Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing has embarked on the 2016 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season with a clear goal of earning its sixth consecutive series championship.
Tasked with achieving it is an international cast of drivers new to the team: Australian Anthony Martin, Canadian Parker Thompson and Russian Nikita Lastochkin. The drivers made their debuts with Cape at the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg doubleheader March 12.
Thompson had the best showing of the three, finishing second and fourth in the two races. Martin placed fifth in the opening race and Lastochkin was seventh in the nightcap.
The trio is well aware that the burden of keeping the streak intact in the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder lies with them.
“There is definitely a lot of pressure to keep it going,” said Martin (pictured above), 21, from Kalgoorlie, Australia. “I’m really hoping that we can keep the streak going for the team because they are very hard-working and they’ve got race-winning cars.”
All three drivers competed in USF2000 for different teams in 2015 – Martin finished fourth in the championship, Thompson fifth and Lastochkin eighth. They were added to the Cape program this year only after a lengthy process.
"Every year we look for the right drivers to fit our team, drivers that we think will contest for a championship,” team co-owner Nicholas Cape said. “Every year, we go through the same process to get to that point of signing a driver.
“We look for mental strength, compatibility with the team and, of course, speed – because the stopwatch doesn’t lie. We search the globe for drivers and they get one day of testing, and that’s it. If they make good use of that day, then we sign them. Once we have the team in place, it's our job to give them the tools to do the job and I believe we do that. Our three drivers this year all passed those tests and we have every confidence in their ability to fight for the championship."
For Lastochkin, originally from Moscow but now living in Los Angeles, the responsibility for representing such a highly regarded team isn’t taken lightly.
“I think everybody on the team is here to win championships, races and make sure we do the best job because the team has won five years in a row,” he said. “It’s up to us to show who is the best driver.”
Even though the three have been teammates for just a short amount of time, there is already a chemistry building. It began in 2015 when they drove for competing teams.
“It seemed like every autograph session last year, we got stuck beside each other,” said Thompson, the 18-year-old from Red Deer, Alberta. “You go from competing against them to being a teammate, and I think that brings that personal touch. You still want to beat your teammates, but at the same time you have to respect them, and you have to build with them.”
Combining the different cultures of the drivers has been an interesting and sometimes amusing experience as well.
“We all like to have fun with each others’ accents,” Thompson said. “For me, I’ve got the Canadian trucker accent adding an ‘eh’ on everything. Anthony’s got the ‘Crocodile Hunter’ expressions going on and we like to poke fun at Nikita with Russian vodka jokes.”
Regardless the differences in backgrounds, Thompson is confident in their ability to succeed.
“I think all three of us and all of (Cape’s) previous drivers have had different styles, and that’s why they’ve won,” he said. "As soon as we start putting our own twist on it and gel with the team properly, I think we’ll be a championship winning operation.”