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Mazda Road to Indy Roundup: USF2000 Season Preview

Parity. It’s something that every racing series (and really every sports league) strives to achieve. A place where competitors arrive and—for the most part—stand a decent chance at a quality result. Thankfully, right here in our own backyards we have a formula car series where there are many more “haves” than “have nots.” That series is the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.

If we recall the Cooper Tires WinterFest at NOLA Motorsports Park and Barber Motorsports Park in February, I (unfortunately) predicted that we were likely to see more of the same Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing domination of USF2000 that was the primary storyline throughout the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Alas, when the racing began in earnest at NOLA there was a new bunch of protagonists at the front of the field. Victor Franzoni, RC Enerson, Clark Toppe, and Michael Epps all stood on the top step of the podium over the course of six races—with their respective Afterburner Autosport, Team E Racing, JDC MotorSports, and Belardi Auto Racing teams besting Cape Motorsports.

Don’t count out Cape, though. Despite not winning a race during the WinterFest, Jake Eidson still finished third in the points. Eidson, the Team USA Scholarship winner, will lead the charge for Cape with German Keyran Andres alongside at St. Petersburg. As Eidson gets up to speed with the team and the car, expect for Cape to return to the podium—frequently.

After Cape, it gets all grey and fuzzy because there are so many contenders for wins and podium positions. Expect Afterburner, Team E, JDC, and Belardi to all be right there, just as they were during the WinterFest. However, also keep an eye out for ArmsUp Motorsports, toting the potent young American duo of Peter Portante and Aaron Telitz.

Team E and Enerson, after claiming the WinterFest Championship, have a big target on their back heading into the 2014 season opener at St. Pete. Questions will persist over whether the single-car, family-run team can keep up the momentum for the duration of the season and present a real challenge for the title. However, Enerson has gradually improved as the 17-year-old Floridian has matured behind the wheel over the past two seasons.

Afterburner Autosport stepped up their game last year, partly due to the arrival of Alex Baron at the end of the year. They claimed two wins in four races at the end of the season, but even without Baron picked up right where they left off by winning the first race of the WinterFest with Franzoni. The speedy Brazilian could be regular challenger, heading a four-car Afterburner effort featuring sophomores Felipe Donato and Jeroen Slaghekke alongside rookie Gustavo Myasava.

Belardi Auto Racing also brings a mighty four-car stable to 2014, with two-time WinterFest winner Epps their main protagonist. Briton Epps, another sophomore contender, will have sophomores Canadian Daniel Burkett, Frenchman Florian Latorre, and rookie French driver Nico Jamin to push him and the team forward throughout the season. Belardi was strong at times last year with Danilo Estrela driving for the team, so expect a consistent fight from the Belardi contingent.

Rounding out the likely contenders is JDC MotorSports. JDC struggled through a tough season last year, frequently featuring outside of the top ten throughout the championship. The turnaround appears to have begun, though, with Texan Toppe showing consistent speed and claiming his elusive first win in USF2000. Toppe will have Australian Scott Andrews to push him for the role of lead driver within the team, with Andrews returning to the team after joining late in the 2013 season.

Pabst Racing could spring a surprise or two with karting champ Will Owen and sophomore Austin Cindric tackling 2014 with the team. JAY Motorsports, who with Latorre on the team last season spent most of the year in the top five, returns even stronger this season with two cars for dynamic Norwegian youngster Henrik Furuseth and Skip Barber champ Adrian Starrantino. Furuseth was quick at NOLA and Starrantino will be looking to prove his might against long-time rivals Eidson and Telitz as all three begin their Mazda Road to Indy Careers.

Two new teams join the fray, with M2 Autosport campaigning two cars for Colombians Juan Maldonado and Santiago Lozano. Minnesotan Andrew List brings his family team D2D Motorsports up to USF2000 competition, rounding out the field for St. Petersburg.

I’m far too wise to make predictions, but I will offer my five names to watch throughout the 2014 season: Jake Eidson, Henrik Furuseth, RC Enerson, Aaron Telitz, and Michael Epps. These five young drivers are likely to be fixtures at the front for the duration of 2014.

In two days a few questions will be answered and even more will be presented. The 2014 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda competitors begin their season bright and early Friday morning with the very first practice session for the Peninsula Pipeline Grand Prix of St. Petersburg taking place at 8 a.m. EDT.

Peninsula Pipeline Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Entry List

#2 Jake Eidson (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing)
#3 Keyran Andres (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing)
#4 Daniel Burkett (Belardi Auto Racing)
#5 Aaron Telitz (ArmsUp Motorsports)
#7 RC Enerson (Team E Racing)
#11 Felipe Donato (Afterburner Autosport)
#13 Juan Maldonado (M2 Autosport)
#14 Florian Latorre (Belardi Auto Racing)
#15 Gustavo Myasava (Afterburner Autosport)
#17 Victor Franzoni (Afterburner Autosport)
#18 Jeroen Slaghekke (Afterburner Autosport)
#23 Will Owen (Pabst Racing)
#24 Peter Portante (ArmsUp Motorsports)
#41 Nico Jamin (Belardi Auto Racing)
#44 Michael Epps (Belardi Auto Racing)
#61 Andrew List (D2D Motorsports)
#77 Austin Cindric (Pabst Racing)
#79 Santiago Lozano (M2 Autosport)
#91 Adrian Starrantino (JAY Motorsports)
#93 Scott Andrews (JDC MotorSports)
#96 Henrik Furuseth (JAY Motorsports)
#97 Clark Toppe (JDC MotorSports)

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Written 03-26-2014, 01:31 pm
Updated 03-26-2014, 01:33 pm
Written by B. Ewer
Photography US F2000

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Laguna Seca
Thursday - September 19
12:00 pm Test session 1 
Friday - September 20
01:30 pm Free practice 1 
05:10 pm Free practice 2 
Saturday - September 21
01:00 pm Free practice 3 
04:30 pm Qualifying 1 
Sunday - September 22
03:15 pm Race 

Race Laguna Seca
1. C. Herta 1:53:56
2. W. Power 1:53:57
3. S. Dixon 1:54:03
4. S. Pagenaud 1:54:03
5. F. Rosenqvist 1:54:06
Full results

IndyCar driver standings
1. J. Newgarden 641
2. S. Pagenaud 616
3. A. Rossi 608
4. S. Dixon 578
5. W. Power 550
Full standings

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