A tale of two rookies: From rental karts to F4 US

Five rookies made their débuts at the third round of the 2022 F4 United States Championship. Among them were Michael Boyiadzis and Al Morey IV, who experienced their first weekend racing in single-seater cars after spending most of their careers in indoor rental karting. F1 Feeder Series caught up with them about their progress.

By Michael McClure

Speaking to F1 Feeder Series from the paddock at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Boyiadzis explained that his entry into the series came almost by chance. While at the season-opening IndyCar Series race in St. Petersburg, Florida, Boyiadzis met Jay Howard, eponymous owner of the Jay Howard Driver Development (JHDD) racing team.

JHDD have been a fixture of the F4 US Championship since the series’ second season in 2017, but the team also have programmes in Indy Pro and USF2000, two major stepping-stones on the Road to Indy. Howard was at St. Petersburg running cars for his six drivers across the two series, and Boyiadzis – who lives in nearby Tampa, Florida – was there to watch the action.

“I’ve been interested in getting into a car for a while, so we talked,” Boyiadzis said. “We arranged for a test in Indiana back in March and [were] happy with the results. [We] did some more testing and now we’re here.”

Michael Boyiadzis | Credit: Gavin Baker Photography / F4 US

Those tests at the Putnam Park Road Course outside Indianapolis and Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Illinois, were the first experiences that Boyiadzis had in a single-seater. Coming from rental karts, he’d been wanting to “jump into cars, take that big leap just not to waste any time”, and just a few months later, he was at Mid-Ohio, gearing up for his début in F4.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s a lot to take in, it’s a lot of different things happening. Being on track with all the cars at once is something you get used to pretty quickly. You get comfortable driving around others.”

Being on track with all the cars at once is something you get used to pretty quickly

Michael Boyiadzis

Paying it forward

Howard has a close involvement in scouting drivers for F4 and preparing them for that highest level. His programme emphasises finding the right fit for each driver, and his role as team boss is “just giving them all the information”, he explains. But high performance remains top of mind.

“We go to every race to win. We’re here to win a championship, and that’s the bottom line. To be honest, I’m just here to do the best for my drivers, and I really don’t care about any other drivers. It’s just my guys. We go ’round, we come back, we debrief, we do video and data on how we go faster, and that’s it. Same process day in, day out, whether it’s testing, racing – everything’s the same.”

We go to every race to win. We’re here to win a championship, and that’s the bottom line

Jay Howard

It’s that almost selfish desire for victory that gives away Howard’s background as a professional racing driver. The 2005 USF 2000 and 2006 Indy Lights champion competed sporadically in IndyCar from 2008 to 2018 before switching his focus to team ownership and management as the JHDD operation grew.

The distinctive blue, black and metallic crimson livery quickly became a fixture of the F4 US grid. As they turned into regular race winners, JHDD expanded to the Road to Indy in 2019, beginning with USF 2000 – the same championship Howard won many years before. In 2020 they won the title with Christian Rasmussen, who also took the 2021 Indy Pro crown with the team.

Their Road to Indy campaigns haven’t gone so well this year, and none of their drivers are in the top five in either series. But JHDD does lead the F4 US drivers’ championship with Lochie Hughes, the 2019 Australian F4 runner-up. After COVID-19 stalled his career for two years, Australia native Hughes came to America on a late deal and has achieved two wins and eight top-five finishes from nine races this year – by far the best results of any JHDD F4 driver.

“It’s great that we have Lochie here to guide us all, the new drivers that we have. It’s definitely a big help set-up-wise and just learning how to control the cars and everything. I think it’s a really great environment we have here,” Boyiadzis said.

And that learning will have long-term benefits for Boyiadzis, who told F1 Feeder Series at Mid-Ohio that this partial campaign will prepare him for a full-season assault in 2023. “I came into this season pretty late, not expecting much. Just continuing to learn, learn the tracks, get comfortable with the car. The goal is to come in next season and try to fight at the top.”

