Stop me if you’ve heard this story before: Young American open-wheel talent. Doing everything they’re asked to do by earning pole positions, setting fastest laps, winning races, and leading the early stages of championship. And they’re out of money.
The same exact scenario was described around this time last year when Myles Rowe, who entered the 2022 USF2000 presented by Cooper Tires season with half the $400,000 budget needed to run the full season, was winning and leading the standings.
As May approached, his budget was all but exhausted and Rowe was at risk of falling off the ladder to IndyCar. Team owner Augie Pabst went into the season knowing Rowe would be unable to continue without winning and attracting more backers, and his leap of faith was rewarded when the college student from Atlanta continued to find victory lane and secured more support to complete the year, ultimately placing second behind USF2000 champion Michael d’Orlando.
Wisconsin’s Pabst apparently has a knack for finding young American standouts with more talent than money because Simon Sikes, Rowe’s USF2000 replacement, finds himself in the same predicament.
Leading the USF2000 championship entering the next round in May on the IMS road course, Sikes has been a vision of speed and consistency, taking three poles, four fastest laps and a victory at the most recent race in Sebring. And he’s exhausted the limited budget he had to bring.
Like Rowe 12 months ago, Sikes has established a GoFundMe page in the hope of keeping his season alive. And like Rowe’s plight a year ago, Sikes’ situation is an uncomfortable one. He isn’t the only kid in USF2000, or the other training series, to have an empty bank account, but he has demonstrated that when he’s in a Pabst Racing entry, big things tend to happen.
“This last fall, we were able to get him in the car at the Chris Griffis test at IMS, and he just confirmed everything we thought about him,” Pabst told RACER. “Anyone who’s met him would know pretty quickly that he has the full package. Whether it be appearance or personality; he’s well-spoken and all the things that you need to be outside of the car. And coming into ‘23, we really felt that after the test we did, he had everything he needed other than the full season of funding he had, but it was enough to get started, kind of like we did with Myles last season.
“It’s just a coincidence that it happened again a year after doing this with Myles, but he’s the full package to us. So we’ve just been racking our brains here, trying to figure out how we can keep this thing going with Simon.”
The cash-strapped scenario is a difficult one for Sikes and the Pabst team, who are willing to keep him in the car if new funding is received. But it’s also a business, and Pabst will need to find a different — and completely funded — driver to step into Sikes’ car if necessary.
From his end, in going up against talented rivals who have season-long budgets, Sikes is a bit like a college student searching for ways to pay tuition a few weeks at a time without knowing if or when his studies will end due to non-payment. It’s a difficult reality to embrace, much less thrive within.
“The tough part is to go and race by race because of the lack of commitment that I can give to my people,” Pabst said. “People need to know that they have work for the season, and if it’s race by race, some people end up falling by the wayside if we end up losing a car. And that’s my biggest concern. My crew are what makes what we do on track happen; it’s a team effort and they are really key to being able to have this team and be successful, so keeping this car on track is the priority.
“But I also know that everyone is on board with him. So if we’ve got to go one at a time, which quite honestly, that’s what we’ve done until now, we’ll keep giving it a try. That’s what we ended up having to do with Myles last year until we got through IMS and got a commitment for the rest of the season. If we can raise enough to get to IMS with Simon and have a great event with him, I’d really love to come out of there with a commitment to get him to the rest of the races and see if we can get a championship.”