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Feb 20, 2014 - 06:11 PM
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Expanded Cooper Tires Winterfest Heads to Louisiana and Alabama
Posted by: newsla on Feb 20, 2014 - 06:07 PM
Support Series News
Expanded Cooper Tires Winterfest Heads to Louisiana and Alabama


The fourth annual Cooper Tires Winterfest will kick off on Friday, February 21, with an expanded portfolio, plenty of track time for all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder and two new venues.

 

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What began in 2011 as a four-race mini-series in Florida for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda now has grown into a twin-state fiesta which will comprise six races for USF2000 and four races for the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, as well as a comprehensive test outing for Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires competitors. The entire extravaganza will take place over a seven-day period beginning this Friday and Saturday, February 21/22, at NOLA Motorsports Park, just outside New Orleans, La., and continuing next Tuesday and Wednesday, February 25/26, at Barber Motorsports Park, near Birmingham, Ala.

The popular Winterfest concept will enable teams and drivers to gain a head start on preparations for the "regular season" which will begin on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., in conjunction with the IndyCar Series, on March 28-30.

Brabham Sets out on Quest for Championship Triple
Twelve cars have been entered for the Indy Lights portion of the Cooper Tires Winterfest, marking a significant surge in interest since the final step on the Mazda Road to Indy has been brought under the auspices of Andersen Promotions.

Third-generation racer Matthew Brabham will be making the step up to Indy Lights this year and seeks to become the first driver ever to win all three steps of the Mazda Road to Indy in consecutive seasons. Brabham, now 20, won the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda as a rookie, and last year used his prize - a MAZDASPEED Driver Development scholarship - to excellent effect by dominating the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.

Among those seeking to prevent Brabham from achieving that remarkable feat will be his own Andretti Autosport teammate Zach Veach. The diminutive Ohioan placed seventh in his rookie Indy Lights campaign which included a pole position in the season finale at Auto Club Speedway in California. Veach, 19, also posted the fastest time at the first open test of 2014 at Sebring International Raceway in January.

Other front-runners will include the usual strong contingent from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports which has garnered each of the past four Indy Lights titles. Highly rated Englishman Jack Harvey, 20, who carries support from his nation's Racing Steps Foundation, series veteran Juan Pablo Garcia, from Mexico City, and Colombian rookie Juan Piedrahita, who is stepping up from Pro Mazda, are all looking to follow in the footsteps of J-K Vernay, Josef Newgarden, Tristan Vautier and last year's champion Sage Karam (who also claimed the USF2000 spoils in 2010).

Belardi Auto Racing, which broke through into Victory Lane in 2013, thanks to a sensational last-gasp effort by Peter Dempsey in the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis, will field cars at the Winterfest for Gabby Chaves and Alex Baron. Florida-based Colombian Chaves finished a close second in the 2013 Indy Lights campaign, while teenager Baron, who carries dual French and British citizenship, is stepping up into Indy Lights after winning two of the four USF2000 races he contested in 2013.

Additional entries have been confirmed for the rejuvenated Fan Force United team and rookie driver Scott Anderson, who has performed well in both USF2000 and Pro Mazda over the past two seasons; Team Moore Racing, which will run Canadian Zack Meyer, a veteran of Pro Mazda; and Bryan Herta Autosport/Jeffrey Mark Motorsport for yet another Pro Mazda graduate, Lloyd Read.

2013 Race Winners Shelby Blackstock, Spencer Pigot Head Pro Mazda Hopefuls
A promising field of 16 competitors is set to contest the first-ever Cooper Tires Winterfest for Pro Mazda, which will consist of two races each at NOLA Motorsports Park and Barber Motorsports Park.

The entry list is headed by Shelby Blackstock and Spencer Pigot, who each won once last year during their rookie Pro Mazda campaigns. Nashville's Blackstock, the son of country singing star Reba McEntire, has begun to carve his own niche in life and is set to step out from the shadow of erstwhile Andretti Autosport teammate Matthew Brabham, who dominated the title-chase in 2013. Blackstock, indeed, has already tasted the spoils of victory in 2014 after scooping top honors in January's IMSA Continental Tire Sports Car Championship opener at Daytona International Speedway.

