|Red Bull Driver Search - 2004 Review
|Be careful of what you dream . . You just might get it!
Report by Rhonda Mims-Brown
A once in a lifetime opportunity gets underway today in Sebring, Fla., where 25 drivers will get a shot in the Red Bull Driver Search Semi-final held through Sept. 2 at Sebring International Raceway. Impressively, 20 of the 25 drivers come from the karting ranks for the final stage of testing that will name six to 10 drivers who will move on to the finals held this October at the prestigious Estoril Circuit in Portugal.
The ultimate hope for many of these 25 drivers will be to earn one of up to four seats on the 2005 Red Bull Junior Team with a fully funded scholarship valued at around $500,000 each. There is also a possibility that kart winners will be selected at the Semi-final to win a full karting season supported by Red Bull. Due to age and race licensing restrictions, some winners can only participate in the Semi-final event and will not travel to the Final in Europe. The selection of these drivers is based on the discretion of program director, Danny Sullivan and the judging panel.
| Red Bull Drivers Search at F1 Boston|
(Photo courtesy-World at Sutton)
The three day event will appraise drivers in an intense program consisting of practice, testing and evaluation in Skip Barber Racing School’s RT2000 Formula Dodge cars. Headed up by Sullivan along with a panel of experienced judges, the talented 25 listed further down in this story consist of drivers who have progressed to the Semi-finals through two avenues, approach one and approach two. The approach one program was a two phase format that a began with open qualifying held at indoor karting centers across the U.S. in rental motorized karts, and then on to a series of Run-offs in Rotax RM1 karts with two-stroke engines. The second approach identified a select few who were hand picked from undercover scouts selected from both kart racing and other junior formulas who advanced directly to the Semi-final.
Modeled much after the 2003 program, this season has once again unfolded in a professional manner with the goal to advance a young U.S. driver into the ultimate arena of Formula 1. While some complaints have been circulating regarding fairness of kart set up and many agreed much of it was luck of the kart draw, the majority of drivers still felt the program did an excellent job working with what organizers had prescribed. Most all felt it was an enriching and rewarding experience.
2003 & 2004 Program Comparisons
● 2003 – Age Range: 16 through 19
● 2004 – Age Range: 13 through 17
● 2003 – 104 drivers (99 from karting) advanced to the Run-offs through the Approach 1 plan held at four locations through a one-day race at South Bend, Charlotte, Irwindale and Sonoma. They qualified through a series of heated elimination rounds spread at Indoor karting centers across the U.S. over a six week duration.
● 2004 – 222 drivers qualified for the Run-offs held at two locations (East Bridgewater, Ma., and Sonoma, Calif.) through a series of open qualifying over a three month duration at indoor karting centers. Of the 222, 39 were identified to be kart racers.
● 2003 – 35 total drivers made it to the Semi-final, 27 from Approach 1 and Wild Cards and 8 from Approach 2’s scouted arena. Twelve karters were identified from Approach 1 and 7 of the 8 scouted drivers were identified from karting.
● 2004 –25 drivers total made it to the Semi-final, 15 from Approach 1 and 10 from the Approach 2 scouted arena. 12 of the 15 who advanced from Approach 1 were identified from karting and 8 of the 10 scouted drivers from Approach 2 were identified from karting.
● 2003 – Six drivers were selected from the Semi-final and traveled to Portugal for the Final. All six had karting backgrounds and all six came from the scouted program.
● 2004 – Between six to 10 drivers will advance to Portugal for the Final, the exact number will be determined this week.
Driver Search Winners
● 2003 – Three drivers made the final cut – Dominic Claessens, Colin Fleming and Matt Jaskol who joined the existing junior team driver, Scott Speed. All four drivers have extensive karting backgrounds.
● 2004 – To be determined in Portugal – up to four spots will be selected for the Red Bull Junior Team.
The Semi-final Field
The Semi-final field is impressive on all levels. Drivers who have been topping the karting radar include:
- Alan Sciuto, Stars of Karting 2004 Western Division and SKUSA’s PMT Divisional Champion
- Joey King, two time champ in the WKA Manufacturer’s Cup series this season.
