Early Predictions: 2008 Junior Formula Championships

I have some time to kill as I follow this weekend's F2000 results so I'm going to take a shot at predicting the Junior Formula championship contenders here in the US. It's early in the season and a lot can change so I'm going to take a look at each series and make a prediction for the top 3 drivers in each championship. Feel free to add input and/or comments to my picks. These predictions are opinion based, so take them for what they are.

I will be adding an explanation to each pick throughout the weekend.... so make sure to stop back.

Indy Lights
1. Raphael Matos
2. Richard Antinucci
3. J.R. Hildebrand

For the Indy Lights series I have chosen Raphael Matos as the driver to beat. Matos has won a championship in every North American series he has contested. If that isn't enough... he has won 9 championships in the last 11 years. The list includes Skip Barber, Star Mazda, and the Atlantic Series to name a few. He doesn't have a lot of oval experience, but most of his competitors are in the same boat. I expect to see him at or near the front every weekend.

Richard Antinucci has been extremely promising so far this season. If he is able to step up and run consistent week in and week out, I expect him to challenge for the championship. He has a great group of engineers supporting him at SSM. Along with Raf, Antinucci's oval races are limited but he brings a ton of European experience including two tests with the Formula One BMW team. He raced in F3 against the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Nelson Piquet...among others.

My third pick is a top prospect for JOWT. J.R. Hildebrand should not be counted out for the championship. I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see him in the top three, if not standing atop the podium at season end. He has shown steady improvement with each race this year as he gains experience. He has a very strong resume including Russell, Pacific 2000, Cooper F2000, and Atlantics. If you haven't seen this driver in the rain, make sure to catch a rain race this year.

Atlantic Championship
1. Jonathan Bomarito
2. Kevin Lacroix
3. Jonathan Sum

This series was the most difficult for me to select a top three.

Jonathan Bomarito has taken the spot as the driver to beat in my opinion. A few weeks before the season started he didn't even know if he would have a ride lined up. Things have really gone well for him as he has already begun to show his speed. This will be his fourth season in Atlantics, which makes him one of the most experienced pilots out there. He has a lot of previous experience in karting, FF Zetec cars, as well as a few starts in the Grand Am Cup. He even tested a Team Rahal Champ Car in 1999 as a result of winning the Stars of Tomorrow karting event in Las Vegas. Look for Bomarito to make the appropriate race decisions due to his maturity.

Kevin Lacroix is full of natural talent. In my opinion he has taken all the right steps....starting with karting, moving up to Formula BMW, onto Star Mazda and now in Atlantics. He has moved up quickly and he has done extremely well. In 2006 Star Mazda competition, Lacroix had 10 top five finishes out of 14 starts. If he can provide that consistency for Walker Racing this season, expect to see him battling for a top three in the final points.

Jonathan Summerton is on a roll. After recently becoming the first American to win an A1GP race, he followed that up with a second place finish at Brands Hatch in the A1 series finale. In between those two results, he managed a fourth place finish in his first ever Atlantic race. Summerton has chosen his steps carefully in his move up the racing ladder and I fully expect him to reach the top. Watch for him to be in the top three of the 2008 title chase.

Star Mazda
1. Joel Miller
2. Peter Dempsey
3. Alex Ardoin

Former ICA National Champion Joel Miller is my number 1 pick for Star Mazda. Joel has a very impressive resume and has used the Skip Barber/Mazda ladder system well. Using his karting abilities to secure a Skip Barber ride, he then proceeded to win the National Championship. This led to his current ride in Star Mazda. Let's not forget about his Formula Palmer Audi experience in Europe through the Team USA Scholarship. Joel has been the guy to beat in every session so far this year. Teamed with JDC Motorsports and the engineering leadership of Rick Cameron, I don't expect much less than a Championship from this contender. My only concern with Joel is his lack of standing start experience. I believe his Palmer Audi races were the only standing starts he has done.

Peter Dempsey is relatively unknown in the Unites States, ....or used to be. He has made a name for himself very quickly this season through sheer speed. Dempsey is far from unknown in the Formula Ford world as he defeated nearly 150 FF pilots to win his second Walter Hayes Trophy last November. Over the weekend, he replaced Vassmer after morning practice in the F2000 Anderson car. Despite never driving Road Atlanta or a F2000 car, Dempsey proceeded to qualify 4th in a borrowed helmet and driver's suit. I fully expect him to be a championship contender in any car he jumps into.

Alex Ardoin has a year of experience under his belt in the Star Mazda ranks and will look to claim the title in 2008. The Louisiana driver has shown promise and if he can carry his momentum into the next event, I expect him to run at the front of the pack. He has been involved in racing Formula Mazda cars since 2005 and has taken the right path for driver development. Ardoin's ability to manage his aggression will determine how he does this season. If he is patient and focuses on consistency he will be a front runner/championship contender. We already know he has the speed.

