It’s affordable, a true entry-level series for teenage speed devils and run by the same people that are responsible for the highly successful Road to Indy – meet USF Juniors! F1 Feeder Series had an exclusive first look at the newest open-wheel feeder series in the United States.
For those of us actively following the feeder series below Formula 1 and IndyCar, it is an all-too-common sight: talented drivers forced to cut short their season due to budget issues or, worse, not being able to find a seat at all. Luckily, organisers around the globe are actively trying to solve the problem by creating new entry-level series that offer competitive racing at acceptable cost levels.
The latest initiative is USF Juniors, a brand new series starting in 2022 and organised by Andersen Promotions, the people that have brought fans the highly successful Road to Indy ladder system. USF Juniors allows talented go-karters from the age of 14 to set their first steps in racing cars and offers them a first proving ground towards the ultimate goal of reaching the IndyCar Series.
Mirroring the mindset behind other recent initiatives such as the new GB4 Series in the UK, USF Juniors seeks to fill the gap between go-karting and USF2000, currently the first step on the Road to Indy ladder. While USF2000 was originally envisioned to be the first step for young drivers, the budgets required are sizeable and the level of competition has become razor sharp in past years.
“There are numerous routes into the Road to Indy, but it has become apparent that one additional entry level step was needed,” said Dan Andersen, owner of Andersen Promotions, in a press statement. “Our current first step USF2000 has become extremely more competitive from a global scale of driving talent than what used to be considered as entry level.”
“Our goal with USF Juniors is to provide a true entry level series where drivers, teams and parents can focus on training and racing via shorter, more economical events, while also lowering the spotlight on young drivers that often occurs on IndyCar race weekends,” added Andersen. “Drivers will learn the skills needed for them to move onto the Road to Indy, with less pressure.”
Moreover, instead of forking out the 275,000 dollar or so needed for a USF2000 seat, drivers can enter USF Juniors for an expected 120,000-150,000 dollars per season. At the end of the championship, the winner receives a scholarship worth over 200,000 dollars that allows them to progress to USF2000 – continuing the rich tradition that has allowed so many talented drivers to climb the Road to Indy.
So while it’s not an official part of the Road to Indy, it does fit cleanly with that ladder system. And although no official announcements have been made yet, F1 Feeder Series has learned that several current teams on the Road to Indy have already committed to fielding cars in USF Juniors.
Three cars for the price of one
In terms of material, USF Juniors will use the Ligier JS chassis and Honda powerplant known from the US F4 championship for its inaugural 2022 season, as well as specially developed tires from long-time Road to Indy partner Cooper Tires. Starting from 2023, however, USF Juniors will use the same Tatuus chassis with halo that will also be used in USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 as of 2022 – and this is where things really get interesting from a cost point of view.
Engines will be prepared, built and rebuilt by the Road to Indy’s trusted engine partner Elite Engines. Here again, scalability is the key word: from 2023, USF Juniors will use the same engine as in USF2000 but restricted in terms of output. Bolt-on components such as dampers, brakes and steering wheel will also be made more cost-effective. In other words, drivers that plan to run the complete Road to Indy ladder can get three cars for the price of one when starting in USF Juniors.
An official schedule will be revealed within the next few weeks and will consist of six race weekends. Most weekends will be a triple-header, which means USF Juniors drivers will run 16-18 races on many of the same tracks as the Road to Indy and IndyCar Series. USF Juniors is also looking at one marquee event per season, as part of an IndyCar Series race weekend.
The importance of cultural training
While USF Juniors wants to give young talent a first step into car racing, driver coaching is another important element. Former Indy Lights champion Gabby Chaves has been recruited as official driver coach, while USF Juniors will be managed by Gustavo Yacaman, a former Indy Lights driver and founder of the YACademy driver academy. Race control is in the hands of Jonny Unser and Joel Miller, current race directors for USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 respectively.
Rob Howden, series development director for the Road to Indy, says this continuity in terms of staffing sets USF Juniors apart from existing series. “Just look at the people running our programmes and how long they’ve been doing it for. Everything we do is first rate and there’s a direct connection to IndyCar,” Howden told F1 Feeder Series. “It’s a different mindset. Immersing young talented kids in that top-level professional culture is going to drive them to get better. While they run USF Juniors, we can get our expectations across about the way we want to see them race.”
“In the end, our aim is to give them as much green flag running as possible,” Howden added. “To make that happen, we need to train these drivers in our culture and in how we handle things. I’m convinced this will also further raise the level of competition in USF2000, by having these kids work with our people and race directors and have them as part of our community earlier.”
Interested drivers should bookmark to the still-under-development website http://usfjuniors.com, where registrations will open in November.
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