2014 USF2000 preview: Depth of raw talent promises great racing

Mazda Road to Indy, USF2000, USF2000 commentary — By on March 25, 2014 10:49 am

The Cooper Tires USF2000 Series powered by Mazda is primed for another great season. Several holdovers from last year will be looking to take the next step and claim the Mazda scholarship awarded to the champion, while even more fresh faces will be looking to make an immediate impact on the series.

Picking out who to watch in the lower levels of the feeder system is always hard because you never know for sure how much to weigh previous experience in karting and regional racing. Drivers that come in as unknowns often shine, while some that are expected to flourish never do. And in the world of American open-wheel racing, most rarely get a second chance.

To try and take a better stab at pointing out who to watch for this season in USF2000, I spoke with three experts in the field: Team USA Scholarship founder Jeremy Shaw, announcer and ‘Voice of the Mazda Road to Indy’ Rob Howden (who also owns eFormualCarNews.com, a great racing site), and the promoter of the USF2000 series, Dan Andersen, himself a former team owner.

Jeremy Shaw: “Judging by the recent Cooper Tires Winterfest, this is going to be another great year for USF2000. The field looks to be wide open with at least a half-dozen potential winners and perhaps more. Jake Eidson has to be one of the favorites. He has a proven track record of winning both in Skip Barber and F1600, and he will be driving for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, which has won the last three USF2000 championships. Others to watch include RC Enerson, who has grown up enormously and was very impressive at Winterfest; Henrik Furuseth, Peter Portante and Jeroen Slaghekke, all of whom, surprisingly, struggled at Winterfest; Aaron Telitz, who won last year’s Skip Barber Scholarship Shootout and possesses all the necessary attributes to be successful in this sport; fellow rookie Victor Franzoni, who will need to match consistency to his pace; and Colton Herta, who is ridiculously young in age but surprisingly mature, both in and out of the car.”

Rob Howden: “The first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy is always so intriguing to me. It’s a mixture of sophomore drivers, already armed with the knowledge and experience from a year of battle, and the raw rookies who come into the program with something to prove.  It’s not easy coming up to speed against guys who already have that important first year already under their belts, although I think the Winterfest series was really important for the freshmen.  For me, the true excitement for 2014 is that everything seems to be up in the air. Four different winners during Winterfest from four different teams is a true statement that we’ve deviated from the status quo. Parity is exciting. Team E Racing’s RC Enerson looks very strong, but I also like the experience, maturity and attitude of Brit Michael Epps, who is really gelling with Belardi Auto Racing.  Confidence is so important at this level of the ladder, and I think that getting out of the box strongly will be crucial.”

Dan Andersen: “I’m looking forward to the 2014 season for all three series. It will be very interesting for several reasons. USF2000, as always, is competitive with 10 or more drivers ready to win races. It is the hardest of my series to choose favorites in, though one obvious contender is Cooper Tires Winterfest champion RC Enerson. We have new teams, many new drivers and very deep talent. We’ve changed from the old four-speed H-pattern gearbox to a brand new five-speed sequential box, which will mix things up a bit as well.”

I’ll echo the sentiment that RC Enerson is perhaps the driver to watch this year in the USF2000 championship. Two wins at Winterfest paired with two other podiums suggest that Enerson has the speed to compete and that Team E Racing has a handle on the car setup to start the season. He’s my early pick to take the crown this year.

Americans Jake Eidson (#2 Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing entry) and Colton Herta (#98 Jay Motorsports entry) are others that I’ll have my eye on as the season kicks off this week, as well as English driver Michael Epps in the #44 Belardi Auto Racing car.

Regardless of who wins, the one thing fans can truly count on is that the USF2000 championship will once again showcase fantastic, cutthroat racing throughout the pack.

The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team transporter was damaged by fire en route to St. Petersburg. Thankfully, everyone is safe: http://morefrontwing.com/2014/03/25/rll-transporter-damaged-by-fire-en-route-to-st-petersburg/