After winning last year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and securing his second Mazda Scholarship in as many years, Oliver Askew is set for his first race on the next level of the Mazda Road to Indy as the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires kicks off this weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg.
Here we are, the 2018 season will kick off this weekend at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – my home race in the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tire schedule. As most of you will know, thanks to winning another Mazda Scholarship last year after securing the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, I am stepping up this year into the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity to pursue my dream of one day competing in the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.
This event was very special for me last year, as it was by first big North American open-wheel race. We left here with a win and the USF2000 points lead, so I am sure we can take that experience and hit the ground running when free practice starts this morning. Because it is a street race, we only get 30 minutes of track time before qualifying, so both my team, Cape Motorsports, and myself will be looking to gain as much knowledge as possible within the short period.
One thing I enjoy most about this race is how passionate the fans are on race weekend. It is a great opportunity for drivers and teams to put on a show and grow the sport. I remember braking into Turn 10 with hundreds of fans lined up on the wall of the Salvador Dali Museum, cheering and waving. It gets me fired up. Street races let the fans stand just feet away from the circuit, so they get a fantastic sense of the speed and action.
I usually hit the gym or go mountain biking to prepare for race weekends, but my teammate Kyle Kirkwood and I decided to hit the beaches of Jupiter, Fla., to capitalize on the big surf swell we had this past week. It is a great cardio workout, but what I enjoy most about it is being able to take my mind off racing for a couple of hours.
This weekend is about setting the tone for the 2018 season. At the same time it is also important to stay out of trouble to leave without a deficit in points. As I experienced last year, it is a long season and every finish, every pole position and every lap led can make a difference when we head to Portland, Ore., for the final race of the season in a little over five months’ time.
I’ve been asked if I have had time to relax and enjoy the championship we won last year, and to be honest it doesn’t feel like we have achieved that much. I think this year is a much more important year for me, and for Cape Motorsports, to back up what we accomplished in USF2000. I try to hold the same mindset as I had last year to start the season I am extremely hungry and am looking forward to the challenges ahead.
A big thanks to all my supporters, Mazda Motorsports, Doug Mockett & Co., Rising Star Racing, the Team USA Scholarship, Bell Helmets, Sparco USA, Cape Motorsports, JJRD, Cooper Tires, SAFEisFAST.com and the Mazda Road to Indy. I can hardly wait to get started!