FIRST Motorsport Team Principal Adam Blocker was at Road Atlanta, one of the base operations for the Skip Barber Racing School, today to announce the partnership and had the following to say:
“On behalf of FIRST Motorsport, I am pleased to announce that we have agreed to an exciting partnership with the Skip Barber Racing School. This partnership will involve two aspects: cross promotion and an exciting project for helping young American drivers. In terms of cross promotion; the Skip Barber Racing School will be featured as a sponsor on our 2017 Formula Virtual car, while FIRST Robotics and Ford will sponsor different Skip Barber racing events and classes. This will include some driving classes at the Skip Barber academy featuring the 2017 Ford Mustang GT and the 2017 Ford Focus ST.”
Blocker went on to describe the plan to help develop young American drivers:
”The first part of our partnership with Skip Barber in regards to young American drivers is to announce an annual training camp. We will invite all American drivers involved in tier 2 and tier 3 series from 2016 and any American drivers that will enter a tier 3 series in 2017 to participate in two four-day training camps, with one taking place here at Road Atlanta and the other taking place over at Virginia International Raceway (VIR). FIRST race drivers Arden Hutchinson and Douglas Bacon will attend the camps to act as instructors alongside senior instructors from the Skip Barber Racing School. FIRST youth drivers Felix Perez and Stefan Klien, as well as 2017 test driver Oleksandr Zozulya, will also be present to participate alongside the young American drivers to try to develop their driving as well.”
According to Blocker’s explanation of the training camp, seven young drivers will be invited from 2016 in addition to any new tier 3 drivers for 2017. The seven young American drivers from 2016 that will be invited (based on the comment from Blocker) include: Brock Kidd (VWRS), Brittany Johnson (FV2), Ted Kamen (FV3), Patrick Walker (FV3), Sam Hudson (VARS), Mike Fredrickson Jr. (VARS), and Keith Miller (VARS).
One of FIRST Motorsport’s explicit goals upon its founding was to ‘help develop young American drivers into Formula Virtual stars’. Clearly, they have decided to do it in this way instead of signing Americans into their youth academy. Perhaps Team Principal Adam Blocker doesn’t feel that the US has any driver that is good enough for FIRST’s youth academy and has instead decided to try to improve the crop of drivers through this training camp system. Or perhaps this move is a statement by FIRST and Blocker to show their commitment to young Americans while saying that the current crop isn’t quite good enough.
FIRST has signed three youth drivers so far: Ukrainian Oleksandr Zozulya (promoted to test driver for 2017), Mexican Felix Perez, and Austrian Stefan Klien, none of which have been American. This is evidence that FIRST want to be and are actively involved in looking for and trying to develop young talent, but that no Americans have made the cut yet. This is despite one of the drivers who is eligible for their camps, Brock Kidd, having finished as a narrow runner-up in the VWRS series in 2016. Brock Kidd did run as a FIRST Motorsport driver during the 2014-15 FV2 Winter Series, but clearly then-teammate Oleksandr Zozulya was preferred as Zozulya was later signed into FIRST’s youth academy when FIRST was granted entry into the Formula Virtual World Championship.