Six young American drivers will converge on Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA today (September 8), for a shootout to determine who will represent the Team USA Scholarship in the traditional Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch and the Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone, England, later in the fall.
This will be 25th year the scholarship has assisted promising American youngsters at an early stage in their careers. Jimmy Vasser was awarded the inaugural Team USA Scholarship in 1990. Subsequent winners have included Bryan Herta (1991), Buddy Rice (1997), A.J. Allmendinger (2001), Charlie Kimball (2003), J.R. Hildebrand (2005), Dane Cameron (2006), Josef Newgarden and Conor Daly (2008), Spencer Pigot (2010/2011) and Tristan Nunez and Matthew Brabham (2012).
This year’s candidates are:
• Ben Auriemma, 16, from Manhasset, N.Y. – currently competing in the Skip Barber Summer Series (4 wins)
• Tristan DeGrand, 18, from St. Louis, Mo. – leads two Canadian F1600 Championships (16 wins)
• Kenton Koch (pronounced “Cook”), 20, from Glendora, Calif. – SCCA Mazda MX-5 Cup points leader (6 wins)
• Garth Rickards, 21, from Mechanicsburg, Pa. – currently second in the F1600 Championship Series (8 podiums)
• Michai (“Muh-KIE”) Stephens, 22, from Evanston, Ill. – competes in the Skip Barber Summer Series (4 wins)
• Aaron Telitz, 22, from Birchwood, Wis. – finished fourth, Rookie of the Year in USF2000 (1 win, 6 podiums)
Worth noting is the fact that all six [or in the cases of DeGrand and Rickards, a relative ;)] are registered iRacers. Koch and Stephens in particular, are very active on the service as Koch has 29 wins from 145 starts, while Stephens has 15 wins in 40 starts to his credit.
The shootout will be conducted on the Auto Club Speedway infield road course aboard FR1600 cars provided by Allen Berg Racing Schools, owned by Canadian ex-Formula 1 racer Allen Berg, and running on Cooper tires.
“Our business is based around introducing new drivers to motorsports and improving driver performance,” said Berg, who also hosted the shootout in 2012. “The Team USA Scholarship has a distinctive 20-plus-year record of selecting the best drivers in the country, many of whom have gone on to successful professional racing careers. We are of course delighted to participate in the Team USA Scholarship shootout once again this year and be part of the selection process.”
The judging panel also will include two-time Rolex Sports Car champion (and iRacer) Alex Gurney; Team USA Scholarship winner and 2014 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires contender Neil Alberico; Chris Pantani, Director of UHP Marketing, Event Management, Sponsorships & Motorsports, Cooper Tires; David Cook, Business Development Manager, Mazda North American Operations; veteran IndyCar/Indy Lights team owner Jack McCormack; Jim Leo of Pitfit Training; RACER Magazine founder Paul Pfanner; and race engineer Geoff Fickling, who guided Colombian-American iRacer Gabby Chaves to this year’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship with Belardi Auto Racing.
“I’m extremely grateful to such an accomplished and varied panel of judges for joining us, and to Auto Club Speedway for helping stage this event,” said Team USA Scholarship founder Jeremy Shaw. “We have another fine crop of youngsters, all of whom would represent the program well. We face a tough task in selecting just two winners.”
About Team USA Scholarship:
The program has been providing opportunities for talented young American race car drivers since 1990. It is supported by a range of companies and individuals, including Doug Mockett & Company, the Road Racing Drivers Club and www.SAFEisFAST.com, Cooper Tire & Rubber Company, Mazda, Team Penske, David Heinemeier Hansson, Basecamp.com, Chip Ganassi Racing, Honda Performance Development, Robertson Racing, Co-Force International, Race Pro App, CXC Simulations, RaceCraft1, PitFit Training, Sparco USA, RACER Magazine, eFormulaCarNews.com, Speedstar Management, Styled Aesthetic, Manifest Group and numerous past Scholarship winners.