Home Featured The Sebring single-seater history the USF Pro series added to last weekend

The Sebring single-seater history the USF Pro series added to last weekend

by Ida Wood

Photo: Gavin Baker Photography

A circuit known for its illustrious position in the world of sportscar racing welcomed back high-profile single-seater racing last weekend. Here’s the 35-year history the USF Pro championships added to.

Although Sebring, an airfield track in Florida, hosted Formula 1’s United States Grand Prix in 1959 it is best known for its long history of hosting sportscar racing.

Its 12-hour race was part of the World Sportscar Championship for two decades, then from 1973 was part of the IMSA GT championship which evolved into the American Le Mans Series and then into the current IMSA championship. Although the WSC-succeeding World Endurance Championship shared the grid with ALMS in 2012, it has since created its own 1000-mile race at the track which has now been held three times.

The SCCA World Challenge for GT cars raced at Sebring from 2001 to ’09, then as GT World Challenge America has been racing there since 2021. Trans-Am has visited in 18 seasons, starting in 1966, the FIA GT Championship held a three-hour race at Sebring in 1997 and the 24H Series concluded its 2021 season with the inaugural Sebring 24 Hours.

Although the prototype sportscars are the headline-grabbing vehicles when they appear in multi-class races at the track, its the GT and even touring cars that are best suited to Sebring due to its the surface changes, bumps and the abrasiveness of the track surface being far closer to real-world roads (that GT cars are designed for) than purpose-built racing circuits.

For that reason, Sebring can test reliability and eat into teams’ repairs budget even if cars don’t crash, and it is certainly less forgiving to single-seaters that tend to be low-riding and stiffly sprung. While IndyCar in particular enjoys testing at the track to simulate the similar challenges of street circuits, it has so far avoided racing there since the track’s opening in 1950.

A decade after F1’s visit, the Sports Car Club of America’s Formula 5000 series held a race at Sebring and British Touring Car Championship race-winner David Hobbs took victory. The race ran again in 1970, and rising IndyCar star Mark Donohue won.

Indy Nxt testing at Sebring, 2014 [Photo: IMS]

Although IndyCar’s primary support series Indy Nxt has also never raced at Sebring, its former counterpart Atlantics did. The series, which still runs now but at a far lower profile since being revived in 2012, for several years split its calendar into Western and Eastern divisions, and Sebring held the 1988 Eastern finale with H-Promotions’ Scott Harrington taking the win.

It wasn’t until 2009 that Atlantics visited again, with the season opener supporting the Sebring 12 Hours, then a winter exhibition race was held in 2016 featuring six drivers. However only two of those were actually in Formula Atlantic cars, with Ryan Norman winning the 16-lap encounter by a lap over the Formula Ford-driving David D’Addario who as a result claimed a non-championship F2000 Championship Series win. There was also a supporting non-championship F1600 race.

USF Pro 2000 is the series below Indy Nxt on IndyCar’s support bill, and has a far more expansive history of racing at Sebring. It is now the top level of the ‘USF Pro Championships’ managed by Andersen Promotions, now Indy Nxt is being run by IndyCar, and last weekend it and its feeder series all headed to Sebring.

It was the 12th time the national championship has visited Sebring since first going there in 1999, with USFP2000’s regional Eastern series have also raced there in 2004 and ’05.

The timeline stretches even further back for USF2000, the rung directly below USFP2000 on IndyCar’s support bill and which started life as the United States’ FFord 2000 championship. Having been created in 1990 as a primarily West Coast-based series, in 1992 an Eastern series was launched to run alongside it and the inaugural season ended at Sebring.

USF2000 did not return there again until 1999, with the series now a national championship, and future IndyCar champion Dan Wheldon capped off a title-winning campaign by winning both races.

Sebring was a calendar mainstay from to 2001 to ’04, then again from 2011 to ’13 when it also held the opening round of the USF2000 Winterfest in each of those years.

Photo: Florida Winter Series

In USF2000’s absence came the Ferrari Driver Academy in 2014, as the Formula 1 team’s young driver development programme brought 12 Formula Abarth cars to Florida and organised a four-round series in the state.

There wasn’t a single American driver that raced in the imaginatively named Florida Winter Series, but the grid featured FIA European Formula 3 champion Raffaele Marciello, Formula Renault Alps champion Antonio Fuoco and karting graduate Lance Stroll, who were all Ferrari juniors, and a certain single-seater debutant called Max Verstappen.

In his first ever car race, Verstappen charged from third into the lead in wet conditions and only conceded the lead late on under pressure to finish fourth with fastest lap. That put him ahead of Marciello and Euroformula champion Ed Jones. Verstappen retired from race two after crashing into Autosport journalist and FFord part-timer Ben Anderson, but claimed pole for race three which he finished in eighth.

