With at least 20 cars, a boatload of talent from Europe, and expansion at several teams, the former Indy Pro 2000 series is arguably in the best shape of its life as it heads into the 2023 season this weekend. Read on to learn more in Feeder Series’ guide to the 2023 USF Pro 2000 championship.
By Jeroen Demmendaal
2023 looks to be the season where the Road to Indy (yes, we still call it that, and we know you do as well) is increasingly moving in the direction of the vision that series director Rob Howden explained to us two years ago.
After a few years where car counts barely broke into the double digits, 2022 was a year of growth for USF Pro 2000. Most races saw around 15 cars on track, and the series has now upped its numbers to around 20 cars, with USF2000 and Indy NXT in the same ballpark. Three main series with around 20 cars each is a very good situation for the Road to Indy to be in.
While it’s hard to quantify it, it seems like USF Pro 2000 benefitted from a Louis Foster effect this winter. The British driver made the jump to American open-wheel racing in 2022 and immediately won the Pro 2000 championship. This year Foster is in Indy NXT with Andretti, only one step away from the NTT IndyCar Series.
That route seems to have piqued the interest of other Europeans. On top of that, USF Pro 2000 benefits from expansion on the team front as well. Turn 3 Motorsport has shelved its USF2000 cars and has chosen to focus fully on USF Pro 2000, and while Juncos Hollinger Racing may have quit the series in favour of Indy NXT, TJ Speed Motorsports has made the reverse move and will field three cars this year.
Even better is that an improved scholarship awaits the champion. Foster took around 614,000 USD with him to Andretti, an amount that has now been increased by around 50,000 USD. With all that money on the line, and a field packed with some very exciting talent from both the Americas and Europe, the 2023 USF Pro 2000 season promises to be one for the history books.
TJ Speed Motorsports
It’s hard to look beyond TJ Speed Motorsports when considering the title contenders for 2023. The team, led by veteran engineer Tim Neff, sold its Lights cars last year and instead bought Juncos’ Pro 2000 equipment. That should immediately set it up for success if last year’s performances by Enaam Ahmed and Reece Gold are anything to go by.
Its line-up of drivers is equally impressive. Given his CV and experience, former F2 and FIA F3 driver Lirim Zendeli should be a force to be reckoned with immediately, even if the 23-year-old German with Albanian roots should really be in Indy NXT by now.
The same goes for the team’s other FIA F3 refugee, Italian Francesco Pizzi, as his times in pre-season testing have been very impressive. He spent last year in an uncompetitive car, but the young gun was a star in Italian F4 and should benefit massively from teaming up with Neff.
Finally, Christian Weir makes the step up from USF2000 after a strong season and a half with Turn 3 Motorsport. Still only 16 years old, the youngster from Illinois has time on his side and will likely learn a lot from his strong teammates before mounting a title bid in 2024.
The other obvious title contenders are Exclusive Autosport, with whom Louis Foster clinched the championship last year. The Canadian squad is in the middle of an investment and expansion programme now that it has dropped its Indy NXT plans after several years of trying. Instead, it aims to be a force across USF Juniors, USF2000, and USF Pro 2000 in coming years.
Salvador de Alba, who joins Exclusive after a solid rookie year in the series with Jay Howard, was announced late but is an immediate title contender. Last year was a bit up and down for the Mexican, but the ups included two victories. If he can be more consistent this season, expect him to be a front runner.
Teammate Joel Granfors doesn’t have the benefit of experience, but he is a clear coup for Exclusive. An immediate frontrunner in both British F4 and GB3 in the last two years, the 17-year-old Swede no doubt saw Marcus Ericsson win the Indy 500 and decided to follow the same course.
As if that wasn’t enough, Exclusive has two more drivers in 2023. Yuven Sundaramoorthy makes the shift from Pabst Racing for his sophomore season and will now have to show he has the ability to run up front consistently. Lindsay Brewer ran a partial schedule in 2022 and now comes back for a full season, after impressing at a few races last year. She should benefit from the team’s broad data pool.
