Previews: Pro Mazda and USF2000 Series

Leave a comment

Each of the other two rungs on IndyCar’s Mazda Road to Indy ladder, the Pro Mazda Championship and USF2000 National Championship, have higher car counts and other prodigious talent worthy of watching starting at St. Petersburg.

Pro Mazda kicked off its 2013 season at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas earlier in the month, where sophomore Diego Ferreira and rookie Matty Brabham secured victories in the doubleheader weekend. Brabham, grandson of Formula 1 World Championship Sir Jack Brabham and son of sports car champion Geoff, is a highly touted prospect racing for Andretti Autosport after winning the 2012 USF2000 champion.

Brabham’s adversary from the USF2000 season a year ago, Spencer Pigot, has also graduated from the junior championship and races with Team Pelfrey. Pigot and Petri Suvanto, a talented Finn who’s had more than his share of bad luck in a year and one weekend with Pelfrey, are two drivers who should win their first races this season.

Andretti’s second car is driven by Shelby Blackstock, son of country music star Reba McEntire. Ferreira’s teammate at Juncos is Scott Anderson, another USF2000 graduate. JDC Motorsports also boasts a four-car lineup while M1 Racing and World Speed Motorsports also have cars entered.

USF2000 raced a doubleheader at Sebring last week, and series sophomores Neil Alberico and Scott Hargrove split the two race victories. They both drive for the two-time defending champion Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing team.

A 31-car field, biggest in any of the four open-wheel series racing in St. Petersburg this weekend, takes to the concrete confines of the 1.8-mile street circuit. Some of the other drivers worth watching include Danilo Estrela (Belardi), Garett Grist (Andretti), Stefan Rzadzinski (JDC, whose car is above, right), Jesse Lazare (Pabst), Jeroen Slaghekke (Cape), Austin Cindric (Andretti, son of Team Penske president Tim), and Andrew Hobbs (ArmsUp, son of NBC Sports Network F1 analyst David) among others.

With so many young drivers in such tight confines, the hope is that caution flags do not pepper the races. These championships present a great opportunity for fans to start paying attention to drivers who could be in IndyCar within two to three years.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.