Four MAXSpeed drivers named for USF2000 test (VIDEO)

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A potential quartet of drivers to take note of, as karters who will have the chance at a USF2000 test. Release below:

After ensuring a true ladder program from the grassroots of karting to the upper echelon of motorsports in North America, the Mazda Road to Indy in conjunction with the MAXSpeed Group are pleased to announce the finalists of the inaugural Mazda Road to Indy and MAXSpeed Group Driver Advancement Program. The four winners will be given the opportunity to “sample” the next step in their careers with a test in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

“We had 12 very worthy semi-finalists, which is a testament to the caliber of drivers in the Rotax program,” said Michelle Kish, COO of Andersen Promotions. “I would like to thank our judges for giving back to the sport with not only their time but their enthusiasm. We’re excited to introduce our four winners to the USF2000 platform and, hopefully, the next step in their career paths.”

The four rising stars chosen were Oliver Askew, 17, of Tequesta, Fla.; Christian Brooks, 14, of Santa Clarita, Calif.; Sabre Cook, 19, of Grand Junction, Colo.; and Austin Versteeg, 15, of Sandy, Utah. All are competitors in the United States Rotax MAX Challenge program.

The candidates participated in in-depth video interview conferences with Verizon IndyCar Series multi-time race winner James Hinchcliffe, Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion Gabby Chaves, three-time Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Finals champion Ben Cooper and veteran karter and multi-time Team USA member Alan Rudolph. The interviews were mediated by the “voice” of the Mazda Road to Indy, eKartingNews.com’s Rob Howden.

“This was our first year working with the Mazda Road to Indy program and what a great group of people they have behind the scenes,” said MAXSpeed Group’s Richard Boisclair. “A top-notch crew made this lengthy process an easy one as we all worked seamlessly as a team. Our judges did a great job in the interview process and we couldn’t have asked for anything better. I would like to personally thank all the applicants as well as congratulate those who were chosen by our panel of judges.”

Michael McCarthy, 15, of Clearwater, Fla., was selected as first alternate should any scheduling conflicts arise with the winners.

“First off, it was great being asked to be a judge for this program,” said Hinchcliffe, who recently announced his return to Sam Schmidt Motorsports after finishing fifth with the squad in the 2009 Indy Lights title chase. “Karting is such an important element to the health and growth of motorsport in North America. As far as the 12 finalists, wow! The talent pool was deep and all of them should be proud of what they have accomplished and of making it into the finals. The interviews were a blast and they all did exceptionally well. The winners will be truly deserving, but I wish each and every one a huge amount of success in their careers.”

The drivers are each awarded a full one-day test and will turn their first USF2000 laps on January 28 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla., with the support of both Mazda Road to Indy and MAXSpeed Group personnel.

“Karting was my roots for racing so it is an honor for me to be able to be part of this opportunity for up-and-coming young talents,” noted Chaves. “The Mazda Road to Indy has been a huge factor in my success and to be able to give back and help young drivers is great.”

Today’s announcement kicks off a busy week for winners Brooks and Versteeg who will head to Mooresville, N.C., for one of Rotax’s biggest events – the Cold Stone Rotax Pan American Challenge – on October 17-19 where “Rotaxians” from all over the world vie for coveted spots at the Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Finals to be held in Valencia, Spain.

“I am very proud to have been a part of the Mazda Road to Indy selection process; it’s just one more way I can give back and hopefully be a part of the next rising star,” added Rudolph. “All the candidates did a fantastic job with a few really random questions that would be difficult for anyone to answer. In the end only, only four can win this test but the fact remains they are all winners in their own right and have bright futures.”

“It has been great to be a part of the judging panel for the Mazda Road to Indy/MAXSpeed Group Driver Advancement Program and Andersen Promotions,” said Cooper. “It has been a privilege and a honor to help these young drivers hopefully progress through their careers.”

The partnership between the Mazda Road to Indy and MAXSpeed Group was announced in June to foster the next wave of up-and-coming drivers. Rotax is the largest racing series in the world in any form of motorsports with over 15,000 drivers competing each year.

Video on the four linked below:

Scott McLaughlin will make IndyCar debut for Team Penske at St. Pete

Scott McLaughlin IndyCar debut
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Two-time defending Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin will make his NTT IndyCar Series debut with Team Penske in the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida.

McLaughlin, 27, drove for Penske in preseason IndyCar testing at Circuit of the Americas, Sebring International Raceway (in a rookie evaluation) and Texas Motor Speedway, and he was announced Feb. 5 as making his debut with the team at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course before the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic delayed the start of the season.

Travel restrictions also made it difficult for the New Zealand native to leave Australia, where he leads the points for DJR Team Penske in the Virgin Australia Supercars series with three races remaining. He set a Supercars record last season with 18 victories.

