Points leader Scott Hargrove leads 10 Canadian drivers among top-quality field
A strong field of 30 drivers from around the world will do battle in a pair of races on the challenging 1.75-mile street circuit which runs around the famed Exhibition Place within easy reach of downtown Toronto, Ont., Canada.
In addition to the Honda Indy Toronto, which will comprise a pair of full-length races on Saturday and Sunday for the IZOD IndyCar Series, the action-packed weekend will include all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy – USF2000, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Firestone Indy Lights – as well as the Pirelli World Challenge and Stadium Super Trucks.
Scott Hargrove Leads Strong Canadian Contingent
USF2000 has traditionally enjoyed a strong presence in Canada, although this weekend marks the series’ first visit since it was reintroduced by Andersen Promotions in 2010 following a three-year absence. Hopes of a Canadian victory will be carried by no less than 30 percent of the field as 10 drivers representing Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec are among the 30-car entries.
Scott Hargrove, 18, from Vancouver, B.C., will travel to Toronto as the points leader (in the quest to earn a MAZDASPEED Scholarship prize to graduate to Pro Mazda in 2014) after winning three of the first five races of the season for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing. The same Florida-based team has won each of the past two USF2000 championships and led the way when USF2000 last visited the streets of Toronto in 2006 with J.R. Hildebrand heading home teammate Dane Cameron in both races.
“As soon as the USF2000 schedule was released, I circled Toronto as the crown jewel for me this year,” said Hargrove. “The Toronto GP will be a combination of many things I love – my home country, a street circuit and a race in conjunction with IndyCar! The key to success will be running as close to the walls as possible for an entire session without a mistake. Being the points leader and being a Canadian in a Canadian race has certainly made me very excited for this weekend. That said, as soon as we arrive in Toronto the focus will have to shift to the task at hand and I will treat it just like any other race weekend.”
Garett Grist, also 18, from nearby Whitby, Ont., Jesse Lazare, 16, from Montreal, Que., and Stefan Rzadzinski, 20, from Edmonton, Alb., also have high expectations. Grist, who drives for 2010 series champions Andretti Autosport, already has a pair of second-place finishes to his name, including in the most recent oval track event at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis. Fellow karting standout Lazare, in his first full season of car racing with Pabst Racing Services, and Rzadzinski, driving for JDC MotorSports, each earned a third-place finish earlier this year in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Lazare’s teammate, Dalton Kellett, from Toronto, and Daniel Burkett (Belardi Auto Racing), from Winnipeg, Man., both earned their best results to date at Lucas Oil Raceway, eighth and ninth respectively, while veteran Steve Bamford, also from Toronto, will join Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing for his USF2000 debut and fellow East Coast F2000 series regular Sergio Pasian, from Quebec City, also will make his series bow with Britain West Motorsports.
The Canadian presence is just as strong in the National Class Presented by SCCA Enterprises, which features cost-effective Elan/Van Diemen chassis and Mazda engines complying to the SCCA Formula Enterprises regulations, with James Dayson (ArmsUp Motorsports), from Vancouver, B.C., and Ryan Verra (Alliance Autosport), from Calgary, Alb., lining up against series leader Scott Rettich (Alliance Autosport), from Camden, Ohio.
Canadian Trio Supports Charity Initiatives in Toronto
Grist, Rzadzinski and Verra will be supporting a variety of charity initiatives during the Analytic Systems USF2000 Grand Prix of Toronto race weekend.
For the third straight year, Grist will wear a special Bell Racing helmet painted by Art Rotondo Design incorporating artwork from children currently receiving care at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. The helmet will be signed by all Andretti Autosport drivers before being auctioned, with all proceeds benefitting the SickKids Foundation.
Rzadzinski will serve as an ambassador for Toronto-based Autism Speaks Canada (www.autismspeaks.ca) and carry the nonprofit organization’s puzzle piece branding on his JDC Motorsports #93 CanTorque/Christenson Developments car. Rzadzinski’s 17-year-old brother Artur was diagnosed with autism in 2011. “I’m thrilled to partner with an organization that is helping to try and find answers for families like mine,” he said.
