GREENSBORO, N.C. – The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda closed a highly successful 2012 season by honoring numerous drivers and teams at its annual awards banquet this past weekend at the Marriott in downtown Greensboro, N.C.
The event followed a pair of USF2000 races at Virginia Int’l Raceway with both the Championship and National Class titles coming down to the final 14-lap sprint at the 3.27-mile permanent road course.
Hosted by USF2000 driver coach Gerardo Bonilla, the series’ top performers were recognized with over $443,000 in prizes and awards distributed.
Speakers and presenters included Motorsports Director of Mazda North American Operations John Doonan and IndyCar Manager of Grassroots Marketing Jason Penix alongside Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions, the series promoter.
“As a series, we were honored to acknowledge so many great players in an outstanding season of racing,” said Andersen. “This was by far the most competitive USF2000 championship that I have witnessed. Our drivers had to dig deep to make their mark and I couldn’t be more proud of all of them. These are the stars of tomorrow and I am not just referring to our champions. Our talent pool this year was incredibly deep and there are many drivers who graced our grids that I can say, with confidence, will climb the Mazda Road to Indy ladder.”
Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing’s Matthew Brabham emerged as the 2012 Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda champion and VP Rookie of the Year. As champion, he was awarded a scholarship package from Mazda to advance to the Star Mazda Championship in 2013.
The 18-year-old who was born in Boca Raton, Fla., but honed his craft in the Australian motor racing ranks, made his U.S. racing debut a memorable one.
Brabham garnered 11 podiums in 14 rounds of competition that included four wins, five seconds and two thirds and also took advantage of the bonus points available, collecting one marker each for six poles, eight fastest laps and five ‘most laps led’ in a race. Brabham (Np. 83 DTE Group) also earned the PEAK Performance Award for posting the most fastest race laps.
The only challenger with a mathematical chance of dethroning Brabham was his teammate, Spencer Pigot. Pigot, who entered the weekend with six wins but trailed Brabham by 41 points, did everything he could do. The 18-year-old from Orlando, Fla., captured every available point in the ‘must do’ column at the season finale claiming two wins, two poles, two fastest race laps and the dual points for leading the most laps.
For the second year, Pigot finished runner-up in the championship, just seven points shy. In addition to his second-place title award, Pigot also earned the Gregory & Appel “Securing Tomorrow” award for posting the most wins during the season with eight.
Fort Collins, Colo., native Scott Anderson finished third in the championship and was the only non-Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing driver to win this season. Anderson, 23, of Belardi Auto Racing posted two wins, six podiums and notched nine top-five drives.
Matthew Di Leo, 17, of Innisfil, Ontario, Canada, finished fourth with his family-run MDL Racing team. Di Leo claimed four podiums, which included two second-place runs, and eight top-five finishes.
Rounding out the top five was Trent Hindman of Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing. Hindman, 16, of Wayside, N.J., had to battle his way into the spot and rose to the occasion with a podium finish in the final race. He ended the season with two podiums and seven top-five drives.
Henrik Furuseth, 16, of Eidsvoll, Norway, was crowned the 2012 Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda National Class champion, earning a scholarship package to advance to the Championship Class in 2013.
Furuseth, who drives for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, entered the weekend second in the points and immersed in a tight three-way battle for top honors. The teenage talent did not succumb to the pressure, instead he thrived claiming a pair of wins at VIR to secure the title.
He ended the year with seven wins and nine top-three finishes. In addition to the champion’s title, Furuseth earned the PEAK Performance Award for posting the most fast race laps with six and was awarded the SCCA Enterprises Dakota Donovan Rookie of the Year award.
Finishing 14 points behind Furuseth and second in the championship was Mark Eaton of Robinson Motor Sports.
The Melbourne, Fla., driver and two-time SCCA FE National Champion, posted two wins and 10 top-three finishes to secure the ranking. Eaton also earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award for most positions gained [from grid order to race finish] over the course of the season with 72.
R.C. Enerson of ZSports Midwest with Team E Racing rounded out the top three. The 15-year-old entered the weekend with a seven-point lead in the championship by virtue of four wins, two seconds and two thirds.
His second-place finish to Furuseth in Round 13 on Friday reduced that advantage to only three points heading into the season finale. Misfortune, however, struck for the New Port Richey, Fla., native on Saturday. Enerson, who lined up alongside Furuseth on the grid poised to do battle, was eliminated in an incident on the opening lap.
Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing claimed USF2000 Team Championship honors in an outstanding season for the squad led by Dominic and Nicholas Cape with 12 wins, 24 podiums and 30 top-five finishes in the Championship Class and seven wins and nine top-three results in National Class competition. The pair were also presented with the PFC Award as team owners of the championship-winning driver.
Belardi Auto Racing led by Brian Belardi finished second in the team rankings with 17 top-five finishes including 12 podiums and two wins. The battle for third in the standings came down to the wire with JDC MotorSports led by John Church securing the spot with two podium and eight top-five finishes.
The USF2000 Spirit Award was presented to Michael Johnson of JDC MotorSports. The award is presented to the driver that embodies the “heart of a champion” as they aspire to reach their goals. Johnson, 19, from Flint, Mich., is the first paralyzed racer on the Mazda Road to Indy. He is an inspiration to many with an unwavering positive outlook as he proves that nothing can get in the way of a dream.
Additional awards included the Bosch Mechanic of the Year Award which was presented to Will Paul of Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, and the tongue-in-cheek Golden Wishbone Award for the team that has logged the most “frequent flyer miles” at parts supplier Carl Haas Auto which was presented to Belardi Auto Racing.
Accolades were made to Steve Knapp of Elite Engines, the series engine supplier. USF2000 competitors enjoyed 100 percent engine reliability for the second consecutive season with Brabham’s Mazda engine boasting no fewer than 9,411 miles since its last rebuild.
The evening also included the resurrection of the USF2000 Hall of Fame, which began in the late ’90s. The Hall of Fame nominations are based on the outstanding accomplishments of its graduates after competing in the series, rather than within it. Andersen was joined by Jon Baytos, who managed the series from 2001 through 2006, to announce six new inductees: Duncan Dayton (1998 graduate), Sam Hornish Jr. (1998), Andy Lally (2000), Bryan Sellers (2002), Chris Simmons (1995) and Dan Wheldon (1999).