A few aspiring race drivers had the chance to test a Formula BMW- FB02 race car last week at Putnam Park. Team Apex and Team Autotecnica spent the day at the track working with 7 drivers total. The three drivers who tested with Team Apex are: Brandon Newey, Jimmy Simpson, and Jody Gara. Team Autotecnica put Luke Johnson, Eric Batt, Kyle Ludwick, and Jack Manley in their car.
According to Randy Biggs 'Series Manager of Formula BMW-Americas', the test was basically designed to give these young drivers an introduction to the Formula BMW series and car. There wasn't a timing system set up---meaning no lap-times were taken. (at least not formally)
Brandon Newey has been very impressive in karts. The 16-year-old (almost 17) used the offseason to transfer his skills to the car ranks by attending a 3-Day Skip Barber racing school in Sebring, Florida. With the Formula BMW test behind him and an active karting schedule planned for this summer, the Indiana native would be a solid prospect for Team Apex. It would be nice to see Newey get back in the car for a few more tests with the team and perhaps run a few Skippy car races before making the jump.
Jimmy Simpson is arguably the best prospect of the bunch. Simpson has been extremely impressive in karts. Last year, he had a very solid drive in the RoboPong 200 (partnered with Eric Batt's brother Evan Batt). The duo crossed the stripe in first, but were eventually given a post-race penalty and had to settle for 2nd place. At the 2007 RoboPong karting event, partnering with CJ Linter, Simpson found his way to the front and finished 3rd. Along with his karting endeavors, Simpson has also been participating in Ford Focus midget races this season. He won his first event on May 27th at Illiana Motor Speedway by leading every lap.
I'm not as familiar with Jody Gara but that doesn't mean much....except that I haven't personally seen him drive. Gara reportedly comes from a racing family as his father ran both stock cars and karts during his youth. Jody is currently developing in the karting ranks, but hopes to move up the motorsports ladder in the future. Away from racing, he is planning to pursue an accounting degree at Sinclair Community College.
Luke Johnson of Minnesota has done very well since being introduced to karting at a local indoor center in 2007. He has moved up the ranks very quickly but his results haven't dropped off which is a really good sign. After spending the last two seasons developing his smoothness in a lower horsepower kart, Luke has jumped to the higher horsepower stock shifter class for 2009. The 15-year-old race driver is hoping to move into the car ranks for 2010. If he is able to spend enough time in a car, testing and developing his skills, he will likely continue to impress.
Eric Batt is another example of a driver who has moved up the ranks fairly quickly. He has done quite well and is also competing in a stock moto kart for 2009. He hasn't had the best luck so far in 2009, but he has been quick at every stop. With a year or two of development time, Eric should be really impressive. He is also a very good tuner, which bodes well for a career in motorsports.
Kyle Ludwick hasn't been racing long, but has produced some very impressive results. This season he is competing in the KRA Yamaha Sr. Pipe class at New Castle Motorsports Park. He will likely need a few more years in karts before making the jump to Formula BMW, but adding a FB02 test to his resume is very positive.
Jack Manley is currently running in the World Karting Association (Yamaha Jr. & HPV Jr. classes). Manley is still relatively young and is spending time in the Manufacturer's Cup running several classes, which is probably the best thing for him right now. Like Ludwick, a campaign in Formula BMW is probably a few years off, but adding seat time in karts and cars is the right step.
It will be interesting to see if these drivers take part in the Formula BMW Licensing courses this summer. The licensing programs will be held at Miller Motorsports Park on July 8-10 and August 17-19, 2009.
In other Formula BMW Americas news, the 2009 competitors completed their own Putnam Park test last weekend. You can view the results of the test here>>.