USF2000 2016 season preview

Megennis and Lloyd. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

It’s a transition year for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series, which enters its final year with the venerable Van Diemen chassis before the new Tatuus USF-17 is launched and debuts for testing later this year.

Nonetheless, whereas when Indy Lights had a reduced car count in its final year before its new car came in for 2015, the USF2000 field had a bumper crop with 22 cars entered to test at Barber Motorsports Park.

There’s a great number of talents, too, in the mix of returning drivers for their second year and the rookies who arrive from elsewhere for the first crack at the Mazda Road to Indy.

We’ll take a look through, team-by-team, in the order that they finished 2015.

Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing

Although Pabst Racing threatened it last year, the road to the USF2000 title goes through Cape. The team has won five straight USF2000 titles (Nico Jamin, Florian Latorre, Scott Hargrove, Matthew Brabham and Petri Suvanto) since 2011.

  • 2-Nikita Lastochkin: The Los Angeles-based Russian moves from Pelfrey to Cape this year. Should improve upon eighth in points and should contend for wins and podiums, although is the least likely Cape title contender.
  • 3-Parker Thompson: The 18-year-old out of Red Deer, Alberta is mature beyond his years and excelled on the single-car JDC Motorsports team. Will win races and contend for the 2016 title after finishing fifth last year.
  • 8-Anthony Martin: Australian also overachieved with John Cummiskey Racing last year and banked several podiums. He and Thompson enter this year as the top two title contenders in a deep field.

Pabst Racing 

Pabst expands to three cars and with three drivers who raced in USF2000 last year. They’ll seek additional wins and a sustained championship challenge.

  • 21-Jordan Lloyd: Only did St. Pete and NOLA due to budget restrictions at JCR but for a full 2016 season, the talented Australian should score his first career win.
  • 22-Garth Rickards: Had a respectable first full season with Team Pelfrey and should assume the unofficial team leader role this year.
  • 23-Yufeng Luo: Chinese driver now in L.A. finished seventh in points last year with several fifth place finishes. A podium contender, and could sneak a win.

John Cummiskey Racing 

The open-wheel veteran launched his own team last year and is set for two cars full-season after running two the opening two races last year. Anthony Martin was fourth last year, top rookie in the field, and both he and Jordan Lloyd move on for 2016.

  • 33-Ayla Agren: A past F1600 champ, the Norwegian talent should improve upon her rookie year as JCR team leader after switching from Team Pelfrey.
  • 34-Lucas Kohl: Despite a name that sounds anything but, Kohl will be one of a couple talented Brazilian rookies to monitor this year. Open-wheel veteran Roberto Moreno coaches the karting veteran.

JDC Motorsports

John Church’s team maintains its open-wheel presence even as most of his team is involved in sports cars. One USF2000 car continues after Parker Thompson overachieved last year.

  • 72-Tazio Ottis: Californian has competed on the West Coast in Formula Mazda and SCCA competition. Remains to be seen how he’ll stack up.

Team Pelfrey

Pelfrey’s Pro Mazda team won that title last year, while its USF2000 team served as a training ground for four different rookie, all of whom have graduated to other teams this year (Lastochkin to Cape, Rickards to Pabst, Agren to Cummiskey and Gabin to JAY). In their place come another batch of four fresh faces.

  • 80-Robert Megennis: A 15-year-old New Yorker who steps up from Team Pelfrey’s F1600 program after banking a number of podiums there last year.
  • 81-Jordan Cane: Only 14, but won seven F1600 races for Team Pelfrey last year. The Englishman is very young but has a very bright future ahead of him.
  • 82-TJ Fischer: Formula Renault veteran, 21, returns to the U.S. after a couple years racing abroad. He also gave up a shot at playing college football to pursue his racing career.
  • 83-James Munro: 19-year-old Kiwi is the first New Zealander in Mazda Road to Indy history, and has had some success in the Toyota Racing Series.

Afterburner Autosport

The Minnesota-based team led by Tim Walsh seeks a bounce back season, after being suspended for a couple races for a technical infraction last year. Victor Franzoni won a race last year so the team has the potential, and the team made a one-race comeback with Sennan Fielding and Jack Mitchell at Mid-Ohio.

  • 17-Felipe Ortiz: Teenaged Brazilian moves up from F4 and F3 in the past into USF2000. He’s 17 years old and drives car No. 17.
  • 18-Dakota Dickerson: A driver to watch. Team USA Scholarship recipient and the Mazda scholarship driver, the 19-year-old will have a Soul Red car and will contend for top rookie honors, if not the title outright.

JAY Motorsports 

Jay Green’s team ran through Lucas Oil Raceway last year with Augie Lerch. Now with a black-and-green car replacing its prior trademark black-and-pink, targets a full season with greater results this year.

  • 91-Luke Gabin: The Australian ended sixth in points, with Team Pelfrey teammates eighth, ninth and 10th with one podium finish. Doesn’t have the Mazda scholarship as he did last year, but in a lower pressure environment, could impress at points throughout the year.
  • 92-Cameron Das: Baltimore teenager has limited formula car experience and will learn as the year goes on. 

Chastain Motorsports 

Tom Chastain’s team ran in the IRL off-and-on from 1997 through 2007. Son Sam Chastain made his series debut last year and now will drive for the family team for a full season this year.

  • 5-Austin McCusker: Has some F2000 and F1600 experience and was listed to debut in the team’s second car.
  • 77-Sam Chastain: Looks to grow and develop after series debut with JDC Motorsports at the Indianapolis GP weekend last year.

