The month of May holds a special meaning for all aficionados of open-wheel racing, especially in North America. Highlighted on Memorial Day weekend by the traditional Indianapolis 500, which on May 28 will be held for the 107th time, May also is a busy month for those who aspire to a future in the NTT IndyCar series’ crown jewel event.
Teams and drivers representing the two senior levels of the USF Pro Championships Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel racing development ladder – USF Pro 2000 and USF2000 – will return to action on Friday and Saturday, May 12/13 as they contest the Discount Tire Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix road course. Two weeks later, on Friday, May 26, they will be back in action a few miles to the west at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park for their only opportunity this season to gain some experience on an oval track.
Rowe has the Hot Ticket in USF Pro 2000
Two years ago, in common with many young drivers, Myles Rowe was struggling to establish himself in the world of motorsport. He was granted a lifeline by Roger Penske’s Race for Equality and Change initiative and claimed his first race win, in tricky wet conditions, later that year at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
Rowe, the first Black driver to win at this level, narrowly missed out on the USF2000 Championship in 2022, but has repaid the faith shown in him by taking control of this year’s USF Pro 2000 title-chase. The 22-year-old Pace University graduate from Brooklyn, N.Y., has won three of the first four races of the season for Pabst Racing with Force Indy. Rowe already holds a commanding 42-point lead in his quest for a Discount Tire Driver Advancement Scholarship valued at $664,500 to ensure progression onto the next step on the ladder, Indy NXT, in 2024.
Kiko Porto and Francesco Pizzi are currently tied for second place in the points table. Porto, from Recife, Brazil, has finished on the podium three times for DEForce Racing, but the 2021 USF2000 champion’s title hopes were dented by being unable to start the first of two races at Sebring last month due to a mechanical failure. Pizzi, a rookie from Rome, Italy, has impressed for TJ Speed Motorsports with three top-five finishes along with a pole position and a fastest race lap.
Pizzi’s teammate, German-raised Albanian Lirim Zendeli, also has shown a good turn of speed, including a podium last time out at Sebring, tempered by some inconsistency which he plans to eradicate in Indiana.
Other contenders among an extremely competitive field include Jace Denmark (Pabst Racing), from Scottsdale, Ariz., and Sweden’s Joel Granfors (Exclusive Autosport), both of whom already have a podium finish to their credit, and local driver Jack William Miller, who secured two pole positions last year at Indy for the Miller Vinatieri Motorsports team.
The IMS road course has proved to be a happy hunting ground for Mexico’s Salvador De Alba, who secured his maiden victory last year, Exclusive Autosport teammate Yuven Sundaramoorthy, from Delafield, Wis., who earned a pair of USF2000 victories in 2021 as well as his maiden USF Pro 2000 podium finish last year, and 2022 USF2000 champion Michael d’Orlando (Turn 3 Motorsport), from Hartsdale, N.Y. All three will be hoping to turn their fortunes around after a difficult start to their campaigns.
Two hour-long test sessions, followed by 30 minutes of official practice on Thursday will lead into a single, all-important qualifying session at 8:45 a.m. EDT on Friday. A pair of 25-lap races will start at 2:55 p.m. on Friday and 8:55 a.m. on Saturday.
Hughes vs. Sikes USF2000 tussle intensifies
Two talented youngsters have separated themselves from the pack after four of the 18 races which will comprise the USF2000 Presented by Cooper Tires season.
Lochie Hughes, from Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast of Queensland, Australia, took first blood with a convincing debut victory on the streets of St. Petersburg for Jay Howard Driver Development. But after an error during qualifying for the first race, Simon Sikes, from Augusta, Ga., has fought back for Pabst Racing and now holds a slender three-point edge as they head to Indianapolis.
Hughes, last year’s F4 United States Championship powered by Honda champion, added a second win to his tally at Sebring, while Sikes has proven his capabilities with three poles, one race win and two second-place finishes. Sikes also has recorded the fastest lap in all four races.
Hughes’ teammate, Cypriot-American Evagoras Papasavvas, from Loveland, Ohio, lies third in the title chase after snagging a pair of podium finishes, six points ahead of 14-year-old Nikita Johnson, who won the second round on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., in March for VRD Racing.
Johnson must be considered as one of the favorites for honors in this weekend’s important triple-header event, especially since his team swept all three wins at Indianapolis last year during a triumphant, one-off appearance for rising British star Alex Quinn.
After a challenging start to his season at St. Petersburg, Mac Clark, who convincingly won last year’s USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires title, as well as a scholarship to guarantee graduation into USF2000, bounced back strongly for DEForce Racing at Sebring with a fourth and a second. Clark, from Milton, Ont., Canada, has every intention of maintaining that momentum.
This week’s USF2000 schedule is very similar to the one for USF Pro 2000 with two hours of testing and 30 minutes of practice on Thursday, followed by a single qualifying session on Friday morning. However, after one 15-lap race later in the day on Friday at 2:55 p.m., the USF2000 contingent will have two more opportunities to race on Saturday, at 8:00 a.m. and 12:00 noon.
Full coverage can be found on the free USF Pro Championships App, YouTube channel and respective series’ websites.