USF2000 Battle Intensifies Heading into the Final Three Races
 July 25, 2017| 
  • Series News

Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 All Set for Action on Iconic Road Course

[Learn more about the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires on the new website – RoadToIndy.lnfo]

PALMETTO, Fla. – All three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires – the world’s most effective open-wheel development ladder – will be in action this weekend at the scenic Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course situated near Lexington, Ohio. Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda are all nearing the climax of their seasons, with Mazda Scholarships up for grabs in all series to assist each of the champions in their quest to progress closer to their goal of a career in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

For the Indy Lights and USF2000 drivers, this weekend will mark the third different genre of race track they have encountered within the past month – competing firstly on the high-banked Iowa Speedway oval, then the sinuous, concrete wall-lined temporary road course within easy reach of bustling downtown Toronto, and now on the more forgiving but no less challenging 2.258-mile, 13-turn permanent road circuit in rural Ohio. Both series will host a pair of races, while the Pro Mazda campaigners – in action for the first time since Road America last month – will enjoy a triple-header event, all in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series.

A little more than two months ago, rookie Oliver Askew, from Jupiter, Fla., seemed to be cruising toward the USF2000 championship following a sequence of five consecutive victories for the Cape Motorsports team, which has won no fewer than 10 titles since the turn of the century, including six in a row. But his once emphatic 60-point advantage over fellow rookie Rinus VeeKay, from Hoofdorp, The Netherlands, has been trimmed to just 18 with three races remaining, including two this weekend at Mid-Ohio. A total of 99 points – and a coveted Mazda Scholarship to aid in the progression to Pro Mazda for 2018 – are still up for grabs.

The turnaround has occurred partly due to some misfortune for the 20-year-old, including a suspension failure at Road America and then being caught up in someone else’s accident last time out in Toronto, and partly to an impressive streak from VeeKay, who was finished on the podium in the six most recent races, including two wins at his Pabst Racing team’s home track, Road America.

“Yes, the points are close now, but as long as we keep doing what we have been doing all season and can stay clean, I have nothing to worry about,” asserts Askew, who is seeking a second straight Mazda Scholarship after winning the inaugural Mazda Road to Indy $200k USF2000 Shootout last fall. “Cape Motorsports has dominated at Mid-Ohio over the past couple of years so I know I’ll have another quick car underneath me. No matter what happens, I have thoroughly enjoyed the season thus far and I’ll keep fighting until it’s over. I stay extremely grateful for the opportunity Mazda Motorsports has set before me; every day in the position I am in now is a good day.”

“I’m really looking forward to Mid-Ohio,” says VeeKay, who in common with Askew had a strong pedigree in karting before making the move into cars – and specifically USF2000 – for the first time in 2017. “I'm feeling good to have closed the gap to Oliver the last pair of races but I want more. I know it’s going to be hard to beat the Capes and Oliver, but the Pabst Racing team and myself are going to give everything we have in the last events of this USF2000 season.”

The two main title protagonists have a healthy points lead over third-placed Parker Thompson, although it was the USF2000 veteran from Red Deer, Alb., Canada who took advantage of his prior experience and showed both of them the way home in Toronto by claiming the first two wins for new-for-2017 USF2000 team Exclusive Autosport. Thompson currently lies third in the championship.

Other likely front-runners will include VeeKay’s teammates, Calvin Ming, from Guyana, and Brazilian Lucas Kohl, both of whom also have prior experience at Mid-Ohio; the Team Pelfrey pair of Robert Megennis, from New York, N.Y., and Kaylen Frederick, from Potomac, Md.; and relative newcomer David Malukas, from Chicago Ridge, Ill., who has displayed prodigious pace with his BN Racing team’s Tatuus USF-17 during a partial rookie campaign. Malukas, in his first full season of car racing, also has been contesting the ADAC Formula 4 Championship in Europe.

Three more contenders will join the field this weekend in the form of Phillippe Denes, from Carmel, Calif., who will return to Team Pelfrey after making a strong USF2000 debut last year at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca before contesting four Pro Mazda races earlier this season; 17-year-old Mexican Andres Gutierrez (DEForce Racing), who was leading the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda sports car series before switching his focus back to open-wheel cars; and F4 regular Jacob Abel, from Louisville, Ky., who will make his debut in a second Newman Wachs Racing Tatuus, alongside Darren Keane, from Parkland, Fla., who finished fourth in the most recent race at Toronto.

Pabst Racing currently leads the Team Championship by 61 points over Cape Motorsports and could potentially clinch the title with a strong run this weekend.

The Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio Presented by Allied Building Products will commence on Thursday, July 27, with a pair of 40-minute test sessions followed by 30 minutes of official practice. The field then will contest a pair of 30-minute races, one at 12:30 p.m. EDT on Friday and the second at 12:10 p.m. on Saturday. The starting grids will be set by a dedicated 20-minute qualifying session earlier each day.

Coverage of the Mazda Road to Indy can be found on a series of platforms including Road to Indy TV, the Road to Indy TV App and dedicated broadcast channels on demand via Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Roku and, most recently, the Xbox One Official App as well as live streaming and live timing on the series’ respective websites and indycar.com. Indy Lights is also featured on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network broadcasts on Sirius 214, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app.

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