Ultra-Competitive USF Pro Championships Set for Road America
 June 13, 2023| 
  • Series News
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PALMETTO, Fla. – From one iconic auto racing location to another, the USF Pro Championships Presented by Cooper Tires this week will switch focus from Indianapolis, Ind., to America’s National Park of Speed, the scenic Road America venue in Elkhart Lake, Wis. The senior levels of the highly acclaimed open-wheel driver development ladder, USF Pro 2000 and USF2000, will see action June 15-18 on the classical – and newly repaved – 4.014-mile, 14-turn natural terrain road course in association with the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.

Both series have attracted extremely competitive fields with more than 20 entries, each of which will feature two races and mark the halfway point of the season. At stake are potentially career-altering Discount Tire Driver Advancement Scholarships valued, collectively, at over $1 million to ensure graduation onto the next step of the ladder in 2024.

Wide-Open USF Pro 2000 Field
How competitive is the field this year in USF Pro 2000 Presented by Cooper Tires? Well, consider this: When Jack William Miller (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports), from Carmel, Ind., posted the fastest time in qualifying for the most recent race, the only oval event of the season, at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park, he became the seventh different driver to claim a pole this season – in just seven races. The previous record for consecutive different pole winners was six, set in 2020.

To date, five different drivers have shared the victory spoils and no fewer than 12 already have at least one podium finish to their credit.

Myles Rowe (Pabst Racing with Force Indy), from Brooklyn, N.Y., currently leads the standings on 165 points, 32 ahead of new Swedish rising star Joel Granfors (Exclusive Autosport). Rowe, who this season has stepped up from USF2000, scored his maiden victory on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., during the first weekend of the campaign. He added two more wins at Sebring International Raceway.

Granfors, who finished second in last year’s GB3 Championship in the UK, claimed his first win on the Indianapolis Grand Prix road course in May – after starting the race in the 18th position.

Another rookie, Francesco Pizzi (TJ Speed Motorsports), from Rome, Italy, lies third in the points table on 128, just four markers ahead of Exclusive Autosport’s Salvador de Alba, from Guadalajara, Mexico. Pizzi has yet to win a race, although he has accumulated comfortably the best record in qualifying with an average starting position of 2.4.  The next best is Rowe on 4.2.

De Alba scored his first win of the season at IRP, backing up a second-place run on the Indianapolis road course, and will arrive at the L&W Supply Grand Prix of Road America brimming with confidence having finished on the podium at the same venue in 2022.

Miller, too, is riding a wave of success following a strong third-place finish at IRP and a career-best second-place finish last season at Road America.

Jace Denmark (Pabst Racing), from Scottsdale, Ariz., 2022 USF2000 champion Michael d’Orlando (Turn 3 Motorsport), from Hartsdale, N.Y., and Brazilian Kiko Porto (DEForce Racing), the 2021 USF2000 champion, also have fond memories of the Wisconsin venue after scoring USF2000 victories within the past couple of years.

German-based Albanian Lirim Zendeli will return to the TJ Speed Motorsports roster after missing the oval event, while Louka St-Jean, from Laval, Que., Canada, is set to make his Indy Pro 2000 debut with Turn 3 Motorsport after contesting the opening four rounds of the USF2000 season.

The 21-car field – the largest in the series since 2012 – will take to the track on Thursday, June 15, for a pair of one-hour test sessions. Thirty minutes of official practice at 9:20 a.m. CDT Friday will lead into the first of two qualifying sessions at 11:30 a.m. which will determine the starting positions for Race One at 2:40 p.m. on Saturday. A second qualifying period earlier on Saturday at 8:00 a.m. will set the grid for Race Two at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday.

USF2000 Rivalry Resumes
The battle for USF2000 superiority, not to mention a Discount Tire Driver Advancement Scholarship valued at $433,200, will continue this weekend with Australian rookie Lochie Hughes (Jay Howard Driver Development) and Simon Sikes (Pabst Racing), from Augusta, Ga., separated by just four points, 208-204, following the first eight races of the 18-race season.

Hughes currently has the upper hand in terms of wins, three to two, while Sikes has exhibited an apparent advantage in pure pace on the strength of four pole positions (to Hughes’ two) and six fastest race laps.

The stakes will be especially high this weekend for Sikes, whose team, Pabst Racing, is based less than an hour away in Oconomowoc, Wis., and is anxious for more success at its home track. Pabst won one of the two corresponding races one year ago with Jace Denmark, who has since graduated to USF Pro 2000, while Sikes himself scored a second-place finish (with fastest race lap) during an abbreviated campaign with another team in 2021. Even more pressing for team principal and former racer, Augie Pabst, however, is the pursuit of what would be the team’s first-ever driver’s championship.

In addition to Hughes and Sikes, recently turned 15-year-old Nikita Johnson, from Gulfport, Fla., VRD Racing teammate Sam Corry, from Cornelius, N.C., and, most recently, last year’s USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires champion Mac Clark (DEForce Racing), from Milton, Ont., Canada, also have tasted the fruits of victory this season. And Hughes’ teammate Evagoras Papasavvas, from Loveland, Ohio, has come agonizingly close with a trio of podium finishes to his name.

This weekend’s Discount Tire Grand Prix of Road America will mark the one-year anniversary of an impressive USF2000 debut for Johnson. The youngster qualified fourth for one of the two races in 2022 during a cameo appearance while he concentrated on his initial season of racing in USF Juniors, in which he scored three wins and finished third in the championship. He and Corry both claimed a USF Juniors victory at Road America in 2022.

New Zealander Jacob Douglas, who secured a career-best finish of second earlier this year at Sebring, this weekend will suit up with Pabst Racing for the first time, while 18-year-old Dane Scott, from Norcross, Ga., will make his USF2000 debut with Jay Howard Driver Development.

The 20 USF2000 drivers will have a very similar schedule to the generally more experienced entrants in USF Pro 2000, starting with a pair of 60-minute test sessions on Thursday and a half-hour of official practice at 8:40 a.m. on Friday. Two separate qualifying sessions, at 10:45 a.m. and 1:00 p.m., will set the starting positions for the pair of races on Saturday at 11:10 a.m. and 3:45 p.m.

Full coverage can be found on the free USF Pro Championships App, YouTube channel and respective series’ websites.

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