Six finalists for this year’s coveted Team USA Scholarships will convene this week at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., for a two-day shootout. Ultimately, two American youngsters will be invited to represent their nation at the Formula Ford Festival and Walter Hayes Trophy events later this fall in England. They will also earn an invitation to the Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout, the winner of which in December will secure a $200,000 prize to enter the 2019 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
This year’s winners will follow in the footsteps of an illustrious alumni list headed by Jimmy Vasser and Bryan Herta, who claimed the first two scholarships in 1990 and 1991, respectively. Other notable recipients include 2004 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice, current Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Josef Newgarden, Charlie Kimball, Spencer Pigot and Conor Daly, as well as sports car champions Dane Cameron, Connor De Phillippi, Joey Hand, Trent Hindman, Andy Lally and Bryan Sellers.
This week’s shootout will take place on the Road America short course in conjunction with the Lucas Oil School of Racing and long-time Team USA Scholarship partner Cooper Tires.
The six finalists (listed below with age, hometown and current racing affiliation) represent a variety of racing categories and were selected from an original group of 10 candidates following assessments carried out during the Verizon IndyCar Series event at Mid-Ohio in late July:
• Dario Cangialosi, 18, Chester, N.J., F1600 Championship Series
• Jake Craig, 20, Mission Viejo, Calif., Toyo Tires F1600 Ontario (Canada)
• Braden Eves, 19, New Albany, Ohio, F4 U.S. Championship powered by Honda
• Nicky Hays, 16, Huntington Beach, Calif., SCCA Formula F
• Colin Mullan, 16, Danville, Calif., IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge
• Tyler O’Connor, 21, New Hartford, Conn., F1600 Championship Series
Each candidate will be assigned a new-for-2016 Ray GR-RSC race car and one brand-new set of Cooper tires for the duration of the shootout. The group’s talents will be tested both on and off the track, including a fitness assessment conducted in person by Jim Leo of renowned, Indianapolis-based PitFit Training. An accomplished group of judges also will comprise former Indy 500 Rookie of the Year Steve Knapp; IndyCar driver and Lucas Oil School Chief Instructor RC Enerson; USF2000 team owners Gregg Borland (ArmsUp Motorsports) and Bryn Nuttall (BN Racing); Indy Lights race winner-turned-DEForce Racing team manager/engineer Peter Dempsey; driver coach Steve Welk; former racer Gregory Hobbs, now Executive VP of David Hobbs Honda; Kelly Jones of RaceCraft1 Simulator Training and former Team USA Scholarship winner Michai Stephens.
“I am proud and grateful that so many people have pulled together to make this shootout possible, especially Cooper Tire’s Director of UHP Marketing, Event Management, Sponsorships & Motorsports, Chris Pantani, Lucas Oil School Founder and CEO Neil Enerson, and Road America President George Bruggenthies,” said Team USA Scholarship Founder Jeremy Shaw.
“I believe we have a particularly strong group of drivers this year and we have some extremely tough decisions ahead of us. I should mention, too, that California-born Hunter McElrea, withdrew his name from the reckoning due to a clashing date with the Australian Formula Ford Championship, which he currently leads.”