Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

USF2000 candidates set for MRTI scholarship shootout

Leave a comment

From Dec. 6-7, the $200,000 shootout to win a Mazda scholarship into the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda will take place at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

A release on the candidates is below:

A total of 18 drivers will congregate next week at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., to contest the inaugural Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout. The unprecedented event brings together talent from around the globe with the winner receiving a $200,000 prize from Mazda to assist in graduation to the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda. USF2000 represents the first step on the acclaimed Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires which offers scholarships for talented young drivers to progress all the way from the grassroots of the sport to the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.

The Shootout was designed this year to include the champions of select junior level open-wheel and karting series. In total, 20 championships were granted Shootout “entry tickets” to award their champions, with an eligibility requirement that drivers be between the ages of 14 and 25 on September 30, 2016. Three drivers were unable to attend due to prior commitments.

The final slot on the driver roster was clinched this past weekend at the famed Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit in Victoria, Australia, where Will Brown, 18, from Toowoomba, Queensland (the same hometown as 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power) finished a close second in the Australian Formula Ford Championship. Brown had been obliged to miss the opening three races, allowing veteran Leanne Tander, who began her FF career one year before Brown was born, to establish a 56-point advantage, but the youngster fought back to finish just 12 points in arrears after sweeping the final three races. Brown also clinched this year’s CAMS Jayco Australian Formula 4 Championship Certified by FIA.

Australian Formula Ford is among a variety of feeder series from five different continents – Asia, Australia and Europe as well as North and South America – who will send representatives to the two-day Shootout.

Other recent nominees include Oliver White, 23, from Bath, England, who earned his place via the Mountney SuperSeries for Formula Ford 1600 in the UK; Team USA Scholarship winners Oliver Askew, 19, and Kyle Kirkwood, 18, both from Jupiter, Fla.; Skip Barber Race Series champion Timo Reger, 20, from Houston, Texas; U.S. Open Rotax Senior class winner Austin Garrison, 18, from Davie, Fla.; and Jonathan Sugianto, 20, of Alhambra, Calif., through the Formula Car Challenge Presented by Goodyear.

The competitors, representing nine different nations, will range in age from 14-year-old Marcel Coletta, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, who earned his nomination via a karting shootout in Brazil, to Matt Machiko, from Pittsburgh, Pa., who celebrated his 25th birthday just a few days after clinching the Formula Mazda championship at the 53rd annual SCCA Runoffs Presented by Garmin VIRB at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The full list of scholarship Shootout contestants (with age and hometown) and their affiliation:

Oliver Askew, 19, Jupiter, Fla. – Team USA Scholarship
Will Brown, 18, Toowoomba, Australia – Australian Formula Ford Championship
Marcel Coletta, 14, Sao Paulo, Brazil – Seletiva de Kart Petrobras (Brazil)
Tim de Silva, 20, Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. – Pacific F2000 Championship
Trenton Estep, 16, San Antonio, Texas – Formula Tour 1600 (Canada)
Austin Garrison, 18, Davie, Fla. – U.S. Rotax MAX Challenge (U.S. Open Rotax Senior class)
Kyle Kirkwood, 18, Jupiter, Fla. – Team USA Scholarship
Matt Machiko, 25, Pittsburgh, Pa. – SCCA National Championship Runoffs (FM)
Neil Maclennan, 18, Inverness, Scotland – Beatson’s Scottish FF1600 Championship
Axel Matus, 18, Guadalajara, Mexico – Formula Panam
Niall Murray, 21, Dublin, Ireland – BRSCC Avon Tires FF1600 Championship
Peter Portante, 20, Plainville, Conn. – F1600 Formula F Championship Series
Timo Reger, 20, Houston, Texas – Skip Barber Race Series
Nigel Saurino, 21, Tulsa, Okla. – SCCA National Championship Runoffs (FC)
Michael Scott, 21, Te Puke, New Zealand – New Zealand Formula Ford Championship
Jonathan Sugianto, 20, Alhambra, Calif. – Formula Car Challenge Presented by Goodyear
Karthik Tharani, 22, Chennai, India – MMSC MRF F1600 Indian Championship
Oliver White, 23, Bath, England – Mountney SuperSeries for Formula Ford 1600

Full details of the judging panel, Shootout format and cars will be announced later this week as well as the schedule of events which includes an orientation day on December 5, followed by on-track activities on December 6/7.

“This is the next step in the worldwide growth of the Mazda Road to Indy,” said Kyle Kimball, Operations Manager at Mazda Motorsports. “It allows young drivers from around the world to see a direct path to the program, beginning with championships in their own country. Our hope is to continue to see the finest young drivers in the world choose the Mazda Road to Indy, and to represent their country on a path to the top rungs of open-wheel racing.”

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

Leave a comment

Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).