RJB Motorsports

The new team out of Sturgis, Mich. runs its first full season after a toe-in-the-water debut at Mid-Ohio last year with McMahan and Alex Mayer. Fred Edwards, CEO of Metalloid Corporation, and his company have made an investment to make it possible.

  • 19-Michai Stephens: A determined young gun who’s a two-time Team USA Scholarship winner, might be one of the top rookies in a deep field. The Evanston, Illinois native, 23, has a high level of poise and focus.
  • 20-Clint McMahan: Likely won’t measure up to Stephens within the team but is another car on the grid. If he beats Stephens with any degree of regularity, he’ll have exceeded expectations.

Spencer Racing

The small team steps up to USF2000’s National Class from the SCCA Pro F2000 class. At present, the No. 12 car for Eric Filgueiras is the lone National class entry, but will feature a technical partnership with KVSH Racing’s Jimmy Vasser.

ArmsUp Motorsports

Finished 11th, 12th and 13th with Keyvan Andres Soori, Max Hanratty and James Dayson last year but the Gregg Borland-owned, Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin-based team was yet to announce its plans at press time. Hanratty and Dayson have already been announced to Tequila Patron ESM’s IMSA Mazda Prototype Lites program.

Cadillac confirms WEC driver lineup with Chip Ganassi Racing that will race Le Mans in 2023

Cadillac Ganassi Le Mans
Cadillac Racing

Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing announced their driver lineup for a 2023 entry in the FIA World Endurance Championship, the sports car series that includes the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The Cadillac V-LMDh entry will be driven by Earl Bamber and Alex Lynn, who were teamed on the No. 02 Cadillac that competed in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship DPi class this season and won the Twelve Hours of Sebring. The third driver will be Richard Westbrook, who will return to Ganassi after helping the team to a GT class win at Le Mans in 2018.

The team also will compete in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the rebranded Grand Touring Prototype premier category, which is designed for crossover between the top prototypes in IMSA and WEC. Ganassi will field a second entry at Daytona with its No. 01 Cadillac that will compete full time in IMSA with Sebastien Bourdais and Renger van der Zande.

A Ganassi spokesman said the team hopes to run its second entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans but only its WEC team is confirmed (an AOC invitation would be required for the IMSA team). The team also is exploring options but currently plans to have the WEC’s team base of operations in Indianapolis.

Ganassi is the first American-based prototype team to confirm its entry in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans. It’s expected that Team Penske, which raced this year’s Le Mans with a full-time WEC entry in LMP2, also will race Le Mans with Porsche’s new LMDh car that is set for IMSA, but the manufacturer has yet to confirm its driver and team lineup.

Next year will mark the return of Cadillac to Le Mans for the first time since 2002.

Before joining Ganassi last year, Lynn made 28 WEC starts since 2016, winning the LMGTE Pro class at Le Mans in 2020.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to continue with Cadillac and Chip Ganassi Racing,” Lynn said in a release. “It’s a huge honor to drive for Chip in any capacity but certainly on a full factory sports car program, it’s seriously cool. Cadillac has so much heritage as a luxury North American sports car brand, so to be able to represent them is a huge privilege. I’ve had a lot of fun in my first year doing it and to continue that onto the World Endurance Championship stage is fantastic.

“For me, returning to WEC is sort of what I’ve always known and it’s a bit like going into my wheelhouse. This year in IMSA was a bit different with getting to know all-new circuits and a new style of racing so 2023 will be filled with a bit more of what I’m used to with more of a European focus. I think what’s significant about WEC is without a doubt Le Mans. As a sports car race, Le Mans is the crown jewel and everything that we want to win. To be able to take Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac back to Le Mans to fight for overall honors is a huge honor and that’s something that I’m going to work tirelessly to make sure we achieve.”

Bamber won the Le Mans overall in 2015 and ’17 with Porsche teams and also was a 2019 GTLM champion in IMSA.

“I am really happy to continue at Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac,” Bamber said in a release. “I’ve loved my first season in DPi and now to continue over into the LMDh era and WEC is super exciting. Looking forward to fighting for a world championship and another Le Mans victory.

“The World Endurance Championships gives us the opportunity to race at the world’s biggest race, which is Le Mans, the crown jewel of sports car racing. I’ve been lucky enough to win it before and it’s obviously a huge goal for Cadillac and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. To have that goal in sight is really exciting. It’s been great to have Alex as a teammate in 2022. We’ve been able to learn and grow together in the DPi, and we have a really good partnership going into WEC. We know each other really well and believe adding Richard will be a seamless transition.”

Said Westbrook: “After four really good years at Chip Ganassi Racing, I’ve got so many friends there and I’ve always dreamt to come back one day. It just worked so well between 2016 and 2019, and I’m delighted we found a route to come together again. I can’t wait, it’s an exciting era in sports car racing right now.

“I feel like I know Alex and Earl really well. I did Le Mans with Alex in 2020 and I’ve known him for years. It feels like I’m going back with an ex-teammate and exactly the same with Earl. Although I’ve never shared a car with Earl, we’ve always done the same sort of racing be it in WEC or in IMSA. We’ve had lots of battles, including this year in our dueling Cadillacs. We’ve always gotten along quite well, and I can say we’re going to have a great year together.”

The seven-race WEC season, which also includes a stop at Spa, will begin March 17 with the 1,000 Miles of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.