Franzoni wheels to a third-place finish in Race 2 at Barber
LEEDS, ALA. – This past weekend (April 25-26) marked the third and fourth rounds of competition for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda. The second weekend of the 2014 season took teams back to the East Coast, as the series visited the impressive Barber Motorsports Park. Located in Birmingham, Ala. The 2.3-mile long circuit looks suitable to challenge pro golfers with its beautiful landscape, but in fact it was the young drivers of the Mazda Road to Indy program who were challenged this weekend. Race-winning team Afterburner Autosport made the trip from their Minnesota shop to run their three drivers at Barber. Brazilian Victor Franzoni led the team’s effort with a third podium finish in Race 2, while the Netherlands’ Jeroen Slaghekke showed great speed all weekend and brought home a solid top-15 in the second event of the doubleheader. Gustavo Myasava continues to come to grips with the dynamics of the USF2000 racer car, and by the final race of the weekend was running times comparable to the leaders.
The USF2000 series had visited Barber Motorsports Park earlier in the year as part of the Cooper Tires Winterfest, but in keeping with the focus on providing the drivers with considerable track time, Afterburner took part in a series-sanctioned Promoters' Test Day on Thursday at Barber that allowed the drivers to once again familiarize themselves with the road course.
Coming off a win in St. Petersburg, Franzoni was looking for more success, but instead had to deal with some bad luck as he was plagued by what was initially deemed a non-issue. Franzoni looked very strong in the second test session of the day when he laid down the fifth fastest lap after logging only six laps, while most other drivers completed upwards of 15 laps. However, in Friday practice, Franzoni had an issue with a damaged oil line, which caused his powerplant to lose oil and pressure. The team was told that the engine would be fine, but Franzoni encountered more problems on the opening lap of qualifying and failed to record a lap. This relegated the likable Brazilian to the tail of the field for first race on Saturday morning, beginning a Saturday of recovery.
After sitting down and talking with Afterburner Autosport team principals, Franzoni had a strategy for the first race of the day. With the starting grid for the second race being determined by the fastest laps from the first race, Franzoni’s plan was to go out and run as quick of a lap as possible in the first race, while also trying to advance his position, but still keeping the car in one piece. A great start, and smooth driving, took Franzoni from dead last up to a 13th-place finish. Even more impressive than his quick climb up the leaderboard were his lap times. A 1:24.319 was the third quickest lap of the race, which would give him an inside row two starting spot for the second race. Race 2 was a great one for Franzoni. He spent most of the event battling in a three-car pack to secure a podium finish. Just past the halfway point of the race, while running in the fourth position, he capitalized on the fight immediately in front of him and slipped through to take second when contact ensued. As the second place driver slid wide due to contact, Franzoni was also able to get by for third. When the checkers flew, Franzoni had successfully salvaged what could have been a poor weekend, with a stellar trip to the podium in third place.
Dutch driver Slaghekke struggled with an issue that many drivers were plagued by at Barber, that being the extreme difficulty in overtaking. Thursday’s second test session allowed Slaghekke to run a lap good enough for 15th fastest on the timesheets. Practice on Friday afternoon went well as he cut two seconds from his best time. Putting his #18 Afterburner Autosport entry sixth on the board, Slaghekke prepared for qualifying. Despite slowing down a bit from practice, Slaghekke looked fantastic in qualifying as he ended Friday by earning a sixth place starting spot for Race One on Saturday. Slaghekke’s constantly-improving weekend looked good in the first race of the day. The 20-year-old driver had strong opening event, but would unfortunately have his result removed following a disqualification for a minor technical discrepancy with his left front wing angle. This would force him to start at the tail of the field for the second race of the day, where Slaghekke knifed his way forward to finish an incredibly impressive 12th, narrowly missing out on a top-10. Slaghekke proved on this weekend that he certainly has the pace to run at the front, as evidenced by his speed in qualifying and in the first race. Race Two showcased his racecraft and his ability to complete passes. Afterburner expects that he’ll contend for the podium alongside Franzoni in Indianapolis.
Afterburner Autosport's third team driver in Birmingham was Gustavo Myasava. Throughout the weekend, Myasava worked to improve his pace and by the end of the event, he was turning times very comparable to the leaders. Myasava qualified for the first race in the 16th position, but had off-track excursions in both events, which prevented him for recording results that truly reflected his overall race pace.
Next up for the Afterburner Autosport team will be a trip to Indianapolis where the team and its USF2000 drivers will take part in rounds five and six of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda at the Indianapolis Grand Prix Circuit inside the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 9/10.
About Afterburner Autosport:
Afterburner Autosport was formed in 2010 with the sole purpose of leading the way in Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda competition. Under the guidance of F2000 racer and engineer Tim Walsh and two-time SCCA Formula Continental National Champion Brian Tomasi and fellow, the team has over 20 years of experience in open-wheel competition. The Minnesota-based squad, having captured two podium finishes in its inaugural pro racing season in 2011, has continually developed and grown since it joined the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda. In 2013, Afterburner Autosport scored its inaugural series wins with rookie Alex Baron. The highly regarded team returns to the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy program in 2014 with a talented multi-car effort.