Morning Coffee: Jake Craig – Mazda Road to Indy Shootout

Californian represents karting community with talent and class

Jake Craig (right) during a debrief session with last year's MRTI Shootout winner Oliver Askew (Photo: Mazda Motorsports)

“You absolutely couldn’t have sent us a better candidate. Jake was polished, a gentleman, and extremely fast. I really hope he gets a bit more seat time, because if he does and he wants to pursue racing as a full-time gig, there’s no doubt he’ll be successful.”

Craig waiting to hit the track (Photo: Mazda Motorsports)

This tremendous feedback was part of a text discussion that I enjoyed on Sunday evening with Mazda Motorsports Operations Manager Kyle Kimball, in regards to the performance of Jake Craig at the Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200,000 Scholarship Shootout in Phoenix.  When we were asked to nominate a North American kart racer as an At-Large selection to join the line-up of international junior formula car champions for the MRTI Shootout, Jake was immediately part of our short list.  Our deliberation was difficult, but after his performance at the Shootout this past weekend, making the final group of five before setting the fast lap in the mock race that capped the program, we know that we made the right choice.

Jake Craig is a tremendous natural talent, and he’s a quality young man as well. When we were making our decision on who to select from our short list of qualified drivers, we had to take into consideration that whoever we sent to the Shootout was going to be immediately behind the competition in terms of open wheel experience. The MRTI Shootout invited F1600, F2000, Formula Enterprises and Formula 4 champions from the United States, England, Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand and Australia, as well as both Team USA Scholarship drivers, all of whom would have significantly more experience than our karting selection. The competition level was insanely high.  We knew that we needed to select a karter with at least some car experience, but also someone who would rise to the challenge.  Jake did exactly that, narrowly missing out on the lucrative scholarship after making the final cut.

Words of advice from longtime Mazda driver Jonathan Bomarito (Photo: Mazda Motorsports)

I messaged Jake immediately after Kimball announced that talented Irishman Keith Donegan had won the Shootout, letting him know how proud we were of him. We wanted to pick a karter who could walk into the Shootout paddock filled with junior formula champions and steal away the opportunity by displaying talent, maturity, poise and humility. Jake came within a whisker of making that come true, and he earned the respect of many along the way.

Jake didn’t win the scholarship, but what he did do was put his name on the international stage. He thoroughly impressed the Mazda brass, the media on-site and the team owners who made the trek to Phoenix. Jake was stellar in the car, as expected, but he was also excellent outside the cockpit in his interaction with the judges, the media and the program organizers.

The five finalists for the 2017 MRTI Shootout

I’ve also been told, off the record, that Jake handled the disappointment of the final announcement better than anyone. To be that close to a dream, and then to have it slip past you, can be extremely difficult, emotionally, but I’ve always said that you can tell more about a person by the way they handle disappointment than how they handle victory. In the hours that have passed since Sunday, Jake has dropped the hammer in the continued chase to fulfil his dreams. His goal for 2018 remains the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, and he’s already back at work to secure the necessary funding to make sure he’s on the grid in St. Petersburg in March.

Sadly, Jake Craig did not win the MRTI Shootout, but he made his mark, turned a lot of heads, made some very influential fans and learned a great deal. The Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires should be prepared…Jake Craig is coming.

Jake, congratulations on your inspiring performance. We knew that you would represent EKN well and that you’d make us proud.

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