The Supercars season will conclude Oct. 18 with the prestigious 24 Hours of Bathurst. McLaughlin then will head directly to the States to drive the No. 3 Dallara-Chevrolet at St. Pete as a teammate of Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud.

“This is something I haven’t stopped thinking about, but I wanted to ensure my focus was on winning our third-straight Supercars championship for DJR Team Penske and all our partners in Australia,” McLaughlin, who also has won at Barber and Indianapolis while unofficially finishing first in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge, said in a release. “We are still laser-focused on that and have three more rounds to get it done, but I’m equally as excited to finally get the chance and make my IndyCar debut.”

McLaughlin, whose wife, Karly, is from New York, said he has discussed racing in America with car owner Roger Penske since he was hired by the team for the 2017 season.

“I’ve always said I’d love to have a crack at something else,” McLaughlin told reporters in February during the preseason test at Austin, Texas. “My goal was always to win the championship in Bathurst and Australia. I ticked those boxes, and then opportunities arise over time. The conversation between me and Roger was pretty short. ‘Would you be interested in IndyCar?’ I’d literally drive a wheelbarrow with a Team Penske sticker on it. I’d race anything that comes with the opportunity.

“I’ve always intended I’d love to get America one day potentially if I’ve done my goals in Australia. I’ve always said whether it’s now or 30 years down the track, I’d love to finish up (in America). I’ve promised Karly that we would come back here eventually. She’s not pushing me by any means, but I’ve always had a passion for American motorsport and certainly would love the opportunity.”

McLaughlin also has indicated a desire to try racing in NASCAR for Team Penske. He discussed his comfort with stock cars during a 2017 episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast (click on the link below to hear it).

Here’s the release from Team Penske:

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (September 17, 2020) – Team Penske announced today that Scott McLaughlin, the current Virgin Australia Supercars Championship points leader, is scheduled to make his long-awaited NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut in the series’ 2020 season finale on the Streets of St. Petersburg on Sunday, October 25.

The two-time and defending Supercars Champion for DJR Team Penske (DJRTP) was set to compete in his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES race earlier this year on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course before the COVID-19 global pandemic forced several delays and postponements on racing schedules, along with international travel restrictions. Before the pandemic shutdown, McLaughlin participated in the INDYCAR SERIES preseason open test at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, where he ran consistently well and posted the third-fastest time of the test session. The 27-year-old native of New Zealand also competed in separate tests at the Sebring International Raceway road course and the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval.

“This is something I haven’t stopped thinking about, but I wanted to ensure my focus was on winning our third-straight Supercars championship for DJR Team Penske and all our partners in Australia,” said McLaughlin. “We are still laser-focused on that and have three more rounds to get it done, but I’m equally as excited to finally get the chance and make my INDYCAR debut. I’ve been doing everything I can to keep up with the series this year, from watching as many races as I can on TV to even talking to the drivers and some of the engineers back at the Team Penske shop. I never knew if I would be able to get behind the wheel of one of these cars this year due to all the COVID-19 restrictions, but I wanted to be ready if it became an opportunity.”

McLaughlin currently leads the Supercars point standings with just three rounds of competition remaining on the 2020 schedule. McLaughlin has produced a series-best 10 wins and 10 poles and holds a 143-point lead over Jamie Whincup entering this weekend’s race at The Bend. Over the course of his Supercars career, McLaughlin has won an impressive 53 races and 71 poles, while helping DJRTP claim team championships in 2017 and 2019 and winning the driver’s title in each of the last two seasons. He also earned his first win in the legendary Bathurst 1000 race in 2019 with co-driver Alex Premat. Though he is in just his fourth season competing for Team Penske, McLaughlin already ranks third on the organization’s all-time wins list, trailing only Brad Keselowski and Mark Donohue.

Earlier this year, McLaughlin made his “virtual” INDYCAR debut, competing in the series’ iRacing Challenge and winning two races among the full field of current NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers that were competing against each other while traditional racing was put on hold.

“Our plan has always been for Scott to run a race in the INDYCAR SERIES this season, but we never wanted to take the focus away from the main goal, which is winning another Supercars Championship,” said Team Penske President Tim Cindric. “COVID-19 certainly altered those plans early on, but with the way the schedules have lined up at the end of this season, St. Pete became an available option and we remain committed to getting him some INDYCAR seat time. We know Scott is ready for this challenge and this should add even more excitement to the 2020 season finale in St. Petersburg.”

McLaughlin will pilot the No. 3 Shell V-Power Nitro+ Dallara/Chevrolet at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which was postponed from its original date in March and will now take place on Sunday, October 25. The race on the 1.8-mile street circuit will be seen live at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, with radio coverage on the Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network and SIRIUS XM.