The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda concluded its now annual first week of May road trip this past weekend, offering its drivers a series of test sessions at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Lucas Oil Raceway and classroom instruction on oval racing in preparation for the 10 remaining rounds of competition on the 2012 schedule which include one oval, one street circuit and three permanent road course events.
The outing began with a pair of exclusive USF2000 test days on the 2.258-mile, 13-turn Mid-Ohio permanent road course. Twenty-four competitors took advantage of the 15 hours of track time to prime for the series’ return on August 4/5 for Rounds 6 and 7 of the championship.
Points leader Spencer Pigot of Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing (#2 Team Pelfrey/Doug Mockett & Company/E-merging Technologies/Parathyroid.com/California Scents) led the way with a fastest lap of 1:21.929 – besting last year’s pole time set by 2011 champion Petri Suvanto by 0.064 seconds. Teammate Matthew Brabham (#83 DTE Group) was second, just two-tenths of a second off the pace, followed by Andretti Autosport’s Shelby Blackstock (#8 Starstruck) who was a half-second in arrears.
In the National Class, RC Enerson of ZSports Midwest with Team E Racing (#10 Patriot Bank/Team E) paced all four sessions, ending with a best lap of 1:24.347. Henrik Furuseth of Cape Motorsports (#32 Palfinger/Akrene Mek Verksted) and JAY Motorsports’ Jim Libecco (#98 Akron Skin Center/www.akronskin.com) battled back and forth for second spot on the chart with Furuseth eventually emerging second overall and Libecco third.
On Friday, it was a short drive to Indianapolis for the Mazda Road to Indy Oval Clinic in preparation for Saturday’s test at the 0.686-mile Lucas Oil Raceway oval, where many drivers were looking forward to taking their first-ever laps on an oval. Hosted by INDYCAR’s Director of Grassroots Initiatives Jason Penix and led by multiple driving champion and USF2000 driving coach Gerardo Bonilla, the panel of experts sharing their knowledge included Beaux Barfield, Ed Carpenter, Steve Knapp, Bobby Rahal and Johnny Unser.
"The Mazda Road to Indy Oval Clinic is a very important part of what we offer drivers in the program,” said Penix. “We had a great turnout of drivers and they were able to learn so much from our expert panel and instructor. In talking with a few drivers during Saturday's test at Lucas Oil Raceway, it was amazing to hear just how much they could apply from what they learned the day before at the oval clinic."
The clinic proved its worth as only one minor incident occurred during five total hours of track time. A field of 21 Championship Class cars, which is the only class eligible to compete in a USF2000 oval event, took to the track with Brabham ending the day at the top of the time charts with a best lap of 21.824 seconds. Making his Championship Class debut, regular National Class contender Enerson,15, claimed the second spot on the speed chart missing Brabham’s mark by only 0.086 seconds. Roman Lagudi of Belardi Auto Racing (#4 Champion Stone/Tool and Supply/High Performance Distributors) – the pace setter in the first three-hour session – was third ahead of teammate and 2011 National Class champion Luca Forgeois (#9 Gearup/Splashlight/Café Noir) who mounted a noteworthy drive to fourth on the charts. The top 18 cars were separated by a mere seven-tenths of a second.
“The last few days have been really beneficial,” said Pigot. “With the testing at Mid-Ohio and Lucas Oil Raceway along with the Oval Clinic I think we have improved as a team. The testing went very well, and we found some things that will make the car stronger. The Oval Clinic was great as well. It's always interesting to see what the drivers that have made it to the top and have achieved what we are all shooting for have to say. I took some good things away from the clinic and it definitely helped a lot at the test.”
The next round of USF2000 competition will take place on May 26 with the popular “Night Before the 500” at Lucas Oil Raceway following additional Mazda Road to Indy Summit activities surrounding the Indianapolis 500. Fans can follow USF2000 on the new Mazda Motorsports Hour on Velocity each week. A schedule can be found at www.usf2000.com.