Young Mazda-powered racers earn Team USA Scholarship to compete in prestigious UK races.
After intense deliberations, Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda Rookie of the Year Aaron Telitz of Birchwood, Wis., and Skip Barber Summer Series standout Michai Stephens of Evanston, Ill., have been selected as winners of prestigious Team USA Scholarships for 2014. The pair will travel to England later this fall to carry the patriotic red, white and blue colors in the traditional Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch and Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone.
“It is a huge honor and achievement to be chosen as a winner of the Team USA Scholarship,” said Telitz. “Not only do I now have the opportunity to race in Europe, I get to do it representing the United States of America. If you look at the history of previous winners of the Team USA Scholarship, you’ll see there are some big shoes to fill. I look forward to the challenge and learning as much as I can during this awesome experience.”
Telitz won one race and scored five more podiums in the 2014 USF2000 Championship. Stephens was a standout from the Skip Barber Racing School Summer Series, second in the points with four rounds left. They follow in the footsteps of the likes of Jimmy Vasser, who secured the first Team USA Scholarship in 1990, Bryan Herta (1991), Buddy Rice (1997), Andy Lally (1999), A.J. Allmendinger (2001), Charlie Kimball (2003), J.R. Hildebrand (2005), Dane Cameron (2006), Josef Newgarden and Conor Daly (2008), Spencer Pigot (2010/2011), and Tristan Nunez and Matthew Brabham (2012).
“Being selected to represent the Team USA Scholarship in 2014 is mind-boggling to me,” said Stephens. “I will forever cherish this honor with the understanding that with great opportunity comes greater responsibility. I encourage everyone who has a vision to go out there and take it! My dream will be taking me as far away from my home as anyone in my family has ever gone. I look forward to taking full advantage of this opportunity and the many others that may lie ahead.”
Telitz and Stephens were chosen from a group of six candidates who took part in a shootout aboard Allen Berg Racing Schools FR1600 cars at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., on Sept. 8. The other finalists were Ben Auriemma, from Manhasset, N.Y., Tristan DeGrand, from St. Louis, Mo., Garth Rickards, from Mechanicsburg, Pa., and Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires points leader Kenton Koch, from Glendora, Calif.
“It was a difficult decision and there were many factors which needed to be taken into account,” said Team USA Scholarship President Jeremy Shaw, who founded the program in 1990. “All of the six candidates can be proud of their efforts; all of them have what it takes to forge a successful career in this sport. I want to thank my fellow judges for their considerable input and everyone within the North American racing industry who makes this program possible.”
The panel of judges included former Team USA Scholarship winners Neil Alberico and Brett Smrz; two-time Rolex Sports Car Series champion Alex Gurney; ex-F1 driver Allen Berg; David Cook, Business Development Manager, Mazda North American Operations; veteran IndyCar/Indy Lights team owner Jack McCormack; RACER Magazine founder Paul Pfanner; accomplished race engineer Geoff Fickling; and World Speed Motorsports team owner Telo Stewart.
“To be part of the judging process was an honor. Jeremy Shaw’s eye for talent is unmatched,” said Cook. “The six finalists selected were all very quick on the track and each brought considerable value or potential value off the track. When companies look at partnering with young talent, each of these young men should be considered. Each has the talent to race in the top echelons of auto racing. In this sport, however, it takes more than talent; it takes considerable work off the track too. I am very excited to see them progress in both areas and Mazda will help where it can.”
The Team USA Scholarship has been providing opportunities for talented young American race car drivers since 1990. It is supported by a range of companies and individuals, including Doug Mockett & Company, the Road Racing Drivers Club and www.SAFEisFAST.com, Cooper Tire & Rubber Company, Mazda, Team Penske, Basecamp.com, Chip Ganassi Racing, Honda Performance Development, Robertson Racing, Co-Force International, Race Hero, CXC Simulations, RaceCraft1, PitFit Training, Sparco USA, RACER Magazine, eFormulaCarNews.com, Speedstar Management, Styled Aesthetic, Manifest Group and numerous past Scholarship winners.