F2000 Championship
1. Anders Krohn
2. Kyle Marcelli
3. Chris Miller

Anders Krohn, the Norwegian born driver, is hands down the fastest driver so far in this series and is my top choice for the championship. Out of the first four races, Krohn has not finished worse than second, claiming three out of four victories. He has a well balanced resume with several Norwegian ICA & Formula A Championships, he won the Scandinavian Championship in ICC winning 50% of his races, he has several Formula 3 tests, and spent last season racing in the Dutch & Benelux Formula Ford Championship. He has also been named, "Automobile Driver of the Year" by the Norwegian ASN.

I've picked rookie Kyle Marcelli to finish 2nd in the championship. I made this pick prior to last weekend at Road Atlanta where he failed to finish a race. Two DNF's in a row will be tough to overcome, but it's a long season and Marcelli is up to the task. Ron Fellows picked Marcelli to be part of the Team Ultra 94 (F2000 series) in 2006, he was the youngest driver selected. In 2007, Marcelli was named Official test driver for North America's SAAB 93 factory team and won his first touring car race at Mosport. He then went on to test a IPS car for Brian Stewart Racing. Last but not least, he won the Ontario Formula Ford Championship. He was also named Rookie of the Year. My only worry at this point, is that Marcelli will try to overdrive the car to compensate for his two DNF's last weekend. If he can put his head down and stay out of trouble, Kyle will be one to watch.

Chris Miller, a University of Minnesota student, has teamed up with John Church and JDC Motorsports for 2008. JDC is a perennial front runner in the F2000 Championship and will be a great asset to Miller's efforts. Chris's father John is an avid formula car racer himself, bringing Chris to the track at a very young age. Chris spent most of his junior years racing karts at Stockholm Motorsports Park before moving onto the Stars of Karting Series with PSL Racing. Chris has experience in just about every karting class, but chose to focus on his ICC (shifter kart) efforts at the national level. While competing with PSL racing, Chris ran several SCCA races in the Formula Continental class to gain car experience. Claiming a victory in only his second race in the car, he continued his dominance by winning several more regional races. Miller has shown consistency in the first four races of the championship by finishing every event within the top 10. He is fast and I feel that he will finish in the top 3 for 2008.

Formula BMW Americas
1. Alexander Rossi
2. David Ostella
3. Maxime Pelletier

I honestly don't know for sure who is running a full season in Formula BMW USA... Which makes the selection very difficult. When I first started reviewing the FBMW field I wanted to knock their website for not updating their 2008 driver line ups. After asking around and doing some research, I came to the realization that no one really knows who is running the series. At this point, they don't have very good numbers. The lack of driver attendance is unfortunate and has created a problem for the FBMW teams. Team owners are and were hesitant to announce a committed driver with the fear of losing that signee to another team. Evidently, teams are fairly hard pressed for drivers. With that in mind, remember, it's quality not quantity that will make this a great series for young drivers to develop. Based on that information I will make a few selections, not truly knowing if each driver will fill the seat for a full year.

At this point in time, I know Alexander Rossi has signed with EuroInternational and he is my top pick as well as my top prospect. I had the opportunity to watch Rossi make the jump from karts to cars during his Skip Barber licensing. He was impressive in the car to say the least. Granted he had some previous experience from other schools, but he was just as impressive off the track. He knows what it takes to succeed. Rossi has been around racing for a long time and his father has been a great mentor. Based on early season testing and the amount of experience this young pilot has, I don't think anyone will touch him in the pursuit of a championship.

I've picked David Ostella to claim the runner up spot. His fortune, will depend on how quickly he can adapt to the car and get up to speed in this competitive series. Ostella doesn't have much car experience, but he has been very impressive in karting. He has only tested the FBO2 car a few times, but has shown his speed and is consistently knocking seconds off of his laptimes. I expect him to be a front runner as the season progresses, give him some time to get his feet wet.

Rounding out the top three is Maxime Pelletier. Maxime may be running the F3 Euroseries this season instead of pursuing another year in FBMW. Since I'm not 100% sure, I won' t go into much detail on this selection. Pelletier has been very quick in pre-season testing for Team Apex-HBR. If he should return to the series, he would bring two years of experience.

Skip Barber National
1. Gabby Chaves
2. Josef Newgarden
3. Hayden Duerson

My number one pick for the Skip Barber National title is Gabby Chaves. Before I go any further I will say that Chaves will most likely not run the full season. He is pursuing a FBMW-Pacific ride with the Atlantic Racing team. If he should remain in the Skip Barber National Championship, look for him to win the title. He is currently undefeated in the series.

My second pick is Josef Newgarden, out of Henderson, Tenessee. Newgarden was apparently known for his go-ped speed back in the day. However, this season he is known for his speed in the Skip Barber National Championship. He is holding onto the second spot after the first f0ur races of 2008, and has a full year of experience under his belt at this level. Newgarden raced karts for a short time before committing to run Skippy races, since that time he has developed into a very quick race car driver. I expect to see him near the top of the podium at the conclusion of the season.

Hayden Duerson has been impressive every time I've seen him drive. The mild mannered driver has spent the last few years developing his racecraft under the guidance of Michael Valiante and the Italian Motors Karting Team out of Vancouver, BC. Last season, Duerson began running a few select Skip Barber regional events with his dad Craig. Craig has been very quick himself, even beating Gabby Chaves last September at Road America. Hayden will be one to watch this season in his pursuit of the Championship.

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