Following the lead of the successful Teen Mazda Challenge program, NASA Rocky Mountain has been working with a group of local drivers to develop an open-wheel series for those looking to make a jump from karting to open-wheel road racing. 2014 was a beta test season for five teens in Colorado, where they were able to run in their own HPDE sessions to gain experience and learn the ins and outs of tuning the cars. The 2015 season will be the premiere of actual wheel-to-wheel racing for the class.
The class, Formula First (FST), has shown growth across the United States in a few sanctioning bodies. FST is based on the Formula Vee, but features upgrades such as wider tires, four-corner disc brakes, rack-and-pinion steering and a slightly more powerful 1,600 cc engine. The availability of existing Vee chassis made the class the best option for getting on track in a purpose-built, open-wheel racecar.
“We are finding the cost to get the cars on track are typically less than the price where we are able to sell our existing kart,” said Jay Jacobellis, father of 13—year-old racer Mario Jacobellis.
The target price to put a competitive car on the grid is in the $10,000 to $12,000 range and of the current cars built, they have been completed for less than that. To help expand the class, one of the competitors is offering turn-key cars and plans are progressing nicely for offering a kit package that almost anyone could construct in their garage.
While the class is aimed at teens and currently features teens in the 13- to 19-year-old range, there is no upper age restriction. Several drivers have aspirations of moving up in the formula racing world and NASA’s Formula Car Challenge, and feel that FST will provide value in driving a rear-engine, open-wheel momentum car. As with other teens driving with NASA, each racer is required to have several successful years of experience in karting and apply through NASA’s Sub-Minor program. NASA hopes to see several of these young racers in a future Indy 500.