WATKINS GLEN, New York – They say dreams are made in New York. It must be true for Oliver Askew, who realized his by winning the Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda championship at Watkins Glen International.
The 20-year-old from Jupiter, Florida, played it conservatively today, opposite from his approach to seven wins this season. His runner-up finish to Rinus VeeKay in the 17-lap race on the challenging permanent road course earned Askew the title in the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder, sanctioned by INDYCAR.
The pole sitter for the race, Askew lost the lead on the opening lap in Turn 1 to championship rival VeeKay but maintained a level head.
“My mindset going into the race was to stay clean,” said Askew, driver of the No. 3 Mazda Motorsports/MC Racing Mazda Tatuus USF-17 for Cape Motorsports.
“If I had any contact whatsoever, it risks me losing the championship. So I was taking it super clean. I had a run on Rinus going into the Bus Stop, but it was just a tricky situation so I just let him go. After that, it was just running consistent laps and just not making a mistake, and that’s what we did.”
The last year has been a whirlwind for Askew, who has turned one scholarship into three – Team USA, MRTI Shootout (which earned him the opportunity to race in USF2000) and now, a Mazda scholarship worth nearly $400,000 for a seat in the second rung of the MRTI ladder in 2018 – the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires.
“Within a year, I’ve won three scholarships now. That’s pretty crazy,” said Askew.
“That’s something that I’ve dreamed of. I did not think that was going to be possible, but here we are. I look forward to having great success in the future with Mazda Racing and just keep going through the ladder and learning as much as I can and winning races.”
Admittedly nervous before taking to the 11-turn, 3.37-mile circuit for the final race this year, Askew became the sixth driver to win back-to-back Mazda scholarships. He also brought Cape Motorsports its seventh consecutive USF2000 driver’s title and 11th overall.
“Seven consecutive, 11 total. It’s ‘Big Gulp’ night,” said team co-owner Dominic Cape, referring to the famous convenience store beverage.
“It’s the whole group of people, really. That’s probably the most important part, that work here. All the good drivers we have had, the people that made it to INDYCAR and everything, the whole thing is pretty cool.”
A major benefit for Askew was being able to lean on peers within Rising Star Racing, the driver promotion and development group he joined this year. The Rising Star stable includes current Verizon IndyCar Series points leader Josef Newgarden.
“Being involved in that program opens doors to ask questions to people that are involved with Rising Star Racing,” said Askew. “Spencer Pigot, I also know through Mazda because he’s gone through this program before. That’s one of the reasons why he’s in INDYCAR and Newgarden, too.
“Great people to look up to and follow in the footsteps of.”
Cape admitted that his newest championship pilot brought an added level of “goofiness” to the team, but he enjoyed seeing Askew progress.
“Starting off helping him with the whole thing from the (MRTI) Shootout onwards, watching him grow as a driver, has been pretty cool.
“He’s done a good job all year and been quick. You can’t really ask for much more, honestly.”
“Goofiness” aside, Askew believes the atmosphere at Cape Motorsports helped elevated his overall game.
“It’s just a certain mentality that they have that rubbed off on me throughout the season,” he said. “They’re super serious and they’re here to win championships, and so am I. So it’s a great fit, I think, and I’ve learned so much from them.
“Like I’ve said before, I learned so much every day – even when I’m not driving. I still have so much to learn and that’s what is so great about the series, too.”
Which is why Askew admitted he’d like to stay with Cape as he moves to Pro Mazda next season.
“I feel really comfortable with them,” he said. “They’re here to win championships and so am I. We’ll see. I’m pretty sure I’m going to race with them, yeah.”
For now, though, the newest USF2000 champion wanted to savor the achievement.
“This is the best moment,” Askew said. “It’s all about the championship.”