USF Pro Championships Return to Road Course Action at Road America
 June 4, 2024| 
  • Series News
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PALMETTO, Fla. – With the lone oval race of the season now in the rear-view mirror, drivers on the top two rungs of the USF Pro Championships Presented by Continental Tire open-wheel driver development ladder will return to more familiar surroundings this week as both USF Pro 2000 and USF2000 take on the magnificent treasure that is Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. The 4.014-mile 14-turn road course rarely fails to provide sensational action, and an added bonus for the drivers comes with the knowledge that they will again be part of the supporting cast for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.

One Point Separates USF Pro 2000 Leaders
The complexion of the USF Pro 2000 title-chase has changed completely over the course of the past few weeks. A stellar start to the season saw 16-year-old phenom Nikita Johnson, from Gulfport, Fla., score four wins for VRD Racing from the first six races. The sequence led to a commanding lead in the quest for an enhanced scholarship valued at $681,500 to graduate to INDY NXT in 2025. But then came a disqualification from one of the races at the Indianapolis Grand Prix road course, plus a 30-point deduction, for a technical violation followed by an accident in the most recent race at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park.

Those missteps have coincided with a return to form for Australian rookie Lochie Hughes, who now lies only one point behind his closest rival in the points chase. Hughes, a race winner last year at Road America in USF2000, claimed a win and a second from the opening weekend of the 2024 season on the streets of St. Petersburg, but then experienced a disappointing weekend in the ensuing three-race outing at NOLA Motorsports Park which netted a solitary 10th-place finish. But Hughes and his Turn 3 Motorsport team bounced back strongly in Indiana with a string of four consecutive podium finishes which he will be looking to extend during this weekend’s Elite Engines Grand Prix of Road America tripleheader.

Five more drivers also are within 50 points of Johnson’s tally with nine of 18 races now in the books.

Two of those five – Jace Denmark, from Brownsburg, Ind., and Christian Brooks, from Santa Clarita, Calif. – drive for Pabst Racing, which is based not far from the track in Oconomowoc, Wis. Team owner Augie Pabst has accumulated a raft of USF2000 wins at the hallowed venue in recent years but is still seeking a first USF Pro 2000 victory at his home track.

Denmark earned one of those USF2000 wins, in 2022, while the team’s third driver, Simon Sikes, from Augusta, Ga., added another on his way to clinching last year’s championship and a scholarship to move up to USF Pro 2000. Sikes currently lies seventh in the points table after securing his maiden USF Pro 2000 win last month at Indianapolis.

Similarly, New Zealand rookie Liam Sceats scored his first win in Indianapolis for TJ Speed Motorsports, which also was a winner last year at Road America, while series veteran Braden Eves overcame a difficult start to his campaign by dominating the oval race at IRP for Exclusive Autosport.

In addition to the regular contenders, Canadian Nico Christodoulou, a winner already this year in USF2000, will step up to USF Pro 2000 for the first time in a second VRD Racing entry, while F4 and Formula regional veteran Cooper Becklin, from Portland, Ore., will make his series debut with TJ Speed Motorsports.

The on-track action will commence with a pair of 45-minute test sessions on Thursday afternoon, June 6. An additional 30 minutes of official practice early on Friday morning will permit final tuning in advance of two separate qualifying sessions at 10:45 a.m. and 1:00 pm., which will set the starting order for the opening two races at 8:00 a.m. and 4:10 p.m. on Saturday. The third and final race will see the green flag at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday, June 9. All times are CDT.

Pabst Leads the Way in USF2000
After claiming a long overdue first USF2000 driver’s championship in 2023, Pabst Racing has once again emerged strongly from the starting blocks. Second-year driver Max Garcia, from Coconut Grove, Fla., began the season with three straight wins, then secured a fourth at the Indianapolis road course. In addition, teammate Sam Corry, from Cornelius, N.C., added one more checkered flag to the team’s collection on the Indianapolis road course.

Garcia, still only 15 years of age, currently holds a relatively comfortable 28-point lead in the chase for a scholarship valued at $458,400 to ensure graduation next year to USF Pro 2000.

But Evagoras Papasavvas, from Loveland, Ohio, has remained within striking distance on the strength of six podium finishes out of eight starts with the Jay Howard Driver Development team.

Papasavvas is still seeking his first win of the season, but perhaps now has even more motivation after watching rookie teammate Tanner DeFabis claim his maiden triumph last time out at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park – just a few miles from his home in Avon, Ind.

The most recent race also was notable for several other breakthrough results. Last year’s USF Juniors champion Nicolas Giaffone, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, finished on the podium for the first time with DEForce Racing, while Australian teammate Quinn Armstrong also earned his best finish to date in fourth and compatriot Xavier Kokai followed him home in fifth for VRD Racing. In addition, DC Autosport’s Ayrton Houk, from McCordsville, Ind., qualified on the front row of the grid for the first time.

Two drivers are set to make their USF2000 debuts in the Elite Engines Grand Prix of Road America, with Jace Bacon, from Gilbert, Ariz., joining Jay Howard Driver Development and Canada’s Anthony Martella stepping up from USF Juniors with Exclusive Autosport.

The USF2000 schedule closely matches that of USF Pro 2000 with the exception that there will be only two races, both of which will be held on Saturday, June 8 – at 12:30 p.m. and 5:05 p.m. The starting grids will be determined by a single qualifying session at 11:30 a.m. on Friday.

Full live coverage can be found on the free USF Pro Championships App, YouTube channel and respective series’ websites, usfpro2000.com and usf2000.com.
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