Exclusive Autosport began 2020 poised for a landmark season.
With a lineup of drivers that included two Road to Indy scholarship winners and squads on all three levels of the ladder system, as well as a feeder team in Canadian junior formula racing, all signs pointed toward a breakout season that would eventually lead to the team’s ultimate goal: the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
The Canadian-based squad entered the year as the only team on the Road to Indy with cars on all three levels, graduating up the ladder to join the Indy Lights series this season with American-based Russian Nikita Lastochkin while continuing to field drivers in the entry-level Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship and the second rung of the ladder, the Indy Pro 2000 Championship.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic, the team has seen its racing plans turned upside down. First, INDYCAR and Andersen Promotions management made the difficult decision to put Indy Lights on hiatus in 2020. Lastochkin continues to focus on driving his simulator, fitness and work at the Porsche Experience Center in Los Angeles, while the team makes plans to recommence their Indy Lights testing schedule later in the year.
Thus, Exclusive Autosport began the season with a pared-down effort, focusing on its core plans: three drivers in USF2000 (karting sensations Christian Brooks and Josh Pierson, and 2019 Lucas Oil Formula Car Race Series champion Prescott Campbell) and Indy Pro 2000 (with 2019 USF2000 champion Braden Eves). Then, at the last month’s race weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Eves was involved in a serious incident that left him sidelined for the remainder of the season with a compression fracture of his spine – thus adding to the expanding list of unknowns in 2020.
For team owner Michael Duncalfe, it’s been a season of adjustments, managing the constantly changing landscape.
“In motorsports, you need to have thick skin and be able to adapt and keep going, no matter what,” said Duncalfe, who will field USF2000 cars for Brooks, Pierson and Campbell in this weekend’s tripleheader at New Jersey Motorsports Park. “That’s what has allowed us to grow. This is our eighth season and we’ve grown from having one F1600 team to having four different levels. Being diversified really helps; if we only had one program and that went away, that would have been difficult. It speaks to how healthy our program is that we can lose 75 percent of our program and still be going strong.
“What happened at Indy was a very tough day, very emotional, but we’re focusing on the positives. Braden is OK, he’s healing, and he’ll make a full recovery. We believe we were a championship contender, but now we’ll look to the 2021 season and getting him back in the car. He was with us at Mid-Ohio, which was great – all the USF2000 drivers look up to him and he’s always willing to offer feedback and encouragement. That will help going forward, as we’re already working on 2021. There has been a great deal of interest in the Indy Pro 2000 program and we are talking to drivers about a testing program and the season finale at St. Pete with an eye toward next season.”
With all the unknowns 2020 has thrown at the team, the one constant has been the name on the side of the cars, that of foreign exchange and global payments giant Cambridge Global Payments. The relationship that Duncalfe and the team has with Cambridge is more than just that of a sponsor: they are a partner in the team’s day-to-day function.
“Being the only Canadian team on the Road to Indy presents certain challenges that other teams don’t deal with,” said Duncalfe, “such as working daily with foreign currency. Cambridge offers personalized service that is catered to our business needs which allows EA to mitigate foreign exchange risk and streamline our financial transactions to and from our vendors, suppliers and customers – this allows us to focus more of our efforts on our clients and on growing our program. They really are a true partner of Exclusive Autosport.
“For example, we work with XtremeTM (the official Cooper Tire sales division and at-track service provider) and sending payments via wire was always difficult in terms of time spent and expense. Now we can do ACH payments, which is standard for the American financial system but is not typically available to Canadian companies. That saves us time and money. Also, we have drivers from all over the world on the EA team, and Cambridge helps them exchange currency and manage their funds.”
Cambridge (who is owned by Fleetcor – a Fortune 1000 firm) has been in business for almost 30 years, servicing companies around the globe. Sports, is an area that is very familiar to Cambridge, as they are the official and exclusive international payments provider of the World Tennis Association and have fulfilled prize money and corporate foreign exchange services for the WTA and its members since 2017.
At its core, Exclusive Autosport is a family-based team, run by Duncalfe and his wife Kimberly. Their aspirations have been realized over the past few years, growing the team from an F1600 squad to all three levels of the Road to Indy. Does the future hold a jump up to that final rung of the Road to Indy ladder, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, one day? Duncalfe hopes so.
“As we’ve been growing, we’ve added key people to the program and that’s how we manage everything. My wife Kimberly quarterbacks the logistics for the whole program. So, though this year has thrown more variables at us than anyone could have imagined, we’re able to keep everything going.
“We’ve taken on a lot, adding Indy Lights, but the NTT INDYCAR SERIES is still the goal. We can definitely see us treading lightly into the INDYCAR pool, beginning with the month of May – the GMR Grand Prix and the Indy 500. That would be great for our team and our partners, to see what we can do at that level and see what’s involved.”