I’ve ever been to. I expect to be at the front of the grid this weekend. My mind-set is to leave with as many points as possible.”
Askew will have no shortage of talented youngsters seeking to knock him off his perch. Prime among them must be Robert Megennis (Team Pelfrey), 17, from New York, N.Y., who won the opening race in St. Petersburg; 16-year-old Dutchman Rinus VeeKay, who claimed a pair of podium finishes for Pabst Racing; Kaylen Frederick, from Potomac, Md., the youngest driver in the field at just 14, who nabbed a pair of top-five results for Team Pelfrey; and Canadian Parker Thompson, who capped a fine series debut for Exclusive Autosport by qualifying on pole and finishing second in one of the races in Florida. Thompson, incidentally, claimed a weekend sweep of two race wins at Barber in 2016.
After achieving tremendous success in karting in recent years, Benik will step up to car racing for the first time this weekend, fielding a pair of cars for Keane, from Boca Raton, Fla., and Sowery, who has displayed his talents in several series in recent years, winning the MSV F3 Cup in his native England in 2014, the Indian MRF Challenge in 2014/2015 and most recently finishing third in last year’s BRDC British Formula 3 Championship.
Mickler, from Perth, Australia, who won the Skip Barber Karts to Cars Scholarship Shootout in 2016, will drive a third John Cummiskey Racing Tatuus alongside Kris Wright, from Pittsburgh, Pa., and Colin Kaminsky, of Homer Glen, Ill., while Lazier, the highly rated son of 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier, will make his professional racing debut with Newman Wachs Racing alongside Dakota Dickerson, from San Diego, and New Yorker Andre Castro, both of whom displayed good speed at St. Petersburg. Brazil’s Bruna Tomaselli, who made her USF2000 debut in an older National Class Van Diemen at St. Petersburg, will step up to the Championship Class this weekend with ArmsUp Motorsports and teammate Devin Wojcik.
A busy weekend for the USF2000 contingent will commence with a pair of 30-minute test sessions on Thursday morning, followed by official practice later in the afternoon and then a 20-minute qualifying session and a 30-minute race on both Friday and Saturday.
Live streaming and live timing will be available on usf2000.com as well as indycar.com and the Road To Indy TV App.