With Chris Pantani (Cooper Tires), Dan Andersen (Andersen promotions) and Mazda’s Director of Motorsports John Doonan at the banquet
JUPITER, Fla. – It is very hard for me to put this year into perspective; I’m sitting here after we’ve accomplished something that I was only dreaming of previously. The path that I chose for myself over the past 10 years is unlike any other. If I look back now at all the situations and experiences I’ve been through in my life, it’s obvious that everything has happened for a reason, but winding up here still feels like a miracle.
The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda is a very historic series in the United States and it’s truly surreal to see my name amongst previous USF2000 race winners and now champions who have gone on to make a successful career in the Verizon IndyCar Series – JR Hildebrand and Dan Wheldon to name a few. I believe the Mazda Road to Indy has been the answer to many driver’s prayers. What Andersen Promotions, Mazda, Cooper Tires and the series sponsors have put together cannot be found anywhere else in the world. It’s no secret that racing can be an expensive sport, but the Mazda Road to Indy gives the most deserving drivers a chance to progress to the top of open-wheel motorsport, irrespective of budget. I loved racing in this series, I hope to keep building a better relationship with everyone involved, and I’m going to work my butt off to keep progressing up the ladder.
It’s never easy when a championship comes down to just a few points, and Rinus VeeKay was only 13 points behind heading into the final round at Watkins Glen. This race was another “make or break” situation for me – just like the Team USA Scholarship and Mazda USF2000 Scholarship shootouts last year. With over $325,000 dollars on the line I had to prepare to give it my all.
We were not nearly the quickest car through testing and official practice, which can be worrying when it’s the most important weekend of the season, but I knew that once points are available, both my team Cape Motorsports and myself turn up the wick. Until then the only thing that matters is making sure the car is fine-tuned, and I’m driving to the best of my ability. We qualified on pole by .109 over our championship rival. This was a huge achievement for us because we gained a valuable bonus point which added more pressure to VeeKay. We had to finish in the top four, which wouldn’t be a problem if we stayed out of trouble. VeeKay passed me into Turn One on the start so I settled into second and started to take care of my tires. Watkins Glen can be an extremely degrading circuit on tires, and particularly the left front so I tried to be extra careful. I held off pressure from Calvin Ming to finish second and win my first open-wheel championship in my first full season of car racing.
I felt an incredible weight lifted off my shoulders when I crossed the line. Cape Motorsports and I put so much effort into this title and it was just as big of an accomplishment for the Capes because this was their seventh consecutive USF2000 title and their first with the brand-new USF-17 car built by Tatuus.
Celebrations didn’t last long; I feel like the 2018 season has already started. I plan on moving to Indianapolis as soon as possible to be closer to the IndyCar community and to take advantage of several state of the art training facilities like PitFit Training and RaceCraft1.
I believe this championship is the first of many more to come. I would like to thank Mazda Motorsports, Cape Motorsports, Rising Star Racing, the Team USA Scholarship, http://SafeisFast.com, MC Racing and Bell Helmets USA for their continued support and for making 2017 so special.