PALMETTO, Fla. – A total of 18 drivers will congregate next week at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., to contest the inaugural Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout. The unprecedented event brings together talent from around the globe with the winner receiving a $200,000 prize from Mazda to assist in graduation to the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda. USF2000 represents the first step on the acclaimed Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires which offers scholarships for talented young drivers to progress all the way from the grassroots of the sport to the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.
The Shootout was designed this year to include the champions of select junior level open-wheel and karting series. In total, 20 championships were granted Shootout “entry tickets” to award their champions, with an eligibility requirement that drivers be between the ages of 14 and 25 on September 30, 2016. Three drivers were unable to attend due to prior commitments.
The final slot on the driver roster was clinched this past weekend at the famed Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit in Victoria, Australia, where Will Brown, 18, from Toowoomba, Queensland (the same hometown as 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power) finished a close second in the Australian Formula Ford Championship. Brown had been obliged to miss the opening three races, allowing veteran Leanne Tander, who began her FF career one year before Brown was born, to establish a 56-point advantage, but the youngster fought back to finish just 12 points in arrears after sweeping the final three races. Brown also clinched this year’s CAMS Jayco Australian Formula 4 Championship Certified by FIA.
Australian Formula Ford is among a variety of feeder series from five different continents – Asia, Australia and Europe as well as North and South America – who will send representatives to the two-day Shootout.
Other recent nominees include Oliver White, 23, from Bath, England, who earned his place via the Mountney SuperSeries for Formula Ford 1600 in the UK; Team USA Scholarship winners Oliver Askew, 19, and Kyle Kirkwood, 18, both from Jupiter, Fla.; Skip Barber Race Series champion Timo Reger, 20, from Houston, Texas; U.S. Open Rotax Senior class winner Austin Garrison, 18, from Davie, Fla.; and Jonathan Sugianto, 20, of Alhambra, Calif., through the Formula Car Challenge Presented by Goodyear.
The competitors, representing nine different nations, will range in age from 14-year-old Marcel Coletta, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, who earned his nomination via a karting shootout in Brazil, to Matt Machiko, from Pittsburgh, Pa., who celebrated his 25th birthday just a few days after clinching the Formula Mazda championship at the 53rd annual SCCA Runoffs Presented by Garmin VIRB at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
The full list of scholarship Shootout contestants (with age and hometown) and their affiliation:
Oliver Askew, 19, Jupiter, Fla. – Team USA Scholarship
Will Brown, 18, Toowoomba, Australia – Australian Formula Ford Championship
Marcel Coletta, 14, Sao Paulo, Brazil – Seletiva de Kart Petrobras (Brazil)
Tim de Silva, 20, Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. – Pacific F2000 Championship
Trenton Estep, 16, San Antonio, Texas – Formula Tour 1600 (Canada)
Austin Garrison, 18, Davie, Fla. – U.S. Rotax MAX Challenge (U.S. Open Rotax Senior class)
Kyle Kirkwood, 18, Jupiter, Fla. – Team USA Scholarship
Matt Machiko, 25, Pittsburgh, Pa. – SCCA National Championship Runoffs (FM)
Neil Maclennan, 18, Inverness, Scotland – Beatson’s Scottish FF1600 Championship
Axel Matus, 18, Guadalajara, Mexico – Formula Panam
Niall Murray, 21, Dublin, Ireland – BRSCC Avon Tires FF1600 Championship
Peter Portante, 20, Plainville, Conn. – F1600 Formula F Championship Series
Timo Reger, 20, Houston, Texas – Skip Barber Race Series
Nigel Saurino, 21, Tulsa, Okla. – SCCA National Championship Runoffs (FC)
Michael Scott, 21, Te Puke, New Zealand – New Zealand Formula Ford Championship
Jonathan Sugianto, 20, Alhambra, Calif. – Formula Car Challenge Presented by Goodyear
Karthik Tharani, 22, Chennai, India – MMSC MRF F1600 Indian Championship
Oliver White, 23, Bath, England – Mountney SuperSeries for Formula Ford 1600
“This is the next step in the worldwide growth of the Mazda Road to Indy,” said Kyle Kimball, Operations Manager at Mazda Motorsports. “It allows young drivers from around the world to see a direct path to the program, beginning with championships in their own country. Our hope is to continue to see the finest young drivers in the world choose the Mazda Road to Indy, and to represent their country on a path to the top rungs of open-wheel racing.”