Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Martin emerges from latest Cape teammate scrap for USF2000 title

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The form book followed the preseason script in Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda almost to a T.

The two top returning drivers in the series, Anthony Martin and Parker Thompson, switched from their respective single-car teams to the proverbial powerhouse of the championship, Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, and promptly set the stage for a title bout.

And it’s not the first time this has happened in recent years. The two more prominent title battles in recent years occurred with Matthew Brabham and Spencer Pigot in 2012 and Scott Hargrove and Neil Alberico in 2013; lesser teammate title tilts were Florian Latorre and Jake Eidson in 2014 (with RC Enerson proving the interloper) and Nico Jamin and Aaron Telitz last year.

The Martin-Thompson bout felt most akin to the Brabham-Pigot one, though. You felt for both of them at various points throughout the year and you really never wanted either of them to lose the crown, because both had worked so hard to deserve it.

Ultimately Martin ended ahead on a more significant seven-to-four win advantage over Thompson, and also had one fewer direct pitfall that hurt his points hopes. Two finishes of 15th or worse were enough to doom Thompson despite an otherwise sincerely consistent season.

For Martin, who follows the lineage of other Australians who are trying to make it in America – Will Power and Ryan Briscoe come to mind as two of the most successful, along with New Zealander Scott Dixon – the title may have been the make-or-break moment of his career going forward.

Thompson, Martin, Franzoni. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Thompson, Martin, Franzoni. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

The 21-year-old from Kalgoorlie never got too high or too low throughout the year. Bounce backs from two incidents in Toronto to a runner-up in the second race there and a crucial three-race weekend sweep at Mid-Ohio were among the deciding factors in the title win.

Earlier, though, Martin had taken as much a psychological win at Lucas Oil Raceway outside Indianapolis when he used a slower car as a pick on Thompson, denying him a near certain victory. It propelled Martin forward to two more wins at Road America to cap off a four wins-in-five race stretch, to counter Thompson’s prior run of three wins in four races earlier in the season.

“Yeah mate, it’s been a big roller coaster ride essentially,” Martin told NBC Sports. “Parker and I swapped points numerous times. The big thing for me was putting my head down and moving on to the next thing.

“I made the pass at Lucas Oil to take the win there, and that started a chain of events. Grabbed a couple wins at Road America, Toronto, then Mid-Ohio – the big turning point – I grabbed some important points there. The past was the past and you couldn’t change it; you just had to move forward.”

Martin had shifted from John Cummiskey Racing, where he overachieved as a rookie on a single-car team renowned for excellent car preparation. With the Capes, he took the next step.

“For sure, yeah the team developed me as a driver,” Martin reflected. “They got me better the technical aspects, and I suppose they’ve toughened me up!

“Dom and Nicholas really push you. But at low moments they pick you up. Move forward and attack it. For as well as the technical aspect, they’ve helped me grow. We’ve had an awesome car all year. When I go out, I have a good car underneath me. They’ve helped me grow.”

Martin was not present at the weekend’s Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy test, thus missing his first shot to test a Pro Mazda car, but he’ll be in line for a step up there next year.

In the interim, he’ll be back home in Australia, carrying the torch and flying the flag as potentially that country’s next big open-wheel star. He raced with Jordan Lloyd and Luke Gabin here, with all three having had their moments in USF2000 in 2016.

New study surveys drivers’ opinions on crashes, concussions, more

James Black/IndyCar
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Auto racing safety has continued to improve through the decades, but the sport remains inherently dangerous, according to a new survey.

At the close of 2018, a new organization called Racing Safety United emerged with the intention of reducing drivers’ risk of being harmed.

RSU is made up of more than 30 members including former NASCAR Cup Series competitor Jerry Nadeau, two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Randy LaJoie, NHRA team owner Don Schumacher and motorsports journalist Dick Berggren.

One of RSU’s first initiatives was to determine what current drivers thought of racing safety. The organization developed a 14-question survey and promoted it on select motorsports websites and forums. 

Participants were given the opportunity to disclose their identity or remain anonymous, and those who provided contact information were entered to win a $500 prize (for anonymous participants, the prize funds would be donated to a motorsports charity). 

More than 140 individuals participated in the survey over the course of 12 months. Below are the results of the survey:

Driver status

The vast majority of survey participants (60%) were amateur racers, while 26% of the participants were classified as Semi-Pro/Professional racers. The remaining 14% consisted of other individuals involved in the sport such as team owners and crew chiefs. 

When asked how frequently they race, 58% of driver respondents averaged 10 or more times per year on track, while 42% averaged 10 times or less.

The top five tracks respondents said they raced most often: Road Atlanta (21 votes), Watkins Glen (17 votes), Virginia International Raceway (16 votes), Mid-Ohio (16 votes), and Road America (13 votes).

Vehicular damage, injuries common

Over a third of respondents said they had been injured while racing, and almost two-thirds sasid they had suffered severe vehicle damage while racing

Driver error was cited as the top cause of vehicle damage (42 mentions), followed by concrete walls (26 mentions), mechanical failures (24 mentions), and other drivers (19 mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for better driver training/coaching, energy absorbing walls, and more technical inspections.

Almost a quarter of drivers said they had experienced racing-related concussions, and nearly half the respondents said one or multiple concussions would affect their decision to race in the future. 

Drivers primarily influenced by peers 

Roughly half the drivers said they would consider adopting new safety equipment if influenced by another driver (51 total mentions) and/or if recommended by a sanctioning body (47 total mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for drivers to become safety advocates and educate other drivers and for sanctioning bodies to mandate safety equipment. 

Drivers concerned with concrete walls

Approximately three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said they believed certain race tracks were more dangerous than others. Nearly half the drivers surveyed believe that concrete walls were the primary cause of damage to drivers and vehicles. 

Drivers willing to help

Just more than three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said that they would be willing to join a safety alliance to advocate for safer tracks. Two-thirds of drivers said that they also would be willing to contribute to a motorsports safety fund.

Click here for the full results of RSU’s survey

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