Oliver Askew’s awesome year of success capped with USF2000 crown

Askew flanked by Chris Pantani of Cooper Tire, John Doonan of Mazda and Dan Andersen of Andersen Promotions. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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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.

Thompson, Askew and VeeKay. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

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.”

Askew with the Capes and driver coach Jonatan Jorge (gray jacket). Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

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.”

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”