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MRTI: Devin Wojcik’s under-the-radar solid first year in USF2000

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The preponderance of rookies contending for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda title meant inevitably, some other rookies got overlooked during the 2017 season in the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder.

Oliver Askew and Rinus Veekay battled for the title down to the final round in Watkins Glen, and fellow rookies Kaylen Frederick and Calvin Ming grabbed opportunistic podium finishes more often than not. In eighth place this season was the fifth-best rookie of the year in Devin Wojcik, a driver who outperformed the minimal expectations in a deep field.

The 17-year-old out of Fayetteville, New York overachieved during the year driving for Gregg and Brent Borland’s Sheboygan Falls, Wis.-based ArmsUp Motorsports.

The family-run team at ArmsUp has a fun-loving atmosphere and a propensity for punching above its weight – Victor Franzoni did so significantly in 2016 cast against Cape Motorsports’ pair of Anthony Martin and Parker Thompson – and Wojcik did well in a similar-type dynamic this year.

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

With either fellow novice driver Bruna Tomaselli or on-again, off-again MRTI driver Alex Baron in the second car, Wojcik didn’t have a steady second driver to interact with or learn from, and learned as he went throughout his first full season in the new Tatuus USF-17.

A one-off opportunity in the old Van Diemen chassis with ArmsUp in 2016 at the team’s home race at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. led to the full 2017 campaign and as Wojcik explained, that yearlong development helped him grow as a driver.

“Ever since I got into Skip Barber – I started doing well there, in the Winter series – they started coming into contact with me,” Wojcik told NBC Sports. “I did a test there, and then they got me in a car for a one-off. So, I had a good relationship with them going into the 2017 season.

“So, we went here to the Chris Griffis (test) shortly after I signed with them for the season. We did fairly well here. We knew we had a big road ahead of us. We had to basically develop this car, and honestly we were having a little trouble with that. It was basically my first time talking to an engineer, and trying to do that communication was a bit tricky. But, I was able to figure it out with the help of (driver coach) Barry Waddell, he helped me a lot there.”

What Wojcik lacked in outright pace he made up for with cleanliness and consistency. A roller-coaster first three weekends in St. Petersburg, Barber and Indianapolis produced only one top-10 (an impressive seventh in St. Petersburg race two) and two DNFs, but from Road America onwards he finished between sixth and 11th in seven of the eight remaining races, with the field usually pushing if not exceeding 20 cars. For his passing efforts, Wojcik was awarded the Tilton Hard Charger Award in USF2000 at year’s end.

Cast against the two or three-car mights from Cape, Pabst Racing, Exclusive Autosport and Team Pelfrey, Wojcik was doing a highly respectable job, because he was beating at least one driver from each of those teams on a regular basis.

Wojcik rated his performances on street courses his best this year, as beyond the seventh in St. Pete he had his best weekend in Toronto, ending eighth and sixth. ArmsUp’s street course setup, engineered by veteran John Walko, carried over well from the old car, which Franzoni won with in Toronto in 2016.

“I had a huge amount of passes at Barber. And obviously the two street races, I performed my best at,” Wojcik said. “I had the sixth, seventh and eighth, so those were my finishes there. Those are my favorites; I love duking it out in the streets.”

Wojcik was at the Griffis test last month to meet with teams in lieu of not driving. He thanked Waddell for his vast contact list and allowing him to meet as many people as he did. A second season in USF2000 is the goal regardless, and he said he’d like to grow with ArmsUp if possible.

Where Wojcik excels outside the cockpit is as a soon-to-be Eagle Scout, having been in the Boy Scouts since he was a kid. There is some Boy Scouts involvement in IndyCar, via the Boy Scouts of America’s longtime partnership with Dale Coyne Racing.

“I’ve been in Boy Scouts since I was a very little kid – since elementary school,” he said. “I’ve come up through the ranks there. I’m about to get my Eagle Scout, which is the highest rank in Scouting, so it’s a really big accomplishment. I’m looking forward to obtaining (it) this Fall, it’s a really big thing for me.”

“Overall we have a good platform to build off of for a second year of USF2000, and hopefully (will) go for a championship. That would be the best-case scenario.”

IndyCar star Scott Dixon to test skills on ‘American Ninja Warrior’

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Scott Dixon will be the latest IndyCar driver to enter the realm of reality TV when he auditions in Indianapolis next week for “American Ninja Warrior.”

The four-time IndyCar champion, nicknamed “The Iceman,” thought it sounded fun when he was approached with the idea of trying out. As the competition has drawn near, Dixon is wondering what he got himself into.

“I feel a lot of pressure on this one,” Dixon told The Associated Press before heading to this weekend’s Honda Grand Prix of Alabama IndyCar race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. “When it got to be about a month away, I figured I should start training for it, and it’s pretty hard stuff.”

IndyCar drivers Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden and Tony Kanaan all auditioned for the show, which follows competitors as they tackle a series of obstacle courses in qualifying rounds across the country. None of IndyCar’s contestants advanced out of the first round and neither did NASCAR driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Dixon’s appearance comes about the same time the Game Show Network has Sebastien Bourdais as a guest host for “Daily Draw” for the entire week leading into the month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Most recently, Alexander Rossi and Conor Daly teamed to finish fourth on “The Amazing Race,” and James Hinchcliffe was a runner-up last year on “Dancing With The Stars.” Castroneves is a former “DWTS” winner.

Dixon, the 2008 winner of the Indianapolis 500 who ranks fourth on IndyCar’s all-time wins list, is accustomed to success. But the New Zealander not so sure he’s going to become the next great ninja. Most of his fitness work focuses on endurance training, and preparing for the obstacle course has taken Dixon out of his element.

“It’s not my wheelhouse,” he said. “This is agility kind of stuff and I’m looking forward to the process. I’m not looking forward so much to the failure, because it’s going to happen at some point, so I guess I just have to make the most of it and enjoy the experience.”

Dixon was famously robbed at gunpoint in the drive-thru of a Taco Bell last year hours after he won the pole for the Indy 500. Asked if his ninja training will have him better prepared should that happen again, he did not think so.

“I suppose if I run away it would help,” Dixon said. “But I don’t exactly have a ninja toolkit to get me through that situation.”