Top-Quality USF2000 Field Heads to Indianapolis
 May 26, 2011| 
  • Series News

The hotly contested Cooper Tires Presents the USF2000 National Championship Powered by Mazda returns to action after a two-month hiatus on Saturday, May 28, as part of the traditional "Night Before the 500" extravaganza at Lucas Oil Raceway in Clermont, Ind.


The busy evening will serve as a precursor to the following day’s Centennial Indianapolis 500 a few miles down the road at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and also will include races for Star Mazda, the next step on the Mazda Road to Indy after USF2000, and USAC Midgets.


After the first four rounds of the season were held on a permanent road course at Sebring International Raceway, Fla., and a temporary street circuit in St. Petersburg, Fla., this weekend’s 75-lap race will give the USF2000 competitors an opportunity to compete on an oval – some of them for the very first time.


"I’m really looking forward to the ‘Night Before the 500’," said championship points leader Petri Suvanto. "My team, Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, won this race last year with Patrick McKenna so I know they will give me a good car."


The 18-year-old former karting star from Nurmo, Finland, has finished on the podium in every race so far this season and unofficially posted the fastest time in his very first visit to an oval for a series test at Lucas Oil Raceway on May 7 – an impressive outing where competitors turned over 2500+ laps with only one incident.


"The conditions were quite tricky because it was raining on and off and it was windy but I was happy," said Suvanto. "Obviously, ovals are a big part of racing in America, so it was a relief that I was able to feel comfortable and get used to the whole thing quite quickly. It took me only one or two sessions to get up to speed. We had lots of cars on the track during the test so I had some good experience of overtaking and getting around the traffic. I’m not too worried; I’m actually quite confident about it."


Among his rivals next weekend will be teammate Shannon McIntosh. The 21-year-old who hails originally from Miamisburg, Ohio, has competed on ovals for more than 15 years before setting her sights on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system and enrolling in the multi-discipline USF2000 series this year.


"I’m really looking forward to getting back on an oval," said McIntosh. "I know that an oval in the USF2000 car is going to be a new experience, with the downforce and ability to carry more speed through the corner, and I’m excited to continue to learn and progress. Knowing that Cape Motorsports took the win at ‘The Night Before the 500' last year gives me confidence that we’ll have a great program for Lucas Oil Raceway."


While Suvanto leads the point standings, he does so by a scant two-point margin over 17-year-old Spencer Pigot, who also has finished on the podium at each of the first four races in the No. 8 MAZDASPEED/Skip Barber entry. Pigot’s Andretti Autosport teammate Zach Veach, 16, from Stockdale, Ohio , who drives the No. 7 Team Zakosi Data Backup Van Diemen, also has high hopes after winning the opening race of the season at Sebring and finishing an impressive fourth in last year’s "Night Before the 500" feature.


"I’ve really been more of an oval guy than a road course guy," says Veach, who added a fifth-place finish on the Iowa Speedway oval during his rookie campaign in 2010. "It’s going to be a fun race; we’ve got a lot of good drivers and really close times."


Other front-runners will include Sebring race winner Luke Ellery (No. 85 Melbourne IT/ Line Oil Van Diemen); JDC MotorSports teammate Juan Piedrahita, from Mexico City, in the No. 19 Petrosur/GFK Motors/Montopharma/Colombia es pasion/Red Line Oil entry; former British Formula Ford Champion Wayne Boyd (No. 4 DHL/Belardi Auto Racing Van Diemen); and young Chicagoan Timmy Megenbier (No. 17 Sick Tea/Rahal Foods/Caputo/Wiscin Corp Van Diemen).


The USF2000 cars will take to the 0.686-mile oval for official practice on Friday evening, May 27, then return for a full day of activity on Saturday. The gates will open to the public at 1:30 pm, with F2000 qualifying set for 3:30 pm. The 75-lap race will start at 7:15 pm and will be followed by the Star Mazda and USAC Midget features.

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