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Team USA Scholarship interview process begins at Mid-Ohio

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The candidates for the 2016 Team USA Scholarship, often a springboard for young American drivers in their open-wheel careers, have been identified and begun the interview process this weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Jeremy Shaw’s Team USA Scholarship program has produced a wealth of talent in its 25-plus year history. Last year’s two recipients, Dakota Dickerson and Michai Stephens, are both embarking on their first full season in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series.

Dickerson, who’s also the Mazda scholarship driver this year, has gone on something of a roll the last few races with six straight top-10 finishes from fourth to 10th for Afterburner Autosport, after scoring only two top-10s in the last eight. Stephens is with a first-year team, RJB Motorsports, and has learned with the team throughout the year – but has made steady progress.

This year’s batch of candidates were at Mid-Ohio to meet a number of key people in their pursuit of the scholarship. The release on that process is below:

TeamUSAScholiLogoThe selection process for this year’s Team USA Scholarship is under way. A total of 11 candidates, representing a variety of junior racing categories, has been identified and invited to attend this week’s Honda Indy 200 Verizon IndyCar Series/Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires /Pirelli World Challenge road racing extravaganza at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio.

The initial challenge for this year’s candidates will comprise interviews to be conducted during the weekend in front of a panel of judges who will include current IndyCar team co-owners Jimmy Vasser and Bryan Herta, winners of the first two Team USA Scholarships in 1991 and 1992, respectively. More recent scholarship winners Joel Miller (2007), now a factory driver for Mazda in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and Spencer Pigot (2010/2011), who will be competing in this weekend’s feature event alongside 2008 alum Josef Newgarden for Ed Carpenter Racing, will join several other luminaries from the world of racing on the panel, including factory Porsche driver Patrick Long, Chip Ganassi Racing Managing Director Mike Hull, Mazda Motorsports’ Kyle Kimball, Mazda Road to Indy promoter Dan Andersen, Pirelli World Challenge President and CEO Greg Gill and Carlin Indy Lights race engineer Geoff Fickling.

The following drivers will be making the trip to Mid-Ohio:
•    Oliver Askew, 19, Jupiter, Fla., Skip Barber Racing Series
•    Andre Castro, 17, New York, N.Y., Skip Barber Racing Series
•    Konrad Czaczyk, 19, Jupiter, Fla., F4 U.S. Championship powered by Honda
•    Tim de Silva, 20, Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., Pacific F2000
•    Phillippe Denes, 17, Carmel, Calif., F1600 Championship Series
•    Kyle Kirkwood, 17, Jupiter, Fla., F4 U.S. Championship powered by Honda
•    Kyle Masson, 18, Windermere, Fla., IMSA Mazda Prototype Lites presented by Cooper Tires/Skip Barber
•    Robert Megennis, 16, New York, N.Y., Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda
•    Peter Portante, 20, Plainville, Conn., F1600 Championship Series
•    Timo Reger, 19, Houston, Texas, Skip Barber Racing Series
•    Neil Verhagen, 15, Mooresville, N.C., F1600 Championship Series

Two winners ultimately will be chosen to represent their country at the prestigious Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch on October 21-23 and the Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone on November 4-6. As has become the norm, they will drive Ray Formula Ford cars prepared by Cliff Dempsey Racing. Team USA Scholarship drivers have enjoyed success at both events in the past, with Newgarden becoming the only American driver to win the Festival in 2008 and fellow IndyCar rising star Conor Daly (also in 2008), Connor De Phillippi (2009), who currently races for Audi in European sports car competition, and factory Mazda Prototype driver Tristan Nunez (2012) claiming victory at the Walter Hayes Trophy.

“I am truly excited about the quality of this year’s candidates,” says Team USA Scholarship founder and longtime motorsports writer/broadcaster Jeremy Shaw. “All of them are proven winners. Some difficult decisions lie ahead.”

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”