- Jonathan Summerton, who’s won three races in the Formula BMW USA series this season and comes straight out of a single season of Junior Rotax competition. This kid has shown raw talent and certainly one to keep an eye on.
- Cole Whitt, the 13 year-old phenom who’s stormed the country in junior competition and claims at least 8 National Championship titles across the U.S.
- Robbie Pecorari, fresh out of karting and now in formula cars, Pecorari has been touted as one of the brightest rising stars in karting. He’s been groomed for many years and has become a spectacular driver in both Stars and WKA competition.
- Cole Nelson, the affable California Kid of Invader family fame who cut his teeth on karting and has claimed several National titles.
- Lindsey King, one of the newest drivers to hit the west coast radar screen. King has six years of karting experience with numerous club wins and now winning in big classes on a tough regional series, IKF Region 7.
- Chase Stroschein from Minnesota, Although Stroschein has been racing karts since the age of 10, the 16 year-old pilot is only in his second year of shifter karts and doing quite well. It’s good to see the guys without big budgets to race the national scene get advancement as well. Keep your eye on this driver, he may just be the diamond in the rough they are seeking. Chase and his brother are part of the RBI Team out of Grand Junction, team mates to Alan Rudolph and A.J. Noud. Watch them as well this weekend in Rock Island.
This is only a few of the highly talented making records in karting with other top names including Dane Cameron, Jonathan Beason, Eddie Caballero, Casey Neal and more. There’s also a hot list of former karters making their way through the formula car ranks at present and include JR Hildebrand, Colin Braun, Wade Van Hooser, John Edwards and CR Crews, III.
Those who will most likely have an advantage at Sebring will be the drivers with seat time in formula cars. Red Bull; however, takes the experience level into consideration and looks for natural talent and calculates a driver’s experience level into the formula.
To view a list of the 2004 Advancement charts which include the drivers who have progressed to the Semi-finals through Approach 1 and 2 visit http://www.ekartingnews.com/news_info.php?n=3232
Listed below is a recap of the 2004 Driver Search program this season, why the Red Bull program is succeeding as well as the progression of the current Red Bull Junior Team drivers and what it’s been like for them.
● In a significantly expanded program over 2003, the season began with 222 drivers selected from 58 indoor karting facilities who participated in open qualifying between March 15 to June 13. While some have questioned the tie-in to indoor karting centers, the system has freely opened up the talent pool creating an environment of equal opportunity. It has also been cleverly marketed to enhance product sales to Indoor centers and recognition to the Red Bull brand as all good marketing programs should. The 222 drivers who qualified was a 133% increase over 2003 where 99 drivers made the cut.
● It was a whole new world for those unfamiliar to kart racing as a sport and several of the experienced cited that moving through the un-experienced drivers was extremely difficult and luck of the draw to secure the fastest karts played a major role in the progression process.
● Left in the dust of the run-offs were some top names in the sport including Darin Marcus, Kyle Wiegand, Timmy Megenbier, Race Johnson, Chris Jackson, Patrick Barrett, Tad Funakoshi and Tim Goettsch. While some of these drivers are still young and hold an opportunity to advance in future years, others are fighting the biological clock. In addition, there are numerous top name young drivers in karting who did not participate. There are still many young talents who either can’t fit the program into their schedule or simply enjoy where they’re at.
● The freedom of opportunity has its price and the majority recognized that while the system wasn’t perfect, preparing 40 RM-1 shifter karts with Rotax engines identically was an extremely difficult task but well done considering the task at hand. Another area of complaint that the experienced drivers didn’t quite grasp was why the first of two gears of the RM-1 was disconnected.
● Joel Miller, one driver on the original Run-off list who failed to make the cut, was given a second opportunity and added in through the scouted program while two drivers, Cole Whitt and Jonathan Branam were able to bypass the indoor qualifying and earned a shot at the Run-offs and successfully succeeded to the Semi-final. It appears that while some fall through the cracks, numerous efforts are made to ensure the Semi-final field is the best possible group.
● The door opening to the youngest of karters, still not able to run formula cars, for potential 2005 karting sponsorship from Red Bull is a positive step. With the early formations of sponsorship, Red Bull can further watch and get a head start in the training process to these young drivers.