Verra has partnered with the Cancer Research Society in the “Driven to Research” campaign. Supporters are invited to purchase a decal on Verra’s race car which will include the name of a loved one who has battled, or is currently battling, cancer. There will also be an exclusive contest to win a ride in the two-seater Indy car driven by legendary racer Mario Andretti. More details at www.crs-src.ca/DrivenToResearch.
USF2000 Boasts International Flavor
A total of seven different nationalities are represented among the entry list. Rivals for the 10 Canadians will include 14 Americans – from no fewer than 11 different states (Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin) – as well as representatives from Brazil, England, France, the Netherlands and Norway.
Gooden Heads Tight Rookie Contest
Hargrove, who placed 11th in last year’s USF2000 championship despite missing three of the 14 races, has scored 141 points to the 88 of closest challenger, rookie Wyatt Gooden, but the next eight drivers are all within a race win which is worth 30 points (not including the bonus markers available to the drivers for the pole, leading most laps and posting fastest lap of the race).
Gooden (Afterburner Autosport), from Cleveland, Ohio, is currently the highest placed rookie driver on the strength of two runner-up finishes, although he lies only four points clear of fellow rookie Danilo Estrela, from Goiania, Brazil, who drives for Belardi Auto Racing. Canadian rookies Grist, Lazare and Rzadzinski also lie within 16 points of the rookie pacesetter.
Top Nine in Points Include Drivers from Seven Different Teams
One remarkable quality of this year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda is the equality of the competing teams. No fewer than seven different teams are represented by drivers currently filling the top nine places in the points table. Six of them (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, Afterburner Autosport, Pabst Racing Services, Belardi Auto Racing, Andretti Autosport and JDC MotorSports) already have at least one podium finish to their credit after the opening five races. Two more also have been knocking on the door due to the efforts of a pair of gifted 16-year-olds, RC Enerson (ZSports Midwest with Team E Racing), from New Port Richey, Fla., and reigning National Class Champion Henrik Furuseth (PRL Motorsports), from Oslo, Norway.
Paralyzed Racer Johnson Recognized as a “Game Changer”
Michael Johnson, 20, of Flint, Mich., is the only paralyzed racer on the Mazda Road to Indy roster. Johnson was a standout motorcycle racer before sustaining injuries during a race when he was 14 years old, and refuses to be deterred from his goal of winning the Indianapolis 500.
Johnson, who began his comeback in karting and won races in the Skip Barber Series before graduating to USF2000, competes in a revolutionary hand-controlled car for JDC MotorSports. His efforts over the last 18 months have now been recognized by Mazda which has named him as one of the “Game Changers” featured in its national advertising and marketing campaign.
The year-long campaign will showcase various historical figures that have developed a new way to excel at their respective disciplines. Through courage, creativity and conviction, these individuals have defied convention and changed the “game” in which they “played”.
Four USF2000 Drivers Earmarked for Team Canada Scholarship
Grist, Hargrove, Lazare and Rzadzinski have been selected as finalists for this year’s Team Canada Scholarship which will field a pair of cars in the prestigious Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch, England, in October.
Another driver to watch out for this weekend is pre-season favorite Neil Alberico. The youngster from Los Gatos, Calif., dominated the Cooper Tires USF2000 Winterfest mini-series in Florida, winning five of the six races in February, and has added two regular season wins for Cape Motorsports. He has also been plagued by various misfortunes which have contributed to three DNFs (did not finishes). Alberico currently languishes eighth in the points table.
Follow the Action
The USF2000 contenders will open the race weekend action with the first of two practice sessions at 7:30 am and 12:10 pm on Friday, followed by qualifying later in the afternoon at 3:40 pm. Race 1 of the Analytic Systems USF2000 Grand Prix of Toronto will see the green flag at 9:40 am on Saturday, and Race 2 on Sunday will take place immediately after the IndyCar warmup at 11:35 am. Live timing and scoring for all sessions can be seen at www.usf2000.com.