Featuring a neat divide between returning drivers and rookies, the 2022 USF2000 field contains a lot of exciting talent on their way to an IndyCar Series dream. In this season preview, F1 Feeder Series has everything you need to know ahead of this weekend’s season opener in St Petersburg. Our previews of Indy Pro 2000 and Indy Lights follow later this week!
By Jeroen Demmendaal
This year’s USF2000 field will be somewhat smaller than in previous seasons, which may lead some to think that the growth of recent years is halting and that the series is in trouble. Nothing could be further from the truth: the shrinkage this year is by design. As F1 Feeder Series was first to report last year, Andersen Promotions has launched a new entry level series called USF Juniors, which aims to make US F4 superfluous – or at least present another alternative for the stars of go-karting.
As a result, drivers that in recent years would have jumped straight from their kart into a USF2000 car now have the option to do a year of USF Juniors first (the season will kick off in April). The winner of Juniors gets a scholarship to move up to USF2000, which means the Road to Indy has now become a de facto four-stage ladder. In other words, while the number of USF2000 entries is slightly lower than in preceding years, things are playing out exactly as planned.
Some things stay the same, however. USF2000 will once again be a battle between the rookies and a class of sophomore or even third-year drivers who really need success if they want to keep climbing the ladder. How that battle plays out is anyone’s guess. In recent years drivers like Kiko Porto, Christian Rasmussen and Dudu Barrichello clearly benefited from being sophomores, but in 2018 and 2019 rookies like Kyle Kirkwood, Rasmus Lindh, Braden Eves and Hunter McElrea ruled the school.
Target: a championship
This year’s field will consist of around 20 drivers, and about half of them are ‘veterans’. Of the top-six in 2021, five drivers have moved on to either Indy Pro 2000 or other series. So, does that make Michael d’Orlando, last year’s runner-up, a shoo-in for the title? He very well might be, opting for a third year with Cape Motorsports over a more uncertain step up. Team and driver are working like hand in glove now, so it’s fair to say the New Yorker is a (if not THE) title favourite this year.
His most obvious competitors for top honours should be last year’s top rookies: Spike Kohlbecker and Canada’s Thomas Nepveu. The young man from Quebec already grabbed his first victory last year and now joins DEForce Racing, which won the title with Kiko Porto last year. Still only 17 years old, Nepveu looks destined for greater things.
Kohlbecker shifts from Cape to Turn 3 Motorsport and was an example of consistency last year, fighting for top-10 finishes at most races and grabbing Rookie of the Year. If he can step up his game somewhat and challenge consistently for the top-5 instead of the top-10, he too is a definite title candidate in 2022.
The same goes for the pair of sophomores at Pabst Racing, Jace Denmark and Myles Rowe. 17-year-old Denmark stepped up almost straight from karting last year and pleasantly surprised many people with his outright speed and a very consistent mid-season run. His task is the same as Kohlbecker’s: consistency is good, but the Arizonan needs to become a mainstay in the top-5 instead of the top-10.
As for Rowe, his USF2000 career gets a second lease of life after Force Indy unceremoniously dropped him. Many in the paddock found that decision hard to grasp, as Rowe showed a lot of raw pace and even won a race at New Jersey. Having said that, at times he also seemed to have a special talent for getting in trouble, so consistency will be key to any success. Funding is another question mark that hangs over his campaign, but hopefully some good results early on will help solve that.
The other sophomores
Exclusive Autosport’s main ace this season will be Billy Frazer. The Kiwi had an up and down rookie season last year, but was really quick at times and scored a handful of top-6 finishes. A year older and a year wiser, the former New Zealand Formula Ford champion should be a more common sight among the leaders in 2022. Will that be enough for a title run?
Another sophomore driver expected to take a step up is Dylan Christie, the American joining DEForce Racing from Turn 3 Motorsport. Fifteenth in his rookie season, the 18-year-old from New Jersey will be targeting more consistent finishes in the top-10.
That also applies to Jackson Lee, son of NBC broadcaster Kevin Lee, who switches to Cape after an up and down rookie year with Jay Howard Driver Development (JHDD), and Trey Burke, the former dirt track racer who returns for a second year with Joe Dooling Autosport and is coached by IndyCar driver Sage Karam.
Simon Sikes, meanwhile, had a great mid-season run during his partial season with Legacy Autosport last year, scoring four podiums in a row at Road America and Mid-Ohio. If he can finally get a full season under his belt in 2022, Sikes should be interesting to watch.
What about those rookies then? While he already dipped his toe in USF2000 waters last year, 2022 will be the first full season for Christian Weir, the other recruit at Turn 3 Motorsport. He scored two podiums in a handful of US F4 races last year, as well as three top-10 finishes in USF2000. Only 15 years old, Weir is definitely an exciting prospect for the future.
Cape also has an exciting rookie in the form of Jagger Jones, the grandson of IndyCar legend Parnelli Jones. He has a background in stockcars and off-road racing but has now decided to make the shift to open-wheel. Given Cape’s long-standing history of breeding champions, Jones is one to watch.
Another USF rookie at Cape is Nicky Hays, but at 20 years of age, he’s more experienced in open-wheel cars: in 2020, he finished fourth overall in Formula Regional Americas with Global Racing Group. After a year of testing GT3 level sportscars with Honda, he’s now ready to get racing again.
Jay Howard Driver Development is going all-rookie, with the quartet of Evagoras Papasavvas, Danny Dyszelski, Jorge Garciarce and Yeoroo Lee. Papassavvas and Dyszelski will miss the opening rounds for varying reasons, but are true spring chickens at age 14 and will focus on learning. Lee ran in the Formula Car Series of the Lucas Oil School of Racing last year, while Garciarce joins from Italian F4.
Other rookies to keep an eye on: Velocity Racing Development has so far confirmed one entry for Swedish driver Viktor Andersson, who collected a handful of top-10 finishes in US F4 last year, while Exclusive Autosport is adding to the Kiwi contingent with the signing of 16-year-old Jacob Douglas.
If you want to follow the USF2000 sessions and races this year, make sure to download the Road to Indy TV app to follow your favourite driver. If you don’t have access to the app, you can also check the Road to Indy social channels or the Roadtoindy.tv website.
Check out our Road to Indy preview podcast down below, starring Kyle Kirkwood and Rob Howden.
Header photo credit: Gavin Baker