Junior Open Wheel Talent

News and Views on Drivers Chasing Open-Wheel Stardom

JOWT's Top Prospects

by Ryan Stringfield
Posted June 24, 2009 at 6:59 pm Top Prospects

Just over a year ago, I wrote a piece on JOWT’s Top Prospects. It’s a little dated now as you can probably tell if you out-clicked on the link.

Recently, I had a request from a reader to create an updated list, featuring my picks, of today’s top junior formula drivers. Let me just say, that it is an extremely difficult task to narrow a top prospects list down to only 10 drivers. Add to that, the fact that I cover 7 different North American junior formula series. With that in mind, I put together a list of my (current) top prospects—which features an emphasis on younger drivers in the lower junior formulas— with hopes of introducing readers to some drivers that they may not have heard of. I’ve also added a link to each driver’s official website, if they have one.

If I were choosing my top-ten prospects—- for a career in motorsports—- without looking at each individual series, my list would likely look much different. Please keep that in mind as you read through the following post.
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1. Alexander Rossi (International Formula Master)

The last time I did a top prospects post, Alexander Rossi held the top spot. It’s now a little over a year later and I still place him as my top junior formula prospect. Rossi really developed his craft over the last two seasons in the Formula BMW series and showcased his skills on a global level by winning the 2008 Formula BMW World Final. This season, 2009, he decided to move to Europe and run in the International Formula Master series. Just last weekend, he became the first American driver to win a IFM event.

2. Josef Newgarden (British Formula Ford)

Josef Newgarden has done an extremely nice job of promoting himself and chasing his dream. Last year, he won the Formula Ford Festival (Kent class) and finished 2nd in the Skip Barber National championship. He has, in my mind, taken all the right steps (to date) in pursuing his goal of becoming a Formula One driver. The 18-year-old Tennessee native is now living in England, where he has claimed victories in both the Formula Palmer Audi and British Formula Ford series.

3. Jonathan Summerton (Indy Lights, Atlantic Championship)

Summerton was also on my previous list. At the time, I had him ranked 8th. Since that time he has continued to develop as a driver and has added a tremendous amount of experience. This season alone, he has been running in the Indy Lights series and the Atlantic Championship—developing both his oval and road course skills. I fully expect to see Summerton take that next step…whatever it might be.

4. John Edwards (Atlantic Championship)

Anyone that follows junior formula racing knows the name John Michael Edwards. Edwards has a ton of experience on both sides of the pond. After becoming the youngest open wheel race winner in 2004, he moved to Europe as part of the Red Bull Driver Search program. While in Europe, he continued his development in karts and Formula Renault 2.0 cars. Since that time, he has come back to the United States and run in the Atlantic Championship and Star Mazda series. After moving back to the U.S., he ran one season in Atlantics before deciding to take a step backwards (so to speak) and run Star Mazda. His hope was to win the Star Mazda championship and earn a fully funded Atlantic ride (courtesy of the MazdaSPEED Development Program) for 2009— which he did. He is currently in third place in the 2009 Atlantic Championship.

5. Anders Krohn (Star Mazda)

Anders Krohn is a driver that certainly deserves a lot of press. He came to the United States from Norway as a relatively unknown commodity. He decided to run the 2008 F2000 Championship with Andersen Racing and he absolutely dominated the series with 9 wins in 14 starts. This year he has been working with a new Star Mazda team, Mundill Racing, and has just recently scored their first Star Mazda win in his first oval race at Milwaukee.

5. Conor Daly (Star Mazda)

Conor Daly has been very impressive in everything he has driven. Last season alone, he won the Skip Barber National championship and became the first American to win the Walter Hayes Trophy at Silverstone (not to mention the fact that he did it on a wet track). This year in Star Mazda… his results have been up-and-down. That said, you can really see improvement from race-to-race. He recently won his first Star Mazda race at New Jersey Motorsports Park and with that one in the books, I fully expect to see many more.

6. Peter Dempsey (Star Mazda)

Peter Dempsey is one of the brightest young stars out there. The Irishman has been incredibly quick over the last two season in Star Mazda competition. A contender every time he steps into a car, Dempsey has finished inside the top-ten in 83.3 % of his Star Mazda starts since the beginning of 2008. He has won the prestigious Walter Hayes Trophy twice, which by itself is fairly impressive. The only limitation to his success is money. If he can find the funding to continue developing his career… watch for a bright future.

7. Gary Carlton (Karting)

Gary Carlton has been a dominant force in the North American shifter kart scene for a number of years now. Just recently he has begun to sample some different race cars. Last winter he tested a Ford Focus Midget and a Star Mazda car. Last week, the California native tested an Indy Lights car at Putnam Park with Michael Crawford and HVM Racing. If Carlton puts his focus towards a career in cars ….he will likely move up this list very quickly.

8. Chris Miller (F2000 Championship)

Chris Miller was put on my previous list as a driver to watch. And since that time, I’ve been keeping a close eye on his progress. He has taken his time developing his race craft in both karts and the F2000 Championship. If I had to give him a nickname it would probably be Mr. Podium. The 20-year-old University of Minnesota student has finished on the podium in all but one race this season in the F2000 Championship. He plans to run Star Mazda next year.

9. Giancarlo Vilarinho (Formula BMW-Americas)

Giancarlo Vilarinho of Brazil has done an excellent job in the Formula BMW- Americas series this year. He developed as a driver last year and the results are beginning to show. The 17-year-old race driver has won 5 straight Formula BMW-Americas races and finished on the podium in all but one race for 2009. He would likely be higher on the list if the series had a larger entry list. It will be interesting to see which path he chooses for 2010.

10. Connor De Phillippi (Skip Barber National)

Connor has been the driver to beat thus far into the 2009 Skip Barber National championship. He swept the opening rounds at Sebring, set the fastest lap of the race at VIR in Round 3, and most recently swept both rounds at New Jersey Motorsports Park. He also earned the hard charger of the race on Saturday at NJMP, coming from 6th to 1st. He has done an excellent job this season and will likely make a step up the ladder in 2010.
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