There was then a scarcity of single-seater racing action at the track, barring Atlantics’ underwhelming exhibition race, until the new Formula Regional Americas championship and the supporting United States Formula 4 raced there in 2019. Unlike most junior series that visit the track, they were not supporting a major sportscar event and the series had instead organised their own event. They did the same in 2020, with a September date meaning it was unimpacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

After a wait of two-and-a-half years to see national-level junior series at Sebring again, the entry-level YACademy Winter Series being the highest profile series to visit during that period, fans were spoiled last weekend as for the first time ever there were three single-seater series in action on the same bill, with USF Juniors being the third part of that triumvirate.

The track proved to be a set-up challenge for all three series, which use very similar cars, with choosing downforce levels a tricky aerodynamic task due to the long straights (including the airfield runway) on the lap but also a need for cornering grip on a surface where mechanical downforce is limited.

Rubber laid down from the previous week’s IMSA and WEC action did make laptimes faster than they otherwise would have been, but low grip was still a big influence on the races and particularly when drivers brought dust onto the track after running wide at turn one.

Incidents at that corner contributed to caution periods and red flags, but the racing between that was exciting and showed that single-seaters can put on as much of a show as sportscars at one of the most important circuits in American motorsport.

Sebring’s junior single-seater winners
Year Series Winner
1988 Atlantics Scott Harrington (H-Promotions)
1992 USF2000 East Chris Simmons (Sotare Racing)
1999 USFP2000 Joey Hand (Stacy Suspension Systems)
1999 USF2000 R1 & R2: Dan Wheldon (Jayhard/Primus Racing)
2001 USFP2000 Chad Block (Valley Motor Center)
2001 USF2000 R1 & R2: Mike Potekhen (P.D.R)
2002 USFP2000 Scott Speed (VMC)
2002 USF2000 R1 & R2: Bryan Sellers (Cape Motorsports)
2003 USFP2000 Michael McDowell (VMC)
2003 USF2000 R1 & R2: Westley Barber (Cape)
2004 USFP2000 East Doug Peterson (The Speed Connection)
2004 USFP2000 Dan Di Leo (Star Race Cars)
2004 USF2000 R1: Jason Bowles (JDC MotorSports), R2: Andrew Prendeville (Andersen Racing)
2005 USFP2000 East Jim Goughary
2005 USFP2000 Raphael Matos (Ocean Tomo Racing)
2006 USFP2000 Gerardo Bonilla (Andersen)
2007 USFP2000 Marco di Leo (Ross Smith Racing)
2008 USFP2000 Joel Miller (JDC)
2009 USFP2000 Adam Christodoulou (JDC)
2009 Atlantics John Edwards (Newman Wachs Racing)
2010 USFP2000 Tristan Vautier (Andersen)
2011 USF2000 Winter R1: Vinicius Perdigao (JDC), R2: Zach Veach (Andretti Autosport)
2011 USF2000 R1: Veach (Andretti), R2: Luke Ellery (JDC)
2012 USF2000 Winter R1 & R2: Spencer Pigot (Cape), R3: Brabham (Cape)
2012 USF2000 R1: Brabham (Cape), R2: Pigot (Cape)
2013 USF2000 Winter R1, R2 & R3: Neil Alberico (Cape)
2013 USF2000 R1: Scott Hargrove (Cape), R2: Alberico (Cape)
2014 FWS R1: Dennis van de Laar, R2: Tatiana Calderon, R3: Antonio Fuoco
2016 Atlantics Ryan Norman (K-Hill Motorsports)
2016 F1600 Calvin Ming (Team Pelfrey)
2019 FRegional Americas R1, R2 & R3: Benjamin Pedersen (Global Racing Group)
2019 US F4 R1: Jose Blanco-Chock (Crosslink/Kiwi Motorsport), R2: Christian Brooks (JHDD), R3: Joshua Car (Crosslink/Kiwi)
2020 FRegional Americas R1: David Malukas (HMD Motorsports), R2 & R3: Linus Lundqvist (GRG)
2020 US F4 R2, R2 & R3: Hunter Yeany (Velocity Racing Development)
2021 YAcademy WS R1: Mac Clark (Gonella Racing), R2: Nico Christodoulou (VRD), R3: Matt Christensen (JHDD)
2022 YAcademy WS R1 & R2: Nikita Johnson (VRD), R3: Noah Ping (VRD)
2023 YAcademy WS R1, R2 & R3: Jacob Douglas (Exclusive Autosport)
2023 USF Juniors R1: Quinn Armstrong (DEForce Racing), R2: Nicolas Giaffone (DEForce), R3: Joey Brienza (Exclusive)
2023 USFP2000 R1 & R2: Myles Rowe (Pabst Racing)
2023 USF2000 R1: Lochie Hughes (JHDD), R2: Simon Sikes (Pabst)