Photo: Juha Leivonen for Team USA Scholarship

Askew, Kirkwood named 2016 Team USA Scholarship recipients

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BRASELTON, Ga. – Put these two names on your rolodex to keep track of from here. Oliver Askew and Kyle Kirkwood have been named the 2016 Team USA Scholarship recipients on Friday at Road Atlanta, which continues the two’s pairing in their respective racing careers to this point.

Askew, 19, and Kirkwood, 17, both hail from Jupiter, Fla. and have been longtime karting compatriots for more than a decade.

Besides these two, others present for today’s announcement included Bobby Rahal, Mike Hull, and past Team USA Scholarship recipients Dane Cameron, Joel Miller, Andy Lally, Joey Hand, Tristan Nunez and Spencer Pigot.

The full release from the Team USA Scholarship is linked below. Jeremy Shaw’s program has been identifying young American talent since 1990.

Oliver Askew (left), 19, and Kyle Kirkwood (right), 17, who, coincidentally, both hail from Jupiter, Fla., were confirmed today as the most recent winners of prestigious Team USA Scholarships. The long-time friends and karting rivals will travel to England next month to contest both the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch and the Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone.

The Team USA program was inaugurated in 1990 as a means of assisting talented young American drivers at an early stage in their careers. A young Jimmy Vasser was the first scholarship winner, followed by Bryan Herta in 1991. Subsequent winners include 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice, current Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Charlie Kimball, Josef Newgarden, Conor Daly and Spencer Pigot, and accomplished sports car stars Andy Lally, Joey Hand, Bryan Sellers, Dane Cameron, Joel Miller and Tristan Nunez, all of whom will be competing in this weekend’s 19th annual Petit Le Mans IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race.

This year’s selection process began with a group of 11 candidates being interviewed by an illustrious panel of auto racing professionals, including Mike Hull, managing director of Chip Ganassi Racing, factory Porsche driver Patrick Long and former scholarship winners Kimball, Miller, Newgarden and Pigot, during the Verizon IndyCar Series weekend at Mid-Ohio. Six finalists progressed to a one-day shootout last week at an oppressively hot Palm Beach International Raceway in Florida hosted by Cooper Tire and the Lucas Oil School of Racing. Askew and Kirkwood ultimately were chosen as the winners by a committee which included 2003 Indy 500 winner Gil de Ferran, four-time Pirelli World Challenge champion Lawson Aschenbach, factory Mazda driver Nunez, Starworks Motorsport team principal Peter Baron and multi-time junior formula championship winning team co-owner Nicholas Cape.

“The standard was extremely high and we were faced with some difficult decisions,” said Team USA Scholarship founder and auto racing writer/broadcaster Jeremy Shaw. “After much deliberation we chose Oliver and Kyle, but all of the youngsters performed well and would have been worthy recipients.”

Askew and Kirkwood will drive a pair of identical Ray GR15 Formula Ford 1600 cars in the UK prepared by Cliff Dempsey Racing, which previously has guided Newgarden to victory in the 2008 Formula Ford Festival (the first American winner of an event which dates back to 1972) and earned top Walter Hayes Trophy spoils for Team USA with Daly (2008), Connor De Phillippi (2009), who currently leads the ADAC Masters GT series in Europe, and Nunez (2012).

“I am ecstatic and greatly honored,” said Kirkwood, a front-runner in the inaugural F4 U.S. Championship powered by Honda with Primus Racing. “To be able to represent the USA is a feeling no words can describe. I will work vigorously to prove that Jeremy and the Team USA Scholarship judges have chosen the right person for the job. I am extremely excited for this opportunity and for the memories to come!”

“I cannot express how excited I am to represent the prestigious Team USA Scholarship,” added karting star Askew, who has shone in Formula Masters China and Skip Barber events. “Kyle and I have been very close friends for over 10 years. We have been teammates in the karting ranks for many of those years, so we will keep working together to bring home great results. I’d like to send out a special thanks to those who support the Team USA Scholarship, especially Jeremy Shaw for putting in countless hours to help young talent fight for their dreams.”

Newgarden, Rossi ready for a red-white-and-blue INDYCAR finale

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MONTEREY, California – In an international series that personifies diversity from all over the globe, the two main combatants in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship are from the United States.

Josef Newgarden of Tennessee takes a 41-point lead over Alexander Rossi of Northern California into Sunday’s double-points season finale at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud of France, is just 42 points out of the lead.

