The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship is the first level of the prestigious Road to Indy Ladder System. The USF2000 is where the youngest and brightest racers in the sport hone their skills and develop so that they can compete for a scholarship and contract in the next Road to Indy rung. Eventually, they are racing for the opportunity to race in the IndyCar series and the famed Indianapolis 500.
The USF2000 is the rung before the Indy Pro 2000 Championship and then the Indy Lights Series which leads straight into IndyCar racing. These three rungs make up the Road to Indy Ladder System which is the only developmental racing series to offer scholarships at each and every level for racers and the chance to move towards IndyCar. Some of the sports’ greatest drivers such as Spencer Pigot, Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden and Colton Herta have all gone through the Road to Indy on their way to becoming IndyCar superstars.
The series began way back in 1990 but was not yet sanctioned by IndyCar. At this time, it was founded by Doug Powell and oftentimes there would be at least 60 entries per race. It was at this time sanctioned by the United States Auto Club. In the next decade plus, the series changed hands and even went through some controversial rule changes when it was being overseen by Jon Baytos who was in charge of Primus Racing Inc.
Throughout this history, there have been different championships that went along with the event. There was the Oval Crown, American Continental Championship and the National Class. At this time, all three championships have been abandoned. The Oval Crown last saw action in 2002. The American Continental Championship raced until 2003. Only three drivers participated in that championship and the class was entirely dropped in 2004. The same was true for the National Class. After exciting news that they’d use the Tatuus chassis in 2017, but there was a lack of interest. Only one driver registered for the National Class after the opening weekend and for that reason, it was abandoned effective immediately.
In 2010, the USF2000 came back to the leadership of Dan Anderson of Anderson Promotions. At this time he owned Indy Lights and Star Mazda, which later became the Indy Pro 2000 Series. It was a perfect fit for there to now be three rungs in the ladder system and build a powerhouse of a developmental series. Since the acquisition, the ladder system has been nothing short of a major success. It is imperative now that the drivers are taught the correct way to race and given the developmental skills that will make them staples in IndyCar for many years to come.
At the moment, the USF2000 Championship scholarship is quite impressive. The 2020 USF2000 champion will receive a scholarship valued at $328,225, guaranteeing a full season contract with an Indy Pro 2000 team of the driver’s choice including all 2021 race and test events, entry and test day fees and allowable number of sets of Cooper tires. The scholarship value will be increased to include an Indy Lights test at the conclusion of the 2021 Indy Pro 2000 season.
The car rule package includes two sub-classes: the Championship class required an Elán/Van Diemen chassis with a league mandated aerodynamics package, and a sealed Mazda MZR engine. In 2017, a new chassis was introduced, the Tatuus USF-17. This car will lead all the way through 2024. Here is what the USF2000 Championship has to say about the Tatuus USF-17:
“It is a full carbon composite and aluminum honeycomb monocoque chassis meeting current FIA F4 safety standards and utilizes the Mazda MZR 2.0-liter naturally aspirated engine with additional safety features to meet the specific needs of racing in the United States. These features include full Zylon side intrusion panels and reinforced bulkheads to strengthen the chassis for racing on oval circuits. The USF-17 also features other upgrades such as a six-speed paddle shift gearbox, four-way adjustable dampers, specific design aluminum Motegi Racing wheels, Cosworth data system, LCD steering wheel and ECU, four piston caliper PFC brakes and IndyCar-specific quick jack and roll hoop attachments.”
Before this car came along, the USF2000 was using the Van Diemen DP08. The car was initially designed to compete in the SCCA Formula Continental ranks but was heavily upgraded to run in the USF2000 series. The upgrades included a stronger steel space frame, improved side crashboxes and new brakes.
Americans have absolutely dominated the USF2000 Championship in the last three seasons, producing three winning racers. Oliver Askew won in 2017, then Kyle Kirkwood in 2018 and now Braden Eves in 2019. These racers have all found incredible success after the USF2000 Championship.
Let’s start with Oliver Askew. The 23-year-old from Jupiter, FL is already in the IndyCar Series with 7 races under his belt in just one year. Not only did he win the USF2000 but he also went on to finish third in the Pro Mazda, now known as the Indy Pro 2000, and he was the championship winner in the Indy Lights. He clinched at the WeatherTech Raceway which guaranteed him access into the Indianapolis 500. In 2020, he sits in 16th place and has one podium under his belt in his very young career. He is a great example of how successful the Road to Indy can continue to be.
Kyle Kirwood was the 2018 USF2000 Championship winner. In his rookie season and only season in the USF2000, he won 12 times in 14 races, an extremely impressive accomplishment. He tied J.R. Hildebrand’s record for most victories in a single season. He didn’t let that championship win be the defining moment of his career to this point though. He went on to win the Indy Pro 2000 and now races in the Indy Lights with Andretti Autosports.
Finally, there is Braden Eves. He won six of his 15 races in the USF2000 Championship in his second overall season. He also had eight podiums on his way to winning the series. Eves is now up in the Indy Pro 2000 Championship and turning heads there too.
It is crucial for the USF2000 to have joined when it did as it has already produced top talent that will be seen on the IndyCar Series circuit for many years to come.