A surreal year of success has seen Oliver Askew rise from a karting star to a champion on the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder, and win three scholarships in the process.
His title in this year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda was fueled by early season domination followed by a consistent run-in to the finish of the year, and sees him secure the $325,000 Mazda Motorsports advancement scholarship to move into the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires ranks next year.
This title came after Askew won last year’s Team USA Scholarship with fellow Floridian and close friend Kyle Kirkwood, then excelling in the Walter Hayes Trophy and Formula Ford Festival in England thereafter before winning the $200,000 Mazda Motorsports shootout at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to move into USF2000.
Not bad for the 20-year-old out of Jupiter, Fla. who is already highly regarded in the IndyCar paddock and who has achieved so much in such a short period of time.
Driving with Cape Motorsports, Askew’s early-season success in USF2000 – a second place followed by five straight wins in St. Petersburg, Barber and the Indianapolis road course – built up his unassailable lead that the rest of the field would spend the summer catching up. He also starred in qualifying, banking a number of pole positions that helped increase his bonus point total.
Rinus VeeKay came closest, the talented Dutch teenager banking a double win at Road America and leading Pabst Racing’s effort with an incredible year of his own. With three wins and only one result worse than fourth in 14 races – sixth at Indianapolis race one – he was unlucky to have been outscored by just seven points. Parker Thompson of Exclusive Autosport also enjoyed a decent year, but one hamstrung by mechanical issues that hampered his own charge.
Askew did encounter a few moments of adversity throughout the year. His Road America weekend was difficult; he had a crash in Toronto, getting caught up in an incident between leaders Alex Baron and David Malukas; and he lost 10 points for a jumped start in Mid-Ohio. But he persevered in each instance.
“I was kind of expecting something like that to happen throughout the season. We weren’t going to dominate every weekend like Barber and IMS,” Askew told NBC Sports. “We had to keep our heads down. We had another disappointment at Toronto with the crash, and again at Mid-Ohio with a 10-point penalty.
“But we pushed as hard as we could. We started on the back foot this weekend. The Cape Motorsports guys gave me a great car when it counted. Iowa we started so far off, but then we were really on.”
Considering Askew’s limited car racing experience and the fact the USF2000 series had switched from the venerable Van Diemen chassis to the new Tatuus USF-17 for 2017, it might have been easy to expect the Capes to take a marginal step back this year.
But the Cape setup and cars were just as good with the new car as the old one, and so helped Askew on his way to the title. Additional support came in the form of driver coach Jonatan Jorge, whose JJRD, Inc. tutelage came in handy all season.
“The basics are the same. We used a lot of the data for this year,” he explained. “Especially because now I don’t have a teammate per se in my class. We can compare from years past. I think that hasn’t made too much of a difference. You can see that in the result. Through testing, they ask the right questions and make the right decisions. They have the best cars.”
Askew is expected head to Pro Mazda next year with Cape again, mirroring the path done by Anthony Martin last year. Teams for the scholarship winners aren’t confirmed until Mazda does so, but it’s expected that Askew and Cape won’t mess with a good thing.
He’s also been named as the latest driver to the Rising Star Racing program, a private initiative that supports young American drivers. Askew joins program ambassador Josef Newgarden along with Spencer Pigot and Neil Alberico.
It’ll be hard to top this year for Askew, but now that he’s established himself in the MRTI and within the IndyCar paddock, he’s laid the groundwork for an potentially incredible future ahead.
“Within a year I’ve won three scholarships. It’s something I’d never have dreamed of, but here we are,” he said.
“I look forward to having great success in the future and continuing to learn as much as I can.”