MRTI: Recent February USF2000, Pro Mazda signings roundup

Pabst confirmed a USF2000 driver. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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As the new season for the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires continues to draw near, there’s been a few announcements in both the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda ranks to go along with those that have come from the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series.

A quick note first: the expected team announcements for Mazda scholarship drivers Anthony Martin (Pro Mazda) and Oliver Askew (USF2000) will come from Mazda directly, so while those two drivers will be racing they’ve been not formally announced as yet.

Anyway, here’s what’s come down in the last couple weeks:

USF2000

  • Luke Gabin joins the list of those back for a third season in USF2000, and will join fellow third-year driver Parker Thompson at Michael Duncalfe’s Exclusive Autosport. Gabin was one of the more exciting drivers to watch last year and scored his first few podiums, extracting the maximum from a tight budget at JAY Motorsports. The Australian will be in the No. 91 Tatuus USF-17. The full release is linked here.
  • Kart racer Rick Donison of India is Cape Motorsports’ first confirmed driver for the season and will be in the team’s No. 2 car. His initial background is in karting prior to his car debut in both Formula BMW India and UAS F4 races. The full release is linked here.
  • A couple weeks ago, Pabst Racing announced their second driver for 2017 with Brazilian Lucas Kohl back for a second season. Kohl raced last year with John Cummiskey Racing; JCR is yet to announce a driver for 2017. The full release is linked here.
  • Menards made a big splash into IndyCar upon its return to the series last year with Simon Pagenaud at Team Penske. The Midwest retailer will now adorn Chandler Horton’s No. 20 RJB Motorsports entry in USF2000.
  • Gabin’s announcement makes 13 car/driver/team combinations confirmed thus far in the series. More are expected given the number of car orders and teams which have yet to fill out one or more seats from here.

Pro Mazda

  • FatBoy Racing! joined Leading Edge GP as the second new team to announce its intentions of entering Pro Mazda this season. Drivers Brendan Puterbach and Charles Finelli raced sporadically in the USF2000 National class last year.

MRTI

Next week’s test at Homestead-Miami Speedway has this schedule:

  • February 27: Indy Lights oval testing
  • February 28, March 1: USF2000, Pro Mazda road course testing
  • March 2: Indy Lights road course testing

IndyCar’s ‘Phoenix’ flying into 2023 season: Romain Grosjean enjoying the pilot’s life

IndyCar Romain Grosjean pilot
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The IndyCar driver known as “The Phoenix” already has taken flight before the 2023 season, and newly licensed pilot Romain Grosjean also got a head start on the opener.

Fulfilling a dream several years in the making, the Andretti Autosport plunged into aviation training over the offseason. Since beginning with online studying last August, Grosjean quickly progressed to earning his licenses for multiengine planes and instrument ratings while completing 115 hours of flight time.

He has landed twice at Albert Whitted Airport, whose primary runway also doubles as the front straightaway on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street course.

“Just to land on the start-finish line, that was pretty cool,” Grosjean said during IndyCar Preseason Content Days ahead of the Feb. 2-3 test at The Thermal Club. “The air traffic control guy was like, “Yeah, left on Acre Five, turn, and then back. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the last corner of the racetrack, I’ll take it and go back to the pit lane. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true.’ So it was quite funny.”

Grosjean, 36, said he had wanted to become a pilot since he was 30 but was discouraged by Europe’s complicated and time-consuming licensing process (“to go to ground school twice a week, and with our life, it’s impossible”). He was inspired again last year by (now former) teammate Alexander Rossi, who flew to some 2022 races after earning his license a couple of years ago.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Grosjean, who had grown “bored of waiting in the airports.”

He plans to fly to nearly all the races this year (“if the weather is good enough, I’ll be flying”) and jokes about being “commercial by the end of the year, so then I can take Roger (Penske). Roger can pay me to fly him around to races if things go bad with racing.”

Grosjean’s social media has been filled with posts about his new hobby, which afforded him the opportunity recently to take his wife to Key West for lunch from their home in the Miami area.

The trip took 37 minutes there and 41 minutes on return and highlighted why Grosjean loves flying: “Freedom. Freedom to go anywhere you want, anytime you want. It’s the beauty of it. We can go to the Bahamas for a day if we want to. Anywhere. I think that’s just great to know that you can do whatever you want.”

It’s reminiscent of the cross-country trip across the Midwest in an RV that Grosjean took with his family during the summer of his 2021 rookie season.

“There’s one thing that I told my kids, and I told my friend about America, and for me, that’s the biggest difference between Europe and here, is here everything is possible,” said Grosjean (whose “Phoenix” nickname was derived from a brush with death in his final Formula One start). “If you have the wish, if you give yourself the possibility of doing it, everything is possible. It is different in Europe. Much more boundaries on the way. Much more steps that you need to do in a certain order. But if you want to be extraordinary (in the United States), if you want to do something different, you don’t need to do those steps because you can work through.

“Yeah, I like doing things, and when I do them, I like doing them well. But here I think just the opportunity of driving the RV, flying planes, for my kids to do whatever they want to do, we love that here. Yeah, it’s been the best discovery for us.”

The Swiss-born Frenchman already has flown himself to a race this year, jetting up the Florida coast for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut last month. It was his debut as a Lamborghini factory driver, and his new deal will continue with the Twelve Hours of Sebring and possibly the Petit Le Mans while he also helps develop the automaker’s new hybrid prototype (LMDh) for next year.

Grosjean finished a disappointing 13th in the 2022 points standings with one podium for Andretti in his first full IndyCar season. The team showed improvement at Thermal, and Grosjean (who was fourth fastest on Day 1) said IndyCar will remain his priority in 2024.

But he hopes the IndyCar schedule will afford racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races and perhaps his longest plane flight yet — a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed like that we get the weekend off from IndyCar,” said Grosjean, noting that 10 IndyCar drivers were in the Rolex 24. “I think it would make a lot of sense. I think for both series it’s amazing. If we can get Le Mans, it’s also amazing because it’s just cool.

“I remember Mario flying across the Atlantic doing Monaco and the Indy 500, and those guys, they were racing everywhere, Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1. They were doing the races in opening of the Formula 1 race, and I think that’s very cool for us. So yeah, looking forward to the project. There’s going to be a lot of development coming on. By the time we finish the IndyCar season, the LMDh will be here in the States, and that’s when I’m going to spend a lot of time on it.”