Norwegian driver Ayla Agren has returned to the Cooper Tires USF2000 Series for a third year, hoping to contend for the championship after claiming 19 top 10 finishes in the series, which is a part of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system, over the past two seasons. The 23-year-old, who now lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, has good reason to be hopeful as she finds herself back in a Team Pelfrey driver’s seat for her 2017 campaign. Agren won the F1600 Championship driving for Pelfrey in 2014, capturing three wins and eight podium finishes in her title-winning season.
Ayla has been racing since the age of seven, starting in go-karts and competing successfully in World, European, Dutch, German, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian Championships. She also competed in WSK, one of the premier karting series in Europe. In 2012 Agren made the move to open-wheel racing, and competition in the United States, earning four podium finishes in the Skip Barber Summer Series. In 2013 she finished fourth in the F1600 Championship battle, then returned to that series the following year to win the title.
The USF2000 Championship, which is the first step on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system, is where Agren has raced for the past two seasons. She placed 10th in the championship standings in both years, with a best finish of 6th in 2015, then improving to a best finish of 4th in 2016. With her sights set on making it to the Verizon IndyCar series, Ayla is counting on rekindling the chemistry she had with Team Pelfrey in 2014 to help her reach the next rung on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder. Each year, the USF2000 series champion earns a scholarship package from Mazda to advance to the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, the next step on the ladder system.
Agren will have a solid Team Pelfrey teammate to turn for advice this season, with 2016 USF2000 Rookie of the Year Robert Megennis in a second florescent yellow car for the Indianapolis-based team. Megennis raced to a pair of podium finishes last year, then kicked off this year with a win in the season-opener on the Streets of St. Petersburg. Ayla did not have the start to the year she was hoping for in St. Pete, after a gearbox issue ended her first race early, resulting in a 21st place finish. Race two on the Florida street course saw Ayla start from the 10th position, but unfortunately in turn one on the first lap she made slight contact with another car while going far to the outside in order to avoid a multi-car incident on the inside, which resulted in her losing a few positions. She was able to battle her way back to a 12th place finish.
“Feels really good to have finally got the season going,” Agren stated after the race. “Always good to be back in St. Pete, practice started well with a P4 in the session. Unfortunately, I didn’t really show the maximum of what we had in qualifying, making it tougher than it needed to be for the races. R1 ended with a mechanical issue, but we got it sorted and started R2 in P10. Was involved in a little mix up in the start which put me back a couple of spots, and we ended at P12. Not what we were looking for as the season starter, but I know we have the speed to be fighting up front…”
The next events for the USF2000 Series will be on the 2.3-mile, 17-Turn Barber Motorsports Park road course on April 22nd-23rd. Ayla has shown strong results in her previous four races on the track, which requires a highly technical driving style to achieve competitive lap times. She raced to 9th and 10th place finishes in the two events at the track in 2015. In 2016, she came from the 6th and 4th starting positions in race one and two, respectively, to capture finishes of 8th and 6th. Those starting positions are her two top USF2000 career starting spots, and the 6th place finish marked her third career finish just outside the top five. Look for Ayla and her No. 82 Energima/Team Pelfrey Mazda team to be competitive at Barber, with her first podium finish in the series within reach.