Monday, October 8, 2012

Eight Young Open Wheelers To Watch This Week

It's October, the IZOD IndyCar season is finished, and the American open wheel fan doesn't have much going on at the moment, right? Wrong. This upcoming Wednesday and Thursday mark the second annual Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Open Test. Taking place on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, this event is a chance for up-and-coming drivers to try their hand in USF2000, Star Mazda, and Indy Lights cars as a very early prologue to the 2013 season. Additionally, Andretti Autosport is currently conducting their own Mazda Road to Indy test with several drivers at Putnam Park.

Now, I know most of you won't be in attendance this week when the cars take to the track, but there will be press releases and stories aplenty coming out of this week's tests. In no particular order, here's a starting list of young drivers (Twitter handle links included!) to keep tabs on through the test and going ahead:

1) Matthew Brabham
If you missed the action in USF2000 this year, you missed a dominating performance by Brabham as part of the powerful Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing stable. Brabs obviously has about as fine a pedigree as any driver could (with father Geoff and grandpa Sir Jack), and has done honor to his surname thus far. As winner of the scholarship to move up to Star Mazda next season, he'll be a familiar name and exciting young prospect to follow in that super-competitive series.

2) Gabby Chaves
The young Colombian-American driver came on strong in Star Mazda action this season, and won his first race of the year at Mazda Raceway in Round 16. Currently holding onto P2 behind Series champ Jack Hawksworth ahead of the season's finale later this month, Chaves will be testing in an Indy Lights car. It remains to be seen whether he returns for a second year of Star Mazda action in 2013 or moves up the ladder, but he definitely has the talent to compete in either series.

3) Matthew Di Leo
One of the current crop of Canadian open wheel prospects, Di Leo finished fourth in this year's USF2000 standings, and the Ontario native should be a prime competitor when he returns for an encore USF2000 season with his family-owned drive in 2013. 

4) Brandon Newey
The 20-year old F1600 driver hails from Carmel, Indiana, and is currently leading his series in points, with only a pair of races at Watkins Glen to go. He'll be testing out a USF2000 car with JDC Motorsports, which should be a nice progression for him if he does indeed end up in one for 2012. With his family connections and involvement in racing, he's definitely no stranger to INDYCAR, and could be an interesting prospect indeed in the years to come.

5) Jarett Andretti
This one might not lead to anything, but the son of John Andretti is indeed had chance to test a USF2000 car at Putnam Park this past weekend. This might be little more than some seat time to see how the young Andretti scion likes the feel of what's under him, but it remains an intriguing possibility that another Andretti family member might decide to give the Mazda Road to Indy a shot. With a background heavy in both pavement and dirt midgets, it'd be fun to see how he'd progress. 

6) Shelby Blackstock
Blackstock racked up a half-dozen Top 10s in his rookie USF2000 season, and will join and Andretti and USF2000 alum Zach Veach in the Putnam Park test on Wednesday. Blackstock, of course, is the son of country music superstar Reba McEntire, but has proven himself to be a mature, respectful, level-headed driver that should have every chance to move up into a Star Mazda seat if things go his way. Plus, he's kept up his GRAND-AM involvement, which never hurts in gaining valuable road course experience.

7) Michael Johnson
Johnson is testing a USF2000 car for JDC Motorsports. As the first paralyzed driver in the Mazda Road to Indy, he had an up-and-down first season in USF2000, but managed to collect a handful of Top 10 finishes along the way. Johnson's unique story and fight alone merit following, but if he also returns for a second USF2000 campaign, it will bear watching to see how the 2012 USF2000 Spirit Award recipient does in terms of the learning curve.

8) Ayla Agren
Another Andretti Autosport tester, albeit one participating in the Griffis test at IMS and not Putnam Park, Agren will be stepping into a USF2000 car this week. She had formerly tested one with Cape Motorsports, so this will be an encore of sorts. The 19 year-old Norwegian comes from a European karting background, but just finished a promising debut in Skip Barber's Summer Series that makes her participation in a 2013 USF2000 a good possibility to entertain.

There will be plenty of other participants this week, and the above list is only a starting point for checking into some of the real young talent that will be coming through this week.

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