Parker Thompson has one goal in mind heading into this year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda season: win the championship.
“That’s pretty well what I’ve promised all my backers,” Thompson said. “I’ll bring home a championship this year if they get back on board with me one more time.”
The 18-year-old from Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, is coming off a career-best season in USF2000. Driving for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, he finished runner-up to teammate Anthony Martin with four wins, three poles and a series-high 137 laps led.
A flat tire in the first race of the Mid-Ohio tripleheader weekend ruined his hopes for a championship. That sent him back 20 points behind Martin, who won all three races as Thompson finished second in the other two. While losing the championship was unfortunate, the USF2000 championship runner-up is pleased with his overall results.
“In seasons past that would have been enough to win the championship, but unfortunately last year with a couple of bad-luck situations, I just fell short,” Thompson said. “On one end, it was a bit of a heartbreak, but at the same time I can hold my head high and say that I had a pretty great season.”
Thompson planned to move up to the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires this season, but potential Canadian sponsorship disappeared when the series didn’t include Toronto on its 2017 schedule. That nearly derailed his racing plans until he turned his focus back to USF2000 and was able to find sponsorship centered in the Canadian market.
“Unfortunately, I was set up to fail from the beginning going to Pro Mazda because they got rid of Toronto,” he said. “Luckily, we were able to capture a deal in USF2000 and get some sponsorship raised around Toronto and the Canadian aspect, and that is what led us to a deal to get back in the USF2000 championship.”
Thompson is reuniting with Exclusive Autosport, a team owned by fellow Canadian Michael Duncalfe. The two met when Thompson was 11 and racing go-karts in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. They forged a relationship immediately and Duncalfe later called on Thompson in 2015 to drive in the Formula Tour 1600 series.
Thompson won his first two races with the team at the Circuit ICAR in Mirabel, Quebec, and claimed a pole at Le Circuit Mt. Tremblant a week later.
“Those were my first-ever wins in a formula car, my first-ever pole in a formula car,” he said.
“Things definitely come full circle. You look at that bridge that I built when I was a young kid at 11 years old and then a young adult at 15 or 16 when I raced for him. It’s pretty awesome to sign with him in his first year at USF2000 when I was 18 years old and lead his driver development.”
While Exclusive Autosport is new to the series, Thompson is encouraged by their previous successes together and feels the team has the same winning formula as Cape Motorsports, which has captured the last six USF2000 championships.
“I know I am with a rookie team but at the same time Exclusive Autosport – they have won every championship they have entered in,” he said. “I’m pretty confident that they’re going to bring a strong program together.”
“There’s a formula for winning. Whether you can win in USF2000, whether you win in INDYCAR, whether you win in 1600, there’s a certain formula that it takes of dedication and success. You look at Exclusive Autosport. They may be a new team on the Mazda Road to Indy, but at the same time they know the winning formula. They know how much hard work it takes and they know the dedication it takes.”
Thompson knows what is on the line this year, but is motivated knowing that winning the USF2000 championship would provide the Mazda scholarship to move up to Pro Mazda in 2018.
“There’s a lot of pressure on me to perform this year, but at the same time I’m pretty confident that we’re going to have a great season,” he said. “When you put a good team together with a good driver, usually it’s going to equal success.”
All three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires will participate in an open test Feb. 27-March 2 at Homestead Miami Speedway. Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires will run on the oval Feb. 27, with Pro Mazda and USF2000 taking to the road course Feb. 28 and March 1. Indy Lights returns on March 2 to test on the road course.
All three levels of the ladder development series open their 2017 seasons with doubleheader race weekends March 10-12 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg that also opens the Verizon IndyCar Series season.