Team USA Scholarship interview process begins at Mid-Ohio

Photo: Team USA Scholarship

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.”