On Saturday the flag drops on this year’s US F4 championship, as the first real test for a field full of F1 and IndyCar hopefuls kicks off. After a competitive top-four fight last time year, organisers will be hoping for more of the same as the series begins without a dominant favourite.
By Adam Dickinson
Many of the drivers competing haven’t raced each other previously and the only testing was a private event last week at NOLA Park in Louisiana, the home of the season curtain-raiser.
So it’s wide-open as 23 drivers head to New Orleans. That’s down from the championship’s peak of 2018 when it averaged 33 drivers per race, and 2019 where 39 filled the grid for one race, but still very respectable and by far the most in American formula racing.
For the champion, 12 FIA Super Licence points are on offer, with 10 for the runner-up, followed by 7, 5, 3, 2 and a solitary point for seventh in the standings.
There’s also the opportunity to continue along the feeder series racing pathway of Parella Motorsports Holdings with a Formula Regional Americas (FRA) Scholarship available to the winner, plus a USD 25,000 cash prize and a Honda engine for future racing.
Last year’s champion Noel León didn’t take that offer and the Mexican will instead compete in FRECA with Arden. It’s worth following León’s progress there, as the 17-year-old will give fans an indication of where one of the best young Americas formula drivers stacks up against his European equivalents.
Of all drivers on this year’s grid, Bryson Morris has the best track record in US F4. The American was brought in for the second half of last season with Crosslink Kiwi Motorsport and impressed so much that he continues with them this time around.
He capped off a fantastic opening round, where he didn’t finish outside the top five across his three races, with a win in the weekend finale after bagging a podium in only his second race in single seaters.
He picked up two more top-five finishes in the remaining rounds and is the only driver on the grid with an F4 win on his resumé. He finished sixth in the final standings ahead of 11 full-time competitors and would’ve most likely cracked the top five if he’d been in since round one.
But he didn’t, which meant he finished 20 points behind Matt Christensen – the highest-placed returning driver to the grid. Christensen moves from Jay Howard Driver Development (JHDD) to Velocity Racing Development (VRD) for this season. He finished in the top five in nine out of 17 races but only scored one championship podium. That’s obviously his big area for improvement this season and will be required to earn a promotion to FRA.
The Formula ProUSA Winter Series gave an indication as to where three of the drivers rank. Jack Zheng was victorious and the Canadian has already been on the move twice this offseason, initially announced for Doran-Kroll Motorsport but now confirmed with JHDD. That leaves Doran-Kroll with a solitary entry in the form of Alex Berg.
Zheng beat out Oliver Westling and Jake Nelson for the Winter Series title and that pair will join forces at Jensen Global Advisers alongside Max Parker. The Californian returned to US F4 after finishing last of the classified drivers in the 2021 championship.
That makes him the third of eight drivers having another crack at the series mentioned so far, and Crosslink Kiwi have retained Ryan Shehan (24th in 2021) and Gabriel Fonseca (15th). Fonseca could be on for a breakout year after showing top-ten consistency last season without being able to break the top five. Shehan only had three scoring finishes but has a chance to build on that year with the team now.
Completing the Kiwi-American team are Aussie Lewis Hodgson, who’s had a longer road than most to get here after COVID-19 prevented him taking up a seat with the team last year, Brazilian Lucas Fecury and Madison Aust.
Maite Cáceres joins International Motorsport. The Uruguayan driver took part in the W Series Arizona test two months ago alongside Crosslink Kiwi Motorsport driver Madison Aust. Joining Cáceres at International Motorsport is Alan Isambard, a French karting driver.
Other familiar names are Louka St-Jean, who finished one place behind Fonseca with half as many points finishes, and Joe Ostholthoff, who’s still looking for his first points in the series after switching from JHDD.
That’s not all though – Nicholas Rivers and David Burketh took gap years after racing in 2020 but both return with different teams. Burketh’s now at Future Star Racing and Rivers joins Christensen at VRD. He finished eighth two years ago so will be hoping to recapture some of that form.
He could be challenged at VRD by Noah Ping, this year’s YACademy Winter Series runner-up. Ping’s only confirmed for the first round but the door is open for more if the stars align, and the grid will be better for it if they do.
He beat several drivers who’ll be on the grid at NOLA – Arturo Flores, Carl Bennett and Tyke Durst (all at Gonella Racing), as well as Burketh.
Finally there are the JHDD wildcards of Seth Brown and Lochie Hughes, who will be showing off on the biggest stage yet in their careers.
This year continues the trend of having six tracks on the calendar – that’s been the case since 2018, which is the last time New Jersey Motorsports Park featured. But first up is the series debut for NOLA Park, as Road Atlanta and Brainerd Raceway make way.
Four tracks return to the championship from last season. The same can’t be said for the F1 support ticket though – the COTA round happens a week after motorsport’s biggest circus comes to town.
That confirms that each round has three races, with the scoring system for each race matching F1 (without points for fastest lap or qualifying). Live streams of the races will be on F4 US YouTube and Facebook pages, while all events will have live timing too.
The other notable feature of the calendar is a 2-month, 67-day gap between rounds 4 and 5. This could give star drivers a chance to try their hand at other series (potentially in Europe) during that window but having such a large gap is never ideal.
The full 2022 F4 US calendar
|1||1-3||NOLA Motorsports Park (Avondale, Louisiana)||9-10th April|
|2||4-6||Road America (Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin)||19-22nd May|
|3||7-9||Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (Lexington, Ohio)||23-26th June|
|4||10-12||New Jersey Motorsports Park (Millville, New Jersey)||29-31st July|
|5||12-15||Virginia International Raceway (Alton, Virginia)||6-9th October|
|6||16-18||Circuit of the Americas (Austin, Texas)||3-6th November|
Header photo credit: F4 US
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