Mazda Road to Indy

Money: The Ultimate Fuel for Race Cars Part IV

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Usually in this series we interview one driver from each of the three competing series on the Mazda Road to Indy. However, given recent events, this column would be better served talking about JAY Motorsports in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and one of their drivers, Luke Gabin.

Team owner Jay Green made a passionate plea for sponsorship on his personal Facebook page, explaining his team’s situation heading into the Toronto race weekend coming up July 15-17.

“Basically we started this season on a race-by-race deal, it was understood from the beginning but I also knew the talent that this young man (Gabin) had and I felt like that if he could display that talent that we would be able to find the additional funding and so far it’s worked up until this point and we’re kind of at a standstill heading into Toronto where we’re trying to find funding to do that event,” Green told POPULAR OPEN WHEEL.

Gabin currently sits fifth in points, a massive accomplishment given the funding situation that sits at the back of Gabin’s mind every time he climbs behind the wheel. For many drivers, that would affect how they drive the car, but not as much for Gabin as he told POPULAR OPEN WHEEL.

“It’s been like that sort of the whole season, which has been pretty interesting,” Gabin explained. “I have been trying so badly to just put it out of my mind and just drive as hard as I can, because I’ve seen that affect so many people and it’s so hard to do.

“It affects me a lot of the time for making sort of low-percentage moves and things like that that could potentially get me into second from third but sometimes you’ve just got to take a step back, but I feel like I’ve been pretty good at doing that this year,” Gabin noted.

The question is, how much of a tightrope is the team walking? Well, Green was up front with how tight deadlines have been.

“There’s been times where we hadn’t even paid for entry fees or tires until an hour before the [first] session starts so it’s been a bit nerve-wracking but then again, I know the talent that [Gabin] has, and I was willing to put myself in that position just because I needed my cars to be at the front of the field and I wanted to help Luke,” Green explained.

It should be noted that JAY Motorsports has one car fully funded with Cameron Das, but just because one car is funded doesn’t mean that another can be funded so easily.

Road America was a prime example of that. The team was under budget a bit at Road America and Gabin’s parents were at the end of their financial rope, as was Green, leading Green to make his post on Facebook.

“A lot of people have been helping us out by sharing [the post], I’ve had a few phone calls for a little bit of interest from friends that might be able to help but either way, I think it’s going to be slow, it’s going to be last minute as well,” Gabin said.

“Everyone’s been sharing the post and getting the word out there. We had the article from Steve as well from TSO which was really cool and this is the way I want it to be, I want to get the word out there and show that I’m struggling and that I don’t have a rich dad that can push me through.”

Not having a rich family can hurt, of course. Fellow Australian USF2000 driver Jordan Lloyd gets his money from being a painter, doing houses and commercial jobs while trying to supplement the money he earned for winning the 2015 Australian F4 championship.

For Gabin, his parents work regular 9-to-5 jobs with his mother a programmer and his father an electrician. Money has been tight enough that Gabin’s parents haven’t even seen him race this season, nor have they met Green since they live in Australia.

Despite not being from major means, Gabin’s parents did figure out a way to keep their son on track earlier in the year, but they weren’t the only ones helping out the team.

“A majority of the events have been funded by Luke’s parents, they’ve found money in Australia, they’ve done anything they can do to find the funding to run the car,” Green said

“Then at the Indy events, I had a gentleman that I work with every year when we go there and I helped him get tickets for the Indianapolis 500 and for the Road to Indy races. I told him about Luke and where we were and he stepped up and gave us $6,000 for the Indy road course event, which helped tremendously,” Green said. “That was more of a personal deal; quite frankly, finding sponsors has been the hardest part, finding people that are willing to step up and help him out, whether it be his family, or family friends or business associates, we haven’t really had a title type sponsor on the car.”

Looking ahead to Toronto, Gabin was up front with how much money is still needed to get his entry to Canada.

“It’s around $15,000. We tightened the full budget to $20,000 and we have $5,000, so we’re looking at around $15,000 needed to make it to and finish Toronto. Mid-Ohio’s another story right now but yeah, to make it through Toronto is about $15,000.”

Of course, all of that money is allocated to running costs for the car with tires, fuel, entry fees and such, but it’s also going toward mechanics, getting rental cars, hotels and things like that. Green detailed what entry fees and all can run for a USF2000 team.

“Entry fees are right around $2,500 for a race weekend, it fluctuates between whether it’s a single-, double- or triple-race weekend, and if it’s event with a promoter’s test day, that’s another $500 to $1,600 depending on what track we’re running at.”

“As for tires, it depends on the event. A street course event like St. Petersburg or Toronto we’re typically allowed to run three sets of tires because there’s not a promoter’s test day, [but] an event like Mid-Ohio coming up at the end of this month, we’ll use at least six sets of tires there, preferably a couple of sets on the promoter’s test day and four sets for the practices and races,” Green said.

Mid-Ohio has many more tires used because it’s a three-race weekend, while every race weekend this year has been a two-race weekend except for at the oval at Lucas Oil Raceway.

“Every event varies a little bit from a tire budget, when we do our budget at the beginning of the year we offset certain weekends where we use more tires with other weekends where we don’t and Luke’s been a little bit different on the race by race deal,” Green noted.

A set of Cooper Tires costs about $1,100 for a USF2000 team, provided that they pay in time for the early bird discount. By not being able to do that, Green has had to put up an additional $100-$150 per set because the funding was not in place.

Moving ahead to next year, the USF2000 championship will move to a new car made by Tatuus and Green is uncertain about whether he will be moving forward with the new car.

“I have not made a decision yet. It’s all financially driven, 100 percent. I have to weigh my options and make sure I can justify the investment before I can pull the trigger and move forward with that.”

Ideally, JAY Motorsports would be on the grid in 2017 with two cars, but money is the determining factor. It all boils down to the first question at the start of this article series.

Speed costs money, how fast do you want to go?

LUKE’S GoFundMe CAMPAIGN: https://www.gofundme.com/lukegabinracing

EMAIL CHRISTOPHER AT christopherdeharde@gmail.com


The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularOpenWheel.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

Christopher DeHarde is a native of Luling, Louisiana and has contributed to Motorsport.com, Motorsports Tribune, The New Orleans Advocate and Race22.com. He’s a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in Mass Communication and has been writing about motorsports since 2014. Primarily covering the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Mazda Road to Indy, DeHarde has also covered the FIA World Endurance Championship, Pirelli World Challenge and NASCAR.

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