The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, the first step on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, announced that it has received a record field of 35 cars for the opening rounds of the 14-race championship. The pair of races will be held in support of the 60th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida at Sebring International Raceway on March 15-16.
A total of 22 Championship Class cars currently are entered, along with 13 National Class cars, which include 10 of the newly eligible SCCA Formula Enterprises Van Diemen-Mazdas. Previously, the largest field since USF2000 was re-introduced in 2010 after a three-year hiatus comprised 19 cars at the 2011 season finale on the streets of Baltimore.
“When I look at the entry list, I am not only excited about the number of entries but the talent that is on board for this season,” said Dan Andersen, owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions, the series promoter. “There are numerous drivers who I believe are truly future stars. In the relatively short time, the Mazda Road to Indy ladder has been in place, it has proven to be a system that works. We have tremendous partners who are committed to paving the way for drivers to make it in this sport and continually strive to make this program better. It's an exciting time for our series.”
Eighteen-year-old Spencer Pigot, who finished second as a rookie in the 2011 USF2000 title chase, will be among the favorites for honors at Sebring. Driving for championship-winning Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, Pigot dominated last month's Cooper Tires Winterfest Championship winning five rounds of the six-race mini series which comprised three races each at Sebring and Palm Beach International Raceway.
"The Cooper Tires Winterfest was great for me in so many ways," said Pigot. "The competition was really strong, with 20 cars showing up at Sebring. To get five out of the six wins, that's really good for me, for my confidence, for the team, for everyone, so now we've got to go out and live up to it and do it all again in the regular season."
Also making his pro debut will be Skip Barber Racing graduate Michael Johnson. Paralyzed from the mid-chest down in a dirt track motorcycle racing accident when he was 12 years old, Johnson already had 14 championships to his name by that point and, even as he began to recover from the life-changing injury, he found the competitive spirit still burned strong. Two years later, Johnson began competing again, this time in karts. He graduated to cars in 2010 with the Skip Barber Racing School, and in 2011 finished third in the hotly contested Skip Barber Summer Series, earning three wins and seven podium finishes.
"It's been a challenge getting the license issues all figured out and just getting my driving figured out, but I love racing," said Johnson, 19, from Flint, Mich. "I've done it my whole life and I don't want to stop. I want to prove to my dad, friends, family that I can do it. Right now the biggest challenge is trusting the car. It has a lot more performance than the Skip Barber car, and the braking is a little bit demanding. I think with a little more seat time, more practice and just improving my mental game, I'll be there. It's going to take me a little bit but I'll get there."
Additional challengers for the top step on the Championship Class podium this season will come from six other second-year USF2000 drivers. Leading the charge are 2011 fifth-place championship finisher Matthew Di Leo of MDL Racing; Roman Lagudi of Belardi Auto Racing, who finished third in the season finale at Baltimore, and teammate Luca Forgeois, the 2011 National Class champion; Timmy Megenbier of Afterburner Autosport, a podium finisher at Mid-Ohio; and Luigi Biangardi, one of the youngest drivers in the field at age 15, with ArmsUp Motorsports.
Others looking to make their mark include rookie Matthew Brabham, the only driver to beat Pigot during the Cooper Tires Winterfest. The son of two-time Sebring 12 Hours winner Geoff Brabham, Matthew holds dual American and Australian citizenship after being born in south Florida and then raised in Australia, has every intention of following in his famous family's footsteps.
"That's the goal," said Brabham, 18, who has raced with some success in the Australian Formula Ford Championship for the last couple of years. "Dad gave me a few tips, a few stories as well, so I'm really looking forward to Sebring. These cars are fantastic to drive and the drivers are all really good as well, so it's been great for experience. I really wanted to race overseas this year and the Mazda Road to Indy seemed to offer a fantastic opportunity. It's really professional and it's not just about the driving and learning, it's all the media interest and all the other resources they offer, too."
• Reigning SCCA Formula Enterprises Pro Series champion and Camden, Ohio, resident Scott Rettich of Alliance Autosport is among a large contingent of drivers who are taking advantage of an off-season rule change to permit the cost-effective Formula Enterprises (FE) cars into the USF2000 National Class alongside the more traditional Van Diemen-Zetecs. The strong field also includes 2011 SCCA Pro Formula Enterprises Rookie of the Year Patrick Gallagher, who will drive for JAY Motorsports.