Turn 3 Motorsport
Exclusive isn’t the only team to expand in USF Pro 2000; the same is true for Turn 3 Motorsport. Like their Canadian colleagues, the team run by the Dempsey family grows to three full-time cars for 2023, which also means that Turn 3 will no longer field cars in USF2000 this year.
Jonathan Browne is the only returnee, as the Irishman signs up for a second season in USF Pro 2000. He finished his rookie year near the bottom of the standings but showed decent speed from time to time and will hope to fight for podiums this year.
Slightly more should be expected from Michael d’Orlando, the reigning USF2000 champion. The New Yorker grabbed the title on his third attempt after a year-long battle with Myles Rowe and Jace Denmark and may very well trouble the frontrunners from day one.
The same cannot be expected from Jackson Lee. He struggled in USF2000 in 2022, despite a seat with championship team Cape Motorsport, and should spend the season focusing on clocking miles and learning.
Finally, a fourth Turn 3 car is available after a planned deal to run a F4 US driver fell through this month – we understand Christian Brooks may make an appearance in that car at St. Petersburg.
Jay Howard Driver Development
Following the departure of De Alba and Braden Eves, Jay Howard Driver Development has also regrouped for 2023 with a completely new line-up. A third car is still available at the time of writing, but for now it seems Jay Howard will start the new season with two cars.
In Reece Ushijima, JHDD has signed a strong lead driver. The Japanese-American scored a rookie podium with Van Amersfoort Racing in FIA Formula 3 last year but was unable to secure enough funding for a second full season in F3. Instead, he used his funds to return to his home country, and with all his experience in F3 and GB3, the 20-year-old should be a strong contender from the start.
Ricardo Escotto, meanwhile, is a slightly bigger question mark and may struggle initially. The young Mexican spent most of 2022 in various F4 championships, finishing in 22nd position overall in Spanish F4. He may struggle but will aim to repeat the success of his countryman De Alba.
The biggest plus for Pabst Racing is that it has brought over both drivers from last year’s highly successful USF2000 campaign. Both Myles Rowe and Jace Denmark were very quick last year, if at times a bit too incident-prone. Jordan Missig, who has signed on for a second season in the third car, will do very well if he can keep up with his two illustrious teammates.
The main question with Pabst is whether the team can provide its drivers with competitive cars. Ever since entering USF Pro 2000, it has struggled to repeat its USF2000 successes at this level, which is probably one reason that Sundaramoorthy jumped ship to Exclusive. If Pabst can get its cars up to speed, Rowe and Denmark in particular should be very strong indeed.
Just like JHDD, DEForce Racing has a third car available but only two drivers signed so far. Kiko Porto had a slightly flat rookie year in 2022 after winning the USF2000 title in 2021, so he will aim to improve considerably on last year’s seventh place overall in the standings. His teammate is Bijoy Garg, who makes the step up after three years in USF2000 and will have a learning year ahead of him.
Miller Vinatieri Racing
Rounding out the field are two single-car teams. Jack William Miller embarks on his third season in the series with family outfit Miller Vinatieri Racing though he did test an Indy NXT car late last year.
Finally, Nicholas Monteiro is another rookie who steps up from Brazilian F4 with new outfit Neotech Motorsport after testing earlier with TJ Speed – who in turn have agreed to help Neotech this season by sharing data.
Rounds 1/2: Streets of St. Petersburg (3 – 5 March)
Rounds 3/4: Sebring Int’l Raceway (23 – 26 March)
Rounds 5/6: Indianapolis Grand Prix Circuit (11 – 13 May)
Round 7: Lucas Oil Raceway (25 – 26 May)
Round 8/9: Road America (15 – 18 June)
Round 10/11: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (29 June – 2 July)
Round 12/13: Streets of Toronto (14 – 16 July)
Round 14/15: Circuit of The Americas (24 – 27 August)
Round 16/17/18: Portland International Raceway (31 August – 3 September)
Where to watch
If you want to follow the USF Pro 2000 sessions and races this year, make sure to download the USF Pro Championships app to follow your favourite driver. If you don’t have access to the app, you can also check the USF Pro 2000 social channels or the USF Pro 2000 website.
Header image credit: Gavin Baker
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