| Series races often feature plenty of side-by-side action between F2000 veterans and rising motorsports stars|
(Photo: Jerry Andersen - jerryandersen-world.com)
For over two decades, the Formula Ford 2000 class has proven to be a key step on the way up the North American motorsports ladder for numerous current and up-and-coming stars of motorsports. During that time, the majority of the spotlight has shined on the assorted versions of the East Coast-based pro series. Those who keep a close eye on junior formula car racing know, however, that the best drivers and racing action are not limited to the states east of the Mississippi river, thanks to the California-based Pacific F2000 Championship.
Formed in 2004 by Buttonwillow Raceway General Manager Les Phillips, the goal of the Pacific F2000 Championship from day one was to provide the talented racers on the West Coast, particularly in California, a highly competitive, yet cost effective arena to pit their skills against one another. Like its longer running counterparts on the east side of the continent, the Pacific F2000 Championship did just that, with a great mix of talented club racers looking for an added challenge going head-to-head against some the best talented newcomers in the sport.
“The initial reason I looked at starting a series was frustration within the sport, as both the SCCA and assorted pro series seemed focused on the East Coast, particular with regards to the National Championship Runoffs,” stated Phillips. “Unless you were able to get significant time off work and could afford towing to the other side of the country, you never got the chance to race in a National championship or pro event. In addition, drivers kept stating that they wanted a stable series that looked less at the latest new speed trinket of the day, but focused more on a great race package. Thanks to multiple chassis, the Zetec engine package, sealed shocks and Hankook tires, we have been able to create and maintain a great and stable race platform that is ideal for driver training.”
A key ingredient early on was the involvement of several of the premier junior formula car teams/prep shops from the West Coast. Leading the way were PR1 Motorsports and Dave Freitas Racing. Both California squads, having already established themselves as leading amateur teams, welcomed the opportunity to build race-winning/championship-winning programs in the pro ranks. Perhaps more importantly, however, both PR1 and DFR viewed the new series as an ideal place to train and develop the future stars of motorsports. Thanks to low dollar per lap costs, extensive track time, challenging courses and stiff competition for race wins, the Pacific F2000 Championship quickly became an ideal choice for drivers looking to propel themselves up the motorsports ladder.
| J.R. Hildebrand has progressed from Pacific F2000 all the way to testing a Formula One car|
(Photo: Team Force India Formula One)
As they saying goes, ‘the proof is in the pudding’. Right from the inaugural 2004 season, numerous drivers have shone in the Pacific F2000 Championship before making the move up the motorsports ladder. Early beneficiaries of the premier West Coast-based pro series were Brad Jaeger, Joel Miller, Jason Bowles, Mike Forest, Dane Cameron and J.R. Hildebrand. Jaeger captured the first-ever series title before progressing up the open-wheel racing ladder, competing in both the Star Mazda Championship and Indy Lights series en route to a move to sports cars via Grand-Am Daytona Prototypes. A karting hotshoe, Miller scored the first-ever series win, showcasing the talent that eventually lead him to the 2007 Skip Barber National title and second in the 2008 Star Mazda Championship title chase. A fellow karting standout, Bowles’ brief Pacific F2000 foray marked his last hurrah in open-wheel competition before becoming a rising star in the stock car ranks, winning the 2009 NASCAR Camping World West title. After a runner-up finish in 2004, Forest proceeded to win the series title in 2005, propelling him up to the Atlantic Championship initially and, most recently, Grand-Am Daytona Prototypes and GT racing. Cameron has used his run in the 2005 edition of the series to help him towards a USF2000 Rookie of Year award in ‘05, the 2006 Formula Palmer Audi Autumn Trophy title and Star Mazda Championship crown in 2007. He has since made a successful move to sports cars via Grand-AM Daytona Prototypes and GTs. Meanwhile, Hildebrand is likely the series’ most famous alumni to date. After a runner-up finish in 2005 title chase, earning Rookie of the Year honors, the Californian won the 2006 Cooper Tire Zetec National Championship crown, finished on the podium in the ’07 Atlantic Championship, scored a win in the ’08 Indy Lights series, drove for Team USA in the A1GP World Cup of Motorsports, and captured the 2009 Indy Lights title. Most recently, he tested with the Force India F1 Team and it working towards a solid 2010 campaign.
The list of talented drivers who have competed in the Pacific F2000 Championship does not end there, as the past few years have continued to see potential future stars of motorsports getting behind the wheel in series competition. Among those worth keeping an eye on are 2006 Rookie of the Year and 2007 champion Patrick Barrett, ’07 runner-up and Rookie of the Year Thomas Merrill, 2008 champion Jeff Westphal, ’09 runner-up Max Hyatt and two-time and ‘09 champion Robert Podlesni. Further showcasing the Pacific F2000 Championships as a hotbed of up-and-coming talent, since the series inception in 2004, five alumni (Hildebrand, Podlesni, Cameron, Miller, Barrett) have been selected for the prestigious Team USA Scholarship.
“Before starting the Pacific F2000 Championship, it seemed like young driver talent could only be developed out East,” commented Phillips. “The success of our drivers and graduates over the past seven years has pretty much dispelled that thought. I’ve been fortunate to not only deal with these talented drivers from an official’s point of view, but race against them [Phillips is regular competitor in the Masters class] and watch them progress both in and out of the cockpit. Every year brings a new level of excitement as we watch to see which drivers and teams rise to the top.”
Thanks to its stable rules package, cost containment procedures, competitive tracks and drivers, and its history for developing some of the best young talent in motorsports, the Pacific F2000 Championship is poised to enter the new decade as a continued key rung on the formula car ladder in North America. If you are a fan of racing, you’d be a fool not to keep track of who’s doing what in the series. That said, you’d be wise to get to a race if you are on the West Coast in 2010. eFormulaCarNews.com will be providing full race coverage once again and will also be delving deeper this year with several driver profiles.