The racing season is upon us! The Cooper Tires USF2000 National Championship Powered by Mazda ran the first three races of it’s six-race Winterfest series at Sebring International Raceway this past Tuesday and Wednesday. On Tuesday, twenty-two new and returning drivers to USF2000 took to the famously bumpy Sebring circuit for a morning practice, an early afternoon qualifying, and a late afternoon race. Races 2 and 3 were held on Wednesday following an early morning warm-up session
USF2000 Winterfest – Tuesday
Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing looked strong right from the opening laps of practice with all three of their drivers Neil Alberico, Scott Hargrove, and James Fletcher setting the top three times. Stefan Rzadzinski, driving for JDC Motorsports, posted an impressive P4 time and was only two tenths off of Fletcher’s time. Qualifying saw no real change at the top as Neil and Scott cruised to an easy 1-2, locking out the front row for Cape Motorsports. Stefan would improve from his practice position and qualify P3 as Fletcher would have issues and set no qualification time. A strong National Class contender last season, RC Enerson, qualified his ZSport Midwest with Team E Racing Championship Class car in P4 to start alongside Stefan on Row 2.
Race 1 saw the Cape team pick up right where they left off last season with their two top drivers quickly distancing themselves from the rest of the field to have their own private fight up front. Not that it was much of a fight. Alberico pulled out a near 10-s lead over his teammate Hargrove, and Hargrove in turn distanced third-place finisher Danilo Estrela of Belardi Auto Racing by 18 seconds. On his way to his first victory in 2013, Alberico pulled off the hat-trick for Race 1, taking pole position, fast lap, and the victory.
“We knew going in and starting from the pole that we wanted to get out front and be consistent and turn some good lap times. The Cape guys – Dominic, Nicholas, Will and all the mechanics – they all make it easy for me to do my job. It was a good day today and, hopefully, we can duplicate it tomorrow.” — Neil Alberico, #2 Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing
Hargrove, although not able to keep in contact with Alberico, still put on an impressive display and showed much improvement over last season. A fact, not lost on the young man who spent 2012 in the shadow of teammates Matthew Brabham and Spencer Pigot.
“The race was a lot of fun and it was great to be near the front for a change. Cape Motorsports did a great job in providing me with the car and I just need to go and catch up to Neil [Alberico] for tomorrow. Everything ran flawlessly, so it is a good thing that there is still more racing.” — Scott Hargrove, #38, Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing
USF2000 Winterfest – Wednesday
The two races on Wednesday saw more of the same dominance from Neil Alberico, although he would lose fastest lap honors to Andretti Autosport’s Garrett Grist in Race 3. The gaps weren’t quite as large as in Race 1, but Neil continued to race out in front of his teammate, leading every lap, and winning by 1.395 sec in Race 2 and by 1.895 sec in Race 3. Race 3 wasn’t a completely uncontested victory for Alberico as Hargrove had closed up on his teammate for a driving error on Hargrove’s part allowed Alberico to reestablish his gap and complete his sweep of the Sebring segment of the Winterfest series.
“It is a great feeling to be back on the podium. For sure in that race I felt like I had the best chance to try and get out of the second spot but it was still a phenomenal weekend. The car was great all weekend long and the Cape team just did an awesome job. Hats off to Neil [Alberico]. The pressure doesn’t affect him at all. He just always hits his marks so, like he said on the podium last time, the one that makes the fewest mistakes will win and that was him again this race. I look forward to giving it another shot next time.” — Scott Hargrove, #38 Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing
James Fletcher, after struggling on Tuesday, started Race 2 in P3 thanks to his third-best race lap in Race 1. James held that position throughout the race and finished on the podium with his teammates, making it a clean sweep for the Cape Motorsports team.
” “I am still getting used to the car and I was glad to get a full session in without any of the problems with the car that we had yesterday. I am happy to be on the podium and get on my way. I think this has been the hottest weather I have ever raced in compared to -1C in England which it usually is! I am really enjoying it. The track is great as well.” — James Fletcher, #3 Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing
Although the Andretti Autosport team got off to a slow start on Tuesday, their young rookie driver, Garrett Grist, put together a great drive in Race 3, starting and finishing in P3 and scoring his first USF2000 podium. Problems persisted to plague his teammate, Austin Cindric, son of the well-known Tim Cindric of Penske Racing.
“We got off to a slow start with a mechanical problem but we worked well as a team and kept improving the car and now we are here on the podium. I am definitely aiming for more podiums and, hopefully, we can improve the car more and run up front with Neil [Alberico].” — Garrett Grist, #7 Andretti Autosport
Taking victory in all three races gives Neil Alberico a strong lead over Scott Hargrove who finished second in all three races. Here are the top-five in points as Winterfest leaves Sebring.
|1||Neil Alberico||Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing||96|
|2||Scott Hargrove||Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing||75|
|3||Jesse Lazzare||Pabst Racing Services||46|
|4||Stefan Rzadzinski||ZSport Midwest with Team E Racing||45|
|5||James Fletcher||Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing||44|
USF2000 Winterfest – Onward to PBIR
The Cooper Tires USF2000 National Championship Powered by Mazda 2013 Winterfest now heads to the Palm Beach International Raceway for rounds 6, 7, and 8. Practice, qualifying, and Race 1 will be on Saturday, Feb 9th, with a warm-up and Races 2 and 3 on Sunday, Feb 10th. Neil has a comfortable lead, and his only challenger is his teammate Scott. No one else is realistically close enough to make a run for top spot unless something tragic happens to the Cape Motorsports hauler. Hargrove has a chance, but he will at least one sub top-10 finish from Alberico to make a run for the series lead possible. You can follow along this weekend with the USF2000 live timing and scoring at http://usf2000.com/Multimedia/Live.aspx.
All photos courtesy of USF2000. Visit their multimedia page for more photos and videos.