It’s been quite a while since the two drivers entering the final race of the season were both Americans. Four of the top 10 drivers in the series are from the United States. Last year, five of the top 10 were from the USA.

All but one race in the 17-race NTT IndyCar Series schedule is contested in the United States.

Patriotism still matters in IndyCar.

“I think so,” said Andretti Autosport driver Rossi, who is the last American driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. “I know I’ve read a lot of things from other drivers saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, it’s not important, no one cares.’

“I can’t really get onboard with that.

“I think me as an American, growing up, being a fan of the Olympics and everything, like you cheer for Americans, right? That’s what you do as a patriotic person. Canadians cheer for James. We see the Swedish contingent that comes to the races for Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist.

Getty Images“I think Americans will cheer for Americans. I would love to see an American to win the championship. I think it’s important for the young kids watching hoping to be IndyCar drivers one day, that they see someone who grew up in Tennessee or California or wherever. It’s like, there’s a lot of relate-ability to that for a young kid with aspirations of being a racecar driver.”

Since Sam Hornish, Jr. won the final of his three IndyCar Series championships in 2006, just two American drivers have won the title – Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012 and Newgarden in 2017. During that span, Scott Dixon of New Zealand won four of his five NTT IndyCar Series championships and Dario Franchitti of Scotland won all four of his IndyCar titles.

The last time two Americans had a chance to win the championship in the final race of the season came in 2001 when Hornish won the championship over Colorado’s Buddy Lazier. Connecticut’s Scott Sharp was third and Arizona’s Billy Boat was fourth in the final standings that year.

That was a much different time and place for IndyCar. At that time, many of the top drivers were in CART while the old Indy Racing League featured a predominantly American lineup. Once unification brought the two sides together in 2008, the championships have been fought on American soil, but international drivers were victorious.

The last time two American drivers finished 1-2 in CART was 1996 when Jimmy Vasser of California defeated Pennsylvania’s Michael Andretti for the crown. In 1992, Bobby Rahal of Illinois defeated Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. of New Mexico for the CART title.

Prior to that, the IndyCar “National Championship” was dominated by drivers from the United States.

 

While Rossi openly choose to wrap himself in the American flag, it’s not as important to Newgarden.

“For me, it’s never been something I put a lot of emphasis on,” said the Team Penske driver. “I’m proud to have grown up in such a wonderful country as the United States, but what I’ve always loved about the IndyCar Series is that they bring the best of the best from around the world. That’s always been important to me.

“It means more I think when you have the best from all over the place coming to compete at the Indianapolis 500, during the whole championship. You really feel like you have that in the IndyCar Series. You get the best drivers from around the world.

“To pair with that, I think we need strong Americans running, as well. So for sure, having guys like Alex and Graham Rahal, some young guys coming up like Colton Herta, myself, it’s really great to have young American competition representing as well and running so strongly.

“What I’ve always loved is the great mix of talent from around the world. To me that’s just so important. If it was all Americans running in the championship, I don’t think it would mean as much. I like that we have that great diversity and that great mix from around the world.”

Although these two drivers are both from the USA, they are fierce rivals. They have mutual respect for each other, but they sure aren’t considered close friends.

“Josef and I honestly aren’t that close,” Rossi admitted. “He never lived in Indy when I moved here, or he was just moving. I actually never really hung out with Josef.

“We obviously have a lot of respect for each other. We raced together for a short period of time in Europe. We have a lot of mutual friends.

“Josef and I don’t talk or socialize really. So, it doesn’t have any impact.”

Newgarden agrees that these two men choose to embrace the rivalry.

“I think it’s just really business,” Newgarden said. “He lives in Indianapolis. I live in Nashville. I don’t see him too often outside of the racetrack. We go and we compete. He’s a great competitor. He’s definitely a tremendous talent, has done a great job in his career.

“It’s been a good, competitive relationship I would say.”

With the return of American drivers capable of winning races, championships and Indianapolis 500s, it has sparked a rejuvenation in IndyCar racing. With drivers from all over the world fighting it out for glory, this series that was born and bred in the United States can take pride in featuring some of the best racing in the world as the series continues to grow in popularity.

“I think we just need to continue a focus on our product,” Rossi said. “I think we have the best race product on the planet in terms of entertainment, the variance of winners that we have throughout a season, how many guys are capable, teams are capable of winning races.

“But that’s an ever-moving target. I think IndyCar has done a good job of placing the priority on that. I just think we need to continue doing that and everything will be moving in the right direction.”