Fellow American Spencer Pigot, 20, from Orlando, Fla., who won a total of 11 USF2000 races in 2011 and 2012, only to narrowly lose out on the title on each occasion, has joined forces with 2010 series champions Juncos Racing and has but one aim: the championship.

Kyle Kaiser, still only 17, also has joined Juncos Racing and is looking to build upon a promising debut Pro Mazda campaign with World Speed Motorsports.

Among the strong rookie contingent will be teammates Scott Hargrove and Neil Alberico. After combining to win 10 races and finish first and second in the USF2000 title-chase for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, both team and drivers are stepping up into Pro Mazda for 2014.

Canada's Garett Grist, who won one race as well as clinching USF2000 Rookie of the Year honors in 2013, also will graduate one level with Andretti Autosport, while the inspirational Michael Johnson - the only paralyzed racer on the Mazda Road to Indy - will take the same step with JDC MotorSports.

Other potential contenders will include Brazilian Pipo Derani, a veteran of Formula 3 in Europe and podium finisher at the prestigious Macau Grand Prix who will drive for locally based Team Pelfrey; Mexican teenager Jose Gutierrez (Juncos Racing), who contested four Pro Mazda races in 2013; and a couple of talented young ladies, Julia Ballario, from Argentina, who will also drive for Juncos Racing, and Michele Bumgarner, from the Philippines, who will fly the flag for World Speed Motorsports.

International Field Highlights USF2000 Entry List
An intriguing mix of veterans and rookies have set their sights on the Cooper Tires USF2000 Winterfest which will comprise three races apiece at the two distinctly different road courses. NOLA, at 2.75 miles, is fast and flat, situated just across the Mississippi River from downtown New Orleans, while Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama - rated by Road & Track as "one of the most beautiful tracks in North America" - features plenty of elevation change within its 2.38 miles.

Drivers have been drawn literally from around the globe. Nine countries and four continents - Europe, Australia, North America and South America - are represented on the entry list, and the list of potential front-runners is extensive.

Returning veterans will include Norway's Henrik Furuseth (JAY Motorsports), Frenchman Florian Latorre (Belardi Auto Racing), Brazilian Danilo Estrela (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing), RC Enerson (Team E Racing), from New Port Richey, Fla., and Plainfield, Conn, native Peter Portante (ArmsUp Motorsports). All four earned podium finishes in 2013, highlighted by Estrela's victory in Toronto, and fully intend to follow in the footsteps of Canadian Scott Hargrove by winning the USF2000 crown and claiming a MAZDASPEED scholarship to progress into Pro Mazda in 2015.

Other notable series veterans will include Dutchman Jeroen Slaghekke (Afterburner Autosport), Englishman Michael Epps and Canadian Daniel Burkett (Belardi Auto Racing), Australian Scott Andrews (JDC MotorSports) and Americans Austin Cindric (Pabst Racing) and Clark Toppe (JDC MotorSports).

First-year stand-outs are likely to include Americans Jake Eidson and Aaron Telitz, and Frenchman Nico Jamin. Eidson, from Littleton, Colo., is a proven winner having claimed no fewer than three Skip Barber championships and last year's F1600 Championship Series title as well as a coveted Team USA Scholarship. Furthermore, he will drive for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing which has won the past three USF2000 crowns. Telitz, from Birchwood, Wis., has joined ArmsUp Motorsports after winning the Skip Barber National Championship Shootout last fall, while Jamin will count on his experience in European Formula Renault competition when he joins Belardi Auto Racing.

Miami, Fla.-based M2 Autosport will be making its USF2000 debut with a pair of Colombian drivers, Juan Diego Maldonado and Santiago Lorenzo.

Cooper Tires Winterfest Schedule
Indy Lights competitors will have a total of more than six hours of track time at each of the two venues split into four sessions over two days. USF2000 and Pro Mazda each will start out with a practice session and a qualifying session on Day 1, followed by one race later in the afternoon. Day 2 at each track will comprise two practice sessions and one race for Pro Mazda and one practice plus two additional races for USF2000.


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