NA-F2000: 2005 stars have busy post-season

Cooper Series F2000 Competitors Make Their Mark on the Global Scene St. Petersburg, Fla. (October 28, 2005) -- If anyone harbored any doubt about the viability of the Cooper Tires Championship Series for Formula Ford 2000 cars as a stepping...

Cooper Series F2000 Competitors Make Their Mark on the Global Scene

St. Petersburg, Fla. (October 28, 2005) -- If anyone harbored any doubt about the viability of the Cooper Tires Championship Series for Formula Ford 2000 cars as a stepping stone to greater things, they must surely have been dispelled by recent news that three of this year's top protagonists -- Jay Howard, Joey Foster and J.R. Hildebrand -- have been granted excellent opportunities to further their ambitions within the sport.

Series champion Howard, 24, from Basildon, Essex, England, has signed a long-term contract with Sam Schmidt's new management team and is expected to step up into the exciting new Champ Car Atlantic Championship in 2006. In addition, Howard is currently in New Zealand, preparing to hone his skills during the northern off-season by contesting the burgeoning Toyota Racing Series, which begins early next month.

"It's been an amazing year," says Howard, who won nine of this year's 12 Cooper Series F2000 races. "I can't believe how much publicity there has been and what it's done for my career.

"It's interesting, because a few people told me at the beginning of the year that F2000 doesn't lead anywhere, so it's been great to prove them wrong. I'm so grateful for everything this series has done for me." Within the past week, Howard's principal rival for the 2005 crown, fellow Englishman Joey Foster, and teenaged Californian J.R. Hildebrand, who split his time between the Cooper Series and the Pacific F2000 Championship in his first year of professional racing, also have been recognized for their performances in '05.

Foster, 23, from Truro, Cornwall, England, yesterday joined five other talented young Britons in being nominated for the prestigious McLaren Autosport BRDC Award. The finalists were chosen from a shortlist compiled by readers of the world-renowned Autosport magazine and an expert panel of judges drawn from within the British auto racing community. The winner, to be determined following a shootout to be held next month, will earn a check for 50,000 pounds (approximately $88,000) and a test-drive in a McLaren-Mercedes Formula 1 car.

Previous award winners include Formula 1 stars David Coulthard and Jensen Button, recently crowned DTM (German Touring Car Masters) champion Gary Paffett and IRL IndyCar stand-out Dario Franchitti.

"This is such a huge honor," declares Foster. "To be honest, I'm quite surprised. I don't know of anyone else who's been nominated while racing overseas. I'm sure it's helped that I've been back to do some races at home, but this is a great opportunity and I think it says a lot for the credibility of F2000."

Hildebrand, meanwhile, has been selected as winner of the latest Team USA Scholarship, which since 1990 has provided a host of opportunities to gifted young Americans to display their skills overseas. The 17-year-old from Sausalito, Calif., will contest the Formula Palmer Audi Autumn Trophy which comprises a total of six races next month at two race tracks -- Snetterton and Brands Hatch -- in England. Past winners of the Team USA Scholarship include Jimmy Vasser, Bryan Herta, Memo Gidley, Buddy Rice and A.J. Allmendinger.

"There's a real history behind the program and it's produced so many great drivers," says Hildebrand. "It's looked upon very highly by everybody in the sport, and being a part of it is almost unbelievable right now."

For Cooper Series President Jon Baytos, the recent accolades represent a validation of his efforts: "The best things about our series are that it's competitive and it's reasonably priced. Drivers can come in here, show what they can do and then, if they're good enough, move on. That's exactly what Jay, Joey and J.R. have done this year and I couldn't be happier for them."

The Cooper Series is sanctioned by the Grand American Road Racing Association and represents one of the first rungs on the professional open-wheel auto racing ladder in North America.

Formula Ford 2000 originated in England in 1974. Alumni include Formula 1 World Champions Ayrton Senna and Damon Hill; Champ Car World Series title-winners Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy; Indy Racing League Champion Sam Hornish Jr.; and the past two Indianapolis 500 winners Buddy Rice and Dan Wheldon.

-www.cooperseries.com

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