● The bottom line is that the Red Bull Driver Search program widened the door for 47 kart racers from both Approach 1 and Approach 2 program. These guys and girls may never have had another opportunity. Of those 47 doors that were opened, a total of 20 karters of 25 total drivers advanced to the Semi-final. Drink up folks, Red Bull continues to do a great deal for the sport of karting in the U.S. on many levels.
Red Bull Driver Search Gets an A
All in all, the Red Bull program gets an A from many throughout the country who have had few opportunities of advancement. Since the early 90s, other scholarship programs have been offered and graciously welcomed such as the Skip Barber and Jim Russell programs and most recently the Formula BMW USA. The Red Bull Driver Search program just stands out.
Although other offerings are embraced, the Skip Barber program awarded $130,000 in ‘racing cash’ where one driver earned a fully funded season in the Formula Dodge National Championship (FDNC) and a few others earned 50% off entry fees for the season. The Russell program offered one free season in the SCCA Formula Russell Championship series valued at just under $20,000. The Formula BMW USA program offered six $40,000 scholarships in their series that is estimated to cost around $250,000 for a competitive season. All three programs branch out their search to the karting ranks through Stars of Karting and other national and regional programs but still leave drivers searching for additional sponsorships dollars that are extremely hard to find. Karting is a huge market and companies can’t help but reach out to karters for their own eventual profit.
The Program Delivers
| Red Bull Drivers Search at F1 Boston|
(Photo courtesy-World at Sutton)
In addition, many of these young lions aren’t developed enough to fully understand the differences or exactly what it takes to succeed. The Red Bull program has a grip and delivers because they work with drivers on many levels outside of the driver’s seat. They have an investment and are taking the steps to see it succeed.
There is little doubt that the Red Bull Junior Team fully supports their drivers who have been placed with top notch teams in a variety of series in European action and the Formula BMW. They work with the drivers in both mental and physical preparation and they provide them with the PR tools needed to showcase their talents. Just ask Scott Speed, who’s been in the program since 2003, Colin Fleming, Matt Jaskol or Dominic Claessens, the three drivers who earned a spot on the team this year. Each will tell you it’s been a rewarding experience and they are grateful. But with this once in a lifetime opportunity, they don’t live on Easy Street USA.
Be careful of what you dream for. . .you just might get it
It still requires a great deal of work, lifestyle adjustments and additional financial resources for living expenses. In addition, if a driver wants to continue their education, add in the expense, logistics and scheduling nightmare of continuing on. And, if the ultimate goal is met, there are contractual agreements to Red Bull that we understand to be extensive.
The 2004 Red Bull Driver Search Team
| Scott Speed, Formula Renault at Donington Park in England|
In the beginning of the year, Fleming was enduring an eight hour, six day work week in Austria with a grueling program designed only to build stamina. It makes the typical 45 minutes to one-hour routine seem insignificant. Add to this reality, the difficulties associated with living in a foreign country so different from the US; away from your friends, family and familiar surroundings that provide comfort. In the beginning, many didn’t know Fleming or Speed from squat – to the Europeans, they are just another driver trying to move up in the ranks.
Nearing the season’s end, both Fleming and Speed have achieved recognition as front-runners in the German Formula Renault DMSB Championship structured within the framework of the Eurocup Formula Renault 2000 Championship. Speed currently leads both series, as Fleming is second and sixth in the German and Euro Championship, respectively. As the youngest of the four Americans, Claessens, 18 is going through his trials and tribulations overseas as well. He has made a huge jump from karts but hanging in there and sits ninth and 13th in the German and Euro championships.
Positioned at home on American shores, Matt Jaskol has done well in the Formula BMW USA series. With one round of two races to go, Jaskol sits fourth in the championship point chase and has a mathematical chance for the championship. He has scored two wins (Indy and Montreal), three seconds and five top fives for a very consistent season so far.
For the guys in Europe, it’s a tough 17 race schedule in seven different countries in an aggressive arena. Jaskol won’t admit to it being easy here in the U.S., but likes his role Stateside and feels the recognition helps to single him out.
For more information regarding the Red Bull Driver Search visit http://www.redbulldriversearch.com
For more information on the Red Bull Junior Team and to follow the progress of all drivers visit http://www.redbull-juniorteam.com