USF Pro Championships’ Spring Training Wraps up at NOLA
 February 27, 2024| 
  • Series News
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AVONDALE, La. – Perfect weather conditions once again prevailed today at NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, La., as the USF Pro Championships Presented by Continental Tire open-wheel racing development ladder concluded its traditional two-day Spring Training test in advance of the new race season.

All three levels of the ladder were in action on the 2.74-mile, 13-turn road course and, coincidentally, the same three drivers who emerged fastest in their respective series on Monday remained at the top of the tree today. Thus, initial bragging rights prior to the start of the new season remained with Lochie Hughes, from Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, who was fastest in USF Pro 2000 for Turn 3 Motorsport; Pabst Racing’s Max Garcia (Pabst Racing), from Coconut Grove, Fla., in USF2000; and Liam McNeilly (Jay Howard Driver Development), from Brentwood, Essex, England in USF Juniors.

The only series in which times from yesterday remained unbeaten was USF Pro 2000. Several drivers, including Hughes himself, came quite close in the final session this evening, but the Australian’s benchmark time from yesterday of 1:31.1571, an average speed of 108.209 mph, was enough to keep him clear of the pack.

“Today we tried a few things with the car,” said Hughes. “We were quickest this morning and in that last run, I think we could have gone quicker again but we tried some things that didn’t work, so really just chipping away at it. It was a really good two-day test and with the Continentals, very excited for the season and to be part of Turn 3. It is always good to end a test quickest and it’s good for team morale and your own confidence. But at the end of the day, it is just testing and there are no trophies given out. We’ll wait and see when we get to St. Pete.”

Fellow rookie Nico Christodoulou, from Vaughan, Ont., Canada, also failed to improve from yesterday for VRD Racing, although his time, 1:31.2620, also remained faster than anyone else.

BN Racing’s Nicolas Baptiste, from Bogota, Colombia, posted the biggest gain of the day, jumping to third fastest overall when he topped the charts in the final session of the two-day test at 1:31.3207.

Ireland’s Adam Fitzgerald ended up with the fourth best overall time for Turn 3 Motorsport at 1:31.4567, while TJ Speed Motorsport’s David Morales, from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., turned the best time in today’s middle session, 1:31.6206, good enough for fifth overall.

In all, 18 of the 23 drivers turned laps within one second of Hughes’ best.

Four different drivers and four different teams took turns at the top of the USF2000 Presented by Continental Tire timing charts over the course of the five test sessions yesterday and today. All but one of the 18 drivers posted improvements today, and the majority turned their best times in the first session this morning.

For the second day running, Garcia emerged as top dog overall for defending champion team Pabst Racing with a time of 1:35.2634.

“Being on top overall for me and the team is a confidence booster as we head to St. Pete,” declared Garcia, from Coconut Grove, Fla. “We were able to find a few things today in the car and on the track that will help for when we come back to race. I think the track is super fun, with a lot of mid to high speed corners. Our team expectations have not changed, we expect to run at the front.”

VRD Racing’s Max Taylor, from Hoboken, N.J., was just a couple of tenths of a second adrift on 1:35.5020 with Joey Brienza (Exclusive Autosport), from Golden, Colo., third fastest overall at 1:35.6724, which he set while topping the charts in the second of three sessions today.

Brazilian Nicolas Giaffone, last year’s USF Juniors champion, was quickest in the final session this afternoon for DEForce Racing at 1:35.7137, narrowly edging out fellow rookie Michael Costello (Jay Howard Driver Development), from Naples, Fla., on 1:35.7256 and teammate Evagoras Papasavvas, from Loveland, Ohio, who had been fastest of all in the first session yesterday but turned his best lap of the two-day test this morning at 1:35.7283.

McNeilly again showed himself as the man to beat in USF Juniors Presented by Continental Tire. The young Englishman was fastest in both of the first two sessions today, including posting the fastest time of the two-day test, 1:39.0214, immediately prior to the lunch break.

“You couldn’t ask for more, really,” said McNeilly, who completed his test program and did not venture out for the fifth and final session of the two-day test this afternoon. “Just another great day. I’m getting more to grips with the track and the tires. It’s a different tire to what I have driven in the U.K. The Continental tire is a great tire, so just getting used to that and a bit more of the car and the setup. I think we just nailed it a bit more today and the time showed. My braking was a lot more improved in Turn One, Turn Three and especially Turn 10. [Team principal and former champion driver] Jay [Howard] has helped me a lot in my development. [On this first official weekend] It’s pretty mega, to be honest. It’s all taken very seriously and it is a great program to be on at the end of the day. Even though it is new for me, it is well run and it gets you on the radar and that’s the reason we came over here.”

Jack Jeffers, from San Antonio, Texas, improved from fourth yesterday to second today at 1:39.4840, also setting his best time for Exclusive Autosport in the second session. In McNeilly’s absence, Jeffers was quickest in the final session, just ahead of Sebastian Wheldon (VRD Racing), from Coral Gables, Fla., who did not quite improve upon his time from yesterday, 1:39.5668, but remained third fastest out of the 28 drivers who posted times. Also close behind were young Canadian Ayden Ingratta (Jay Howard Driver Development) on 1:39.5812 and Evan Cooley (Exclusive Autosport), from Frankfort, Ill., on 1:39.6824.

The focus now turns to the opening races of the new season. For USF Pro 2000 and USF2000, those will take place in the respective Foundation Building Materials Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and The Andersen Companies Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, both held in conjunction with the opening round of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., next week, March 8-10. The huge field of USF Juniors Presented by Continental Tire instead will have to wait another month before their 16-race season kicks off with a return to NOLA Motorsports Park on April 6/7.

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