One giant leap

Though spending a few seasons in regional or international karting remains the most prominent way for aspiring racing drivers to make the jump into F4 series worldwide, some drivers approach the discipline differently. The North American karting scene is less competitive than that of Europe, and some aspiring racers instead turn to indoor rental karting, which is much more prominent in the US, to hone their skills.

It’s the sort of racing that everyday people can do, often at a local mall, but even the slower speeds and more casual environment serve as helpful preparation for an aspiring racing driver. Boyiadzis moved from rental karting to F4 testing with JHDD – a scenario that sounds almost implausible in another world.

Howard does not run his own karting team, but he has a development and consultation scheme for young karters that helps them select equipment and racing programmes. It’s the foundation of the modern JHDD operation, which began in karts nearly a decade ago, and it helps to smooth over that daunting jump up, especially to the full-fledged JHDD car racing operation.

Morey, who also had his first F4 race at Mid-Ohio, began karting in 2015 at the K1 Speed location in his hometown of Fishers, Indiana, where he won the teen cup in 2020. That gave him the impetus to move to outdoor karting in 2021, launching the association with JHDD that would carry him to cars.

He’s the one pushing me along, making me a better driver

Al Morey IV on team owner Jay Howard

“He’s the one pushing me along, making me a better driver,” Morey says of Howard. “Ever since I came to him last year in karting, he’s been great. Dave Royce from K1 Speed [Fishers location general manager] has been helping me throughout karting for all these years, and my parents have always been pushing me along. The team support’s great over here, so everything that they’ve done I appreciate. That’s what makes me a better driver.”

Keeping it clean

At the end of 2021, Morey had his first test in an F4 car. He’d been readying himself for months for a race appearance, but he was surprised by the competitiveness of the field.

“The racing’s a lot closer than I expected it to be. It’s a lot more professional than karting, where I came from, but so far, the car’s been doing really great this weekend. The team’s put together a fantastic drive for me, so I couldn’t ask for anything more in the first weekend.”

The racing’s a lot closer than I expected it to be

Al Morey IV on his F4 debut
Al Morey IV made his F4 US début at Mid-Ohio | Credit: Gavin Baker Photography / F4 US

Mid-Ohio is known for having few overtaking opportunities. The undulating middle section, with corners flowing from one into the next, offers a distinctly old-school technical challenge.

“It’s a very tough track,” Morey admitted. “You hear a lot of stories in IndyCar of things not going so well and it’s understandable, but it’s a great track when you get it right, and the racing’s great on it, so definitely a good track to get the first race under my belt.”

An opening-lap crash in Race 1 triggered a red flag. But as several drivers, including Hughes, spun through the grass on the back straight, Morey and Boyiadzis profited. They kept their noses clean to move up to 13th and 15th from the final row of the 22-car grid.

They slipped back as the race resumed, but it was a first race lap in cars that would have been difficult to beat. Both moved up from the back row of the grid in Races 2 and 3, for which the grids were set by the fastest laps in Races 1 and 2 respectively.

F1 Feeder Series caught up with Morey before Race 3, which he started 18th. “I’m expecting it to be a little rougher out here with some of the others starting behind me usually a little higher up. [They] might be trying to get through the field a little bit. We’ll see how it goes, but hopefully I can make up some spots like I have the first and second race.”

Morey rose to 13th in a hectic race, helped by incidents for several of the front-runners. Points might have been too lofty a goal for him and Boyiadzis to aim for in their first round, but the main goal for the newcomers was to learn.

“For anyone who’s coming in mid-season in particular and they’re new with relatively low experience, it’s all about just literally gaining experience – turn laps, turn laps, learn learn learn in preparation for next year,” Howard said.

For anyone who’s coming in mid-season in particular and they’re new with relatively low experience, it’s all about just literally gaining experience – turn laps, turn laps

Jay Howard

Boyiadzis and Morey will return to the circuit this weekend for Round 4 of F4 US at New Jersey Motorsports Park.

Header photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography / F4 US

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