For the first time in more than a decade, this year's Team USA Scholarship winners will be decided following an on-track shootout, which was held last Friday at the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in Chandler, Ariz.
The eight contestants – Neil Alberico, 17, from Los Gatos, Calif.; Ashley Freiberg, 18, from Homer Glen, Ill.; Patrick Gallagher, 17, from Thornville, Ohio; Miles Maroney, 16, from Topanga Canyon, Calif.; Arie Ouimet, 19, from Plymouth, Mass.; Spencer Pigot, 16, from Windermere, Fla.; Jonathan Scarallo, 18, from Hauppauge, N.Y.; and Felix Serralles, 17, from Haines City, Fla. – were put through their paces in a fleet of Chevrolet Corvettes and Formula Mazda open-wheel cars. In addition to coping with triple-digit temperatures throughout the day, the octet were interviewed by the judges, asked to submit a pair of essays and filled out a questionnaire aimed at testing their knowledge of the sport.
The adjudicating panel included school founder and CEO Bob Bondurant; former Team USA Scholarship winner and 2004 Indianapolis 500 champion Buddy Rice; 2009 Daytona 24 Hours winner Darren Law; American Le Mans Series driver Chris McMurry; accomplished racecar designer/engineer John Ward; Sparco USA's Chris Neuer; Bondurant Race Series Director Alan Rudolph; and Team USA Scholarship President Jeremy Shaw.
Two winners will be selected, with the announcement to be made during the lead up to the Petit Le Mans American Le Mans Series event at Road Atlanta on Oct. 2. Their prize will include entries in both the Formula Ford (Kent) Festival at Brands Hatch, England, on Oct. 16-17 and the Walter Hayes Trophy Formula Ford event at Silverstone on Nov. 6-7.
"It was a great thrill to host the Team USA Scholarship competition at my school," said Bondurant, whose own career included a class victory in the 1964 Le Mans 24 Hours race as well as a fourth-place finish in the 1966 Monaco Grand Prix. "All of the candidates showed tremendous talent, and I'm sure that the winners will do a fantastic job representing American racing in England."
In Friday's final session at the wheel of the Formula Mazda cars, aside from a one-off lap by one of the contestants, which he was unable to repeat, all of the finalists' fastest laps were separated by less than three tenths of a second.
"This was truly an impressive group," said Team USA Scholarship founder Jeremy Shaw. "They displayed their skills both in and out of the cars, and this will not be an easy decision to make."