USF Pro Championships Set for Busy Weekend at Mid-Ohio
 July 2, 2024| 
  • Series News
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PALMETTO, Fla. – All three levels on the USF Pro Championships Presented by Continental Tire driver development ladder, for the second time this season, will compete in multiple races alongside the NTT INDYCAR SERIES during this weekend’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the 2025 Civic Hybrid.

The top two rungs, USF Pro 2000 and USF2000, have for many years been a part of the traditional open-wheel extravaganza on the undulating and challenging 2.258-mile, 13-turn Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course set in rolling hills midway between Columbus and Cleveland. This year they will be joined by USF Juniors, which is now in its third season of competition, to ensure more than 60 talented young professionals have an opportunity to compete in Ohio’s largest motorsports event.

Hughes Looks for Redemption
One year ago, Australia’s Lochie Hughes was in the thick of a fight for the USF2000 championship until his bid for a scholarship that would propel him to USF Pro 2000 was upended by a disappointing weekend at Mid-Ohio. Hughes, thankfully, was in any case able to progress to the more senior series after joining  Turn 3 Motorsport. He has grasped the opportunity with both hands, and will now return to the venue as the championship leader and high hopes of clinching a scholarship valued at $681,500 to graduate to the next step on the ladder, INDY NXT, in 2025.

Hughes’ second rookie campaign in two years hasn’t all been plain sailing. After bursting out of the blocks with a win and a second from the opening two races of the season on the streets of St Petersburg, Fla., the ensuing tripleheader event at NOLA Motorsports Park netted only a solitary 10th-place finish. But Hughes has since been on a tear with four consecutive podium finishes followed by a recent clean sweep of three victories at Road America.

Fellow title contender Nikita Johnson has been trending in the opposite direction. Johnson, from Gulfport, Fla., also began his season with a flourish, taking four wins, a second and a fourth for VRD Racing from the opening six races. But he was then excluded from the results from one of the races at the Indianapolis Grand Prix road course and penalized for a technical infraction. Adding insult to injury, Johnson has endured consecutive disappointing events at the lone oval race on the calendar, at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park, and at Road America.

Johnson has now slipped to third in the standings behind Jace Denmark, who has claimed five podium finishes for Pabst Racing to add to his four podiums results from 2023. Denmark, from Brownsburg, Ind., also finished on the podium in all three USF2000 races at Mid-Ohio in 2022, so has every right to consider a race win is long overdue.

Other contenders in this weekend’s Tatuus Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio doubleheader will include two more Pabst Racing teammates Christian Brooks and Simon Sikes, as well as Exclusive Autosport’s Braden Eves, who hails originally from the Columbus area, and New Zealander Liam Sceats (TJ Speed Motorsports).

Brooks, from Santa Clarita, Calif., will be pulling double duty for the first time in INDY NXT as well, while fellow rookie Sikes, from Augusta, Ga., has fond memories of Mid-Ohio after last year taking a decisive step toward winning the USF2000 championship title with a win and a second.

Two 45-minute test sessions on Thursday, July 4, will lead into 30 minutes of official practice at 9:30 a.m. on Friday and qualifying at 12:10 p.m, which will determine the starting order for a pair of 30-lap races on Saturday at 8:25 a.m. and 4:50 p.m. All times are EDT.

Garcia, Corry Lead for Pabst in USF2000
Pabst Racing teammates Max Garcia and Sam Corry hold the top two positions in the USF2000 title-chase. Both young men are seeking to follow in the footsteps of 2023 champion Simon Sikes, who became the first driver to clinch a title for team principal and former driver Augie Pabst after many years of close misses.

Garcia, 15, from Coconut Grove, Fla., currently has a 36-point advantage over 16-year-old Corry, from Cornelius, N.C. Garcia also holds the edge both in wins, four to two, and pole positions, five to zero. But Corry’s consistency, with a worst finish thus far of 11th from 10 races, has kept him firmly in the mix for a scholarship valued at $458,400 to ensure graduation next year to USF Pro 2000. Corry also will be buoyed by the knowledge he scored a podium finish last year at Mid-Ohio.

Evagoras Papasavvas, from Loveland, Ohio, similarly will return to his home-state track with plenty of confidence after claiming his maiden victory 12 months ago for Jay Howard Driver Development. He also added a second and a fourth to accumulate more points from the weekend than anyone else. Papasavvas currently lies third in the points chase on the strength of six podium finishes.

VRD Racing’s Max Taylor, who is pulling double duty in USF Juniors, and Exclusive Autosport’s Joey Brienza also are expected to challenge for race wins. Taylor, from Hoboken, N.J., already has two wins and three additional podium finishes to his name, while Brienza, from Golden, Colo., enjoyed his best weekend of the season thus far with a pair of top-three results last month at Road America.

Likely contenders judging by recent form also will include Elliot Cox (Sarah Fisher Hartman Driver Development), from Indianapolis, Ind.; Michael Costello (Jay Howard Driver Development), from Naples, Fla.; Ayrton Houk (DC Autosport), from McCordsville, Ind., who last weekend took a step backward and scored a hard-fought FRP F1600 victory at Road America; and Nicolas Giaffone, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, who won a race last year at Mid-Ohio en route to clinching the USF Juniors championship.

In addition, after showing extremely promising form at his home track on debut last year, former FRP F1600 champion Thomas Schrage, from Bethel, Ohio, will return to the series with VRD Racing.

As with USF Pro 2000, the USF2000 field will gain some more experience with a pair of promoter test sessions on Thursday, followed by official practice at 8:45 a.m. on Friday leading into the crucial sole period of qualifying at 11:20 a.m. The first of three 20-lap races will see the green flag later in the day at 4:55 p.m. One more race each day, at 1:05 p.m. on Saturday and 9:15 a.m. on Sunday, will complete the schedule.

Wheldon, Taylor Locked Together in USF Juniors
The battle for the USF Juniors championship and a scholarship valued at $263,700 to advance to USF2000 is finely poised at the halfway point in the 16-race season. Second-generation racer Sebastian Wheldon currently holds a slender one-point advantage over VRD Racing teammate Max Taylor, although four other youngsters also remain firmly in contention.

Wheldon, from Coral Gables, Fla., came out of the blocks fast after winning last year’s Skip Barber Formula Race Series and a scholarship worth $100,000 to make the move to USF Juniors, winning two of the first three races at NOLA Motorsports Park. However, a pair of disappointing results last month at VIRginia International Raceway, coupled to a strong weekend for Taylor, from Hoboken, N.J., who claimed a win, a third and a fifth, leaves the pair virtually tied as they head for Mid-Ohio.

The InterMS pair of Ariel Elkin, from Israel, and Florida’s Augusto Soto-Schirripa have amassed three wins and four more podium results between them to remain in close contention. England’s Liam McNeilly also has a race win to his credit with the Jay Howard Driver Development team, while second-year driver Jack Jeffers, from San Antonio, Texas, joins them in the mix after securing three podium finishes from his last five starts for Exclusive Autosport.

The USF Juniors’ weekend is slightly more condensed than the two more senior categories, although follows a similar format with testing on Thursday and then a busy Friday with practice at 8:00 a.m., qualifying at 10:30 a.m. and the first of two races at 1:00 p.m. Race two will complete their on-track action on Saturday at 12:10 p.m.

Full live coverage can be found on the free USF Pro Championships App, YouTube channel and respective series’ websites, usfpro2000.com, usf2000.com and usfjuniors.com.
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