The additional promotion is reassuring to Sage Karam
(at left, BELOW), who last year dominated the US F2000 series (nine wins from 12 races) and graduates with Andretti Autosport to Star Mazda for 2011.
“Ever since I was little and going to the Indy 500, it's been a dream of mine to win that race,” says Karam. “IndyCar was always my ambition, living near Nazareth Speedway, and with the Andretti family right across the street. Now the Mazda Road to Indy is a structured logical path to IndyCar, I'm also glad to be with this team, because I believe sticking with them gives me my best shot at becoming an Indy 500 winner one day. I'm in the right team at the right time, just as they're committing to being on every rung of the ladder.”
Karam's erstwhile teammate Zach Veach is another driver to watch in 2011 as he commits to a second year in US F2000 with Andretti Autosport. He spent much of last season adjusting his driving style to F2000 cars having spent the previous winter testing an Atlantic car. Once he adapted to the F2000's relative lack of downforce, Veach improved in leaps and bounds in the final third of the season so that, despite missing the opening two races, he still finished fifth in the championship. Now he feels he can aim for the 2011 title, and his pole and victory in the US F2000's Winterfest event at Sebring in January served notice of intent.
“Apart from what I learned about how to drive the F2000 car,” says Veach, “2010 was also great for working on my racecraft, and learning oval racing. Things like planning your pass three or four laps in advance is something that's going to be more and more important as you go up through the categories to IndyCar.”
You'll be able to track Veach's US F2000 title bid through his blogs on RACER.com throughout the season ahead, but also keep an eye out for his teammate, Spencer Pigot. Together with Felix Serralles, 17-year-old Pigot won last year's Team USA Scholarship that saw the youngsters sent to the UK to participate in the prestigious Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch and the Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone. The pair immediately proved themselves frontrunners, running consistently in the top four, despite their lack of familiarity with the tracks, cars – and European racing ethics! Pigot should be capable of becoming a winner in his debut US F2000 season, while Serralles looks set to race in the tough arena of the UK Formula Renault championship.
Other strong U.S. open-wheel talents expected to shine in 2011, wherever they land, include Connor de Phillippi, who will race in Star Mazda again following his victory in the final round of '10. Joel Miller did a fine job in his two Indy Lights outings last year, despite no testing, and though FIL is his aim, he's ready to race anything with four wheels for now.
Miller, for example, can look to fellow young gun John Edwards who realized that open-wheel racing isn't the only option: Sports car racing has proven a great refuge for those who fell between the rungs of the broken open-wheel ladder system pre-2011. Edwards won the 2008 Star Mazda and 2009 Atlantic championships before last year moving to the Rolex GT class of the Grand-Am series with Mazda. Having partnered Adam Christodolou in driving their SpeedSource RX-8 to victory at Lime Rock, Edwards has switched this year to the Stevenson Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro (ABOVE) in the Continental Tire division.
The 19-year-old Louisville, Ky., native admits that although he misses elements of open-wheel competition, he'd be as happy to be the next Allan McNish as the next Dario Franchitti.
“I've talked to many team owners and managers in IndyCar and they tell me how much money they expect. Well, in Grand-Am I can go to teams and tell them how much I expect! I still love open-wheel but it doesn't matter if I'm forgotten by IndyCar teams at the moment: if I found sponsorship and went to an IndyCar team with a couple million in my pocket, they'd still find a way to run me!”
With IndyCar's announcement that the Indy Lights champion will receive $1m there's a step in the right direction, but as Hildebrand observes, it probably still isn't enough: “By formalizing the Road to Indy, IndyCar has made the system more straightforward, but the jump from Lights to the top rung without $2 or $3 million is still a major challenge.”
Let's hope there are corporations out there who are listening. Take it from us, America truly has got talent.
• For the full version of this feature article, plus much more, check out the February 2011 issue of RACER magazine. CLICK HERE to subscribe.