The 2011 Cooper Tires Presents the USF2000 National Championship Powered by Mazda season kicks off in style this week with a top-quality field set to do battle over two races in support of the 59th Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
USF2000 is enjoying a surge in interest as a result of the series' position as the first rung on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder with the 2011 series champion earning a scholarship package from Mazda to advance to the Star Mazda Championship next season. Competitors from around the globe will be converging on central Florida intent on working toward that prize and taking one more step toward their ultimate goal of competing in the IZOD IndyCar Series. Racers from Australia, Canada, Colombia, Finland, France and Great Britain are set to do battle with a talented crop of young Americans in what promises to be a hotly contested intercontinental tussle for top honors.
Andretti Autosport teammates Zach Veach and Spencer Pigot are likely to be among those leading the “home” charge following a one-two finish, respectively, in the recent USF2000 Cooper Tires Winterfest Championship – an off-season, five-race mini-series.
“The Winterfest races were extremely helpful as far as preparation for the full USF2000 season,” says Veach, 16, from Stockdale, Ohio, who finished fifth in last year's USF2000 championship. “It really helped us shake off the cobwebs and gave us a head start. I hope to carry that momentum into the 2011 season. Hopefully all of the hard work and preparation will pay off at Sebring.”
In addition to his growing list of racing accomplishments, Veach recently authored a book, 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before You Turned 16, and was featured on a segment of The Today Show on NBC.
Pigot, the 2010 BFGoodrich/Skip Barber National presented by Mazda champion, also has garnered a slice of national acclaim in recent weeks after being featured in Sports Illustrated's “Faces in the Crowd” and then impressing in an Firestone Indy Lights test with Bryan Herta Autosport – an additional prize for winning last year's Skip Barber National crown.
“My goal for the weekend is to challenge for race wins,” says Pigot, 17, from Windermere, Fla. “With the information we gained from the Winterfest I think we will be very competitive. It's a long season but it will be really important to start it off with some good results.”
Army National Guardsman Cole Morgan, 22, from Pompano Beach, Fla., is another home-state driver with high expectations after signing a deal to drive for Belardi Auto Racing. Morgan will team with highly rated 2008 British Formula Ford Champion Wayne Boyd, 20, from Belfast, Northern Ireland at the Indianapolis, Ind.-based squad.
“Obviously our goals are to win right out of the box,” said Morgan, who won the 2007 F2000 Championship Series and is engaged to the granddaughter of 1960s Indy 500 veteran Chuck Hulse. “I've got quite a bit of 2.0-liter experience, so that gives us a really good place to start. Belardi Auto Racing is a five-star organization, so I have all of the tools to perform at my best.”
St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing is on deck for a three-car lineup with USAC talent Shannon McIntosh, 21, of St. Petersburg teaming with 18-year-old Finnish karting standout Petri Suvanto and Vincent Beltoise, 20, of Paris, France, a graduate of the Formula Palmer Audi Championship.
Other leading contenders include Australian Luke Ellery, 22, who finished third in his USF2000 debut last fall at Road Atlanta and will return for a full campaign with JDC MotorSports alongside Mexico City-based Colombian Juan Piedrahita, 18, who contested a partial Star Mazda season last year; 15-year-old karting talent Matthew Di Leo of Innisfil, Ontario, Canada with Brian Stewart Racing; 19-year-old Timmy Megenbier of Melrose Park, Ill., the 2009 Jetta TDI Cup champion who will pilot a Sick Tea Racing entry; and AcceleRace Motorsports' Ardie Greenamyer of Louisville, Ky., the 2010 National class champion who moves to the Championship class ranks this season.
Competitors in the National class include Luca Forgeois, 15, of New York City, who graduates from the karting ranks with new series entrant Stevenson Motorsports and Madison, Wis.-based J.R. Smart who finished second in the 2010 National class Championship with Pabst Racing Services.