Talented Australian Leads High-Quality USF2000 Field to the Streets of St. Petersburg
Just one week after emerging victorious from a thrilling race at the famed Sebring International Raceway road course, young Australian Luke Ellery this weekend will defend his hard-earned lead in the Cooper Tires Presents the USF2000 National Championship Powered by Mazda on the tight and unforgiving 1.8-mile street circuit in St. Petersburg, Fla. The USF2000 cars will contest a pair of 30-minute races in support of the IZOD IndyCar Series season opener.
Ellery, 21, from Melbourne, Australia, also claimed a fourth-place finish at Sebring aboard his #5 Melbourne IT/Luke-Ellery.com/Red Line Oil JDC MotorSports Van Diemen and thus leads the standings with 50 points. Hot on his heels, however, are no fewer than three super-fast contenders – Zach Veach, Petri Suvanto and Spencer Pigot – who each accumulated 47 points from the first two races.
Second-year driver Veach, 16, from Stockdale, Ohio, won the Sebring opener in the #7 Team Zakosi Data Backup entry, while Andretti Autosport teammate Pigot, 17, from Windermere, Fla., in the #8 Team MAZDASPEED/Skip Barber car, and Suvanto, 18, from Nurmo, Finland, in the #3 Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing Van Diemen, each notched a second- and a third-place finish.
This quartet will certainly be among the pace-setters in St. Petersburg, and while Veach can boast the most experience in a USF2000 car, having finished fifth in the championship last year, the young Ohioan did not compete at St. Petersburg. With prior street circuit experience, Ellery will be looking to add to his championship bid.
“Having spent a few years in the cutthroat Formula Ford series in Australia, I had to learn how to get on the pace fast as we only had around 8-10 laps of practice before qualifying at every new track,” says Ellery. “This will come in handy at St. Pete as the race winner is going to be the person who can maximize their learning curve. Back home in Australia I raced at places like Albert Park for the Australian GP and also the unforgiving Surfers Paradise. At both of these events we were very fast when it mattered, so I feel as prepared as I possibly could be heading into this weekend.”
Wayne Boyd is another overseas contender with street course experience, having raced a Formula 3 car in Macau a couple of years ago. Boyd, 20, from Belfast, Northern Ireland, signed a very late deal to drive Belardi Auto Racing’s #4 DHL Van Diemen, but after struggling initially at Sebring due to technical problems, he was challenging for the win in Race Two until tangling with first race winner Veach and slipping to sixth place at the checkered flag.
“I really enjoyed last week,” says Boyd. “It was my first time in America, never mind Sebring, and I had never driven the car before so it was a steep learning curve. I’m really looking forward to St. Pete. I have seen a lot of onboard video from Star Mazda and the IZOD IndyCar Series and the track looks amazing. I raced at Macau in 2009 and I would say that it’s my favorite circuit, so St. Pete should be pretty similar. It will be very important to learn the track quickly as we don’t have much time before qualifying. I feel we will be very strong after what we learned at Sebring and will be able to challenge for wins and show everyone what we are capable of.”
Boyd’s Belardi Auto Racing teammate Cole Morgan, 22, from Pompano Beach, Fla., earned two top-five finishes at Sebring and will be another front-runner in the #9 Liberty Engineering/Sim-Sport entry, having won the F2000 Championship Series title in 2007.
Other strong contenders will include Ellery’s 18-year-old JDC MotorSports teammate, Juan Piedrahita, from Mexico City, who took a fifth and a sixth at Sebring in his #19 Petrosur/GFK Motors/Montopharma/Colombia es pasion/Red Line Oil entry, and young Chicagoan Timmy Megenbier, who showed well in the #17 Sick Tea/Rahal Foods/Caputo/Wiscon Corp Van Diemen before clashing with Frenchmen Vincent Beltoise (#23 Pole Mécanique Ales en Cévennes/INSA de Lyon/Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing) in Race Two.
Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing’s Shannon McIntosh is another driver facing a steep learning curve, having competed exclusively on oval tracks in Quarter Midgets and USAC Midgets prior to this season. Originally from Ohio, McIntosh now makes her home in St. Petersburg and has her eyes set firmly on a career in the IZOD IndyCar Series, hence her decision to switch disciplines and move into the USF2000 ranks. The 21-year-old performed solidly on her debut at Sebring and is looking forward to taking her first laps on a street course.
“I learned a ton about the dynamics of how open-wheel formula cars work and how to drive them on the limit,” says McIntosh, who lives only two streets away from the downtown race course and has been running on the track regularly over the past few weeks. “I also was able to get more comfortable with the aerodynamics and I improved significantly in my braking and shifting techniques. Understanding the race car and how it works is essential, and I feel that this week I’ll be able to keep knocking down the learning curve.”
Two other young drivers who impressed at Sebring were Matthew Di Leo, 16, from Innisfil, Ont., Canada, driving for veteran Indy Lights team owner Brian Stewart, and Luca Forgeois, 15, from New York City, N.Y., who won the National class in Race One with his #97 Stevenson Motorsports Café Noir entry.
Forgeois had to settle for second place in Race Two at Sebring, and shares the lead in the National class point standings with defending National series champion Ardie Greenamyer, from Louisville, Ky., who also claimed a win and a second in his imagePRO/Hi-Rise Equipment/Sabelt/AcceleRace Motorsports Van Diemen. Veteran J.R. Smart, from Madison, Wis., aims this weekend to improve still further on his pair of National class podium results at Sebring in the Smart Motors, Inc./Pabst Racing Services entry.