All three levels of the newly rebranded USF Pro Championships Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel racing development ladder will descend upon the 3.27-mile Sebring International Raceway road course next Monday and Tuesday, February 27-28, for its annual Spring Training. The two-day event will comprise testing, media training and orientation in advance of the new season which kicks off the following Friday, March 3, on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.
In all, over 50 drivers representing 14 states and 10 different nations will have one final opportunity to prepare for a rigorous new season which will offer more than $1.6 million in scholarships and awards.
For the first time, the initial step on the ladder, USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires, will be included on the docket alongside the well-established USF Pro 2000 and USF2000 categories.
Spring Training will provide the public debut of the USF Juniors Tatuus JR-23 chassis. The brand-new car, like its proven brethren, the USF-22 and IP-22 which debuted one year ago, is equipped with all the latest safety features.
D’Orlando heads rookie crop in USF Pro 2000
Michael d’Orlando will head a stout 19-car entry list for the top rung of the ladder, USF Pro 2000, carrying the coveted No. 1 on his Turn 3 Motorsport entry after securing a scholarship valued at almost $407,000 as his prize for winning last year’s USF2000 championship.
D’Orlando, who clinched the title in a dramatic finale last September at Portland, once again will be challenged by his two main rivals from last season, Myles Rowe and Jace Denmark, who are also taking one step further up the ladder with the Pabst Racing team.
A strong influx of European talent includes Germany’s Lirim Zendeli (TJ Speed Motorsports), who seeks to rekindle a career that led him to the FIA Formula 2 Championship a couple of seasons ago; Sweden’s Joel Granfors (Exclusive Autosport), who finished second in last year’s GB3 (formerly British Formula 3) Championship; and FIA Formula 3 Championship converts Francesco Pizzi (TJ Speed Motorsports), from Rome, Italy, who last month earned himself a Rolex watch after winning the LMP2 class at the Rolex 24 At Daytona on his sports car debut, and Japanese-American Reece Ushijima (Jay Howard Driver Development).
The top returning drivers from last year include Brazilian Kiko Porto (DEForce Racing), who preceded d’Orlando as USF2000 champion, Mexico’s Salvador De Alba, who has joined the same Exclusive Autosport team which carried Englishman Louis Foster to the 2022 championship, and Jack William Miller (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports).
Clark steps up to USF2000
No. 1 on the entry roster for USF2000 Presented by Cooper Tires will be carried by rising Canadian star Mac Clark, who earned the recognition — as well as a scholarship valued at $221,125 — after winning the inaugural USF Juniors title. Clark will continue under the umbrella of the same Texas-based DEForce Racing team with which he made a sensational, victorious USF2000 debut in the Portland season finale.
Nikita Johnson,who finished third in USF Juniors, also impressed during several exploratory USF2000 outings with VRD Racing which included a second-place finish at Portland. Johnson intends to carry that momentum into a challenge for top honors this year alongside teammate Sam Corry, who moves up after placing second in USF Juniors competition.
Fellow highly rated rookies include Australian Lochie Hughes (Jay Howard Driver Development), who won the 2022 F4 United States Championship powered by Honda, and fellow F4 grad and race winner Noah Ping (VRD Racing).
New Zealander Jacob Douglas (Exclusive Autosport) is the top returning driver, although both Simon Sikes, who will represent the defending teams champion Pabst Racing, and Andre Castro, who has joined debutant team Future Star Racing, bring front-running experience without having yet managed to complete a full season.
USF Juniors prep for season opener
One year on from the inauguration of USF Juniors, a promising field of drivers will line up for the first public appearance of the new Tatuus JR-23 in preparation for the tripleheader season opener the end of March at Sebring.
The entry list includes four drivers who gained some experience in the series last year with an older car: Ethan Barker (VRD Racing), DEForce Racing teammates Quinn Armstrong and Lucas Fecury, and Ethan Ho, who will represent DC Autosport.
While the majority of entrants will be making their first steps into the car racing world after previously earning their spurs in karting, other contenders with previous car racing experience include Brazilian Nicolas Giaffone, 18-year-old son of former Indy NXT and NTT IndyCar Series race winner Felipe Giaffone, who will be following in his father’s footsteps after finishing fifth in last year’s Brazilian F4 championship with three victories to his credit.
Joey Brienza (Exclusive Autosport) has raced in both F1600 and USF2000, while teammate Jack Jeffers won last year’s Lucas Oil School of Racing Championship Series. Carson Etter (DC Autosport) is an accomplished off-road racer who also finished second in last year’s F4 Formula Pro USA Western Championship, and USF2000 rookie Noah Ping’s younger brother Zack has garnered success in entry-level sports cars over the past couple of years.
Live timing will be available on the USF Pro Championships App as well the series’ respective websites, which also feature a detailed schedule.