The regular season for the Cooper Tires USF2000 National Championship Powered by Mazda has begun! The first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy held it’s first two races of the championship season last Thursday and Friday at Sebring International Raceway. The grid size was huge for the opener with 31 cars entered for competition. The odd thing that stood out to me is that only three of those entries were in the SCCA Enterprises National Class, the rest were in the Championship Class. I’m not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. The National Class was very competitive and fun to watch last year, and it afforded it’s champion, Henrik Furuseth the opportunity to showcase his talents and move up to the Championship Class this year.
”I am so happy about joining PRL Motorsports for the season. I had a great year last year and I really want to build on that momentum with the PRL guys. We’ve already done some good tests and now it’s time to see where we are compared to the competition. I am very thankful for this fantastic opportunity with PRL and I can’t wait to get the season started. I couldn’t have done it without the help of my sponsors Palfinger, Akrene Mek, Felgimport, MOMO and Junior Team Norway, so I definitely want to show my appreciation for what they are doing.” — Henrik Furuseth, #96 PRL Motorsports
It was no surprise to see the two Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing drivers that so dominated the Winterfest last month, Neil Alberico and Scott Hargrove, lined up side-by-side on the front row for the start of Race #1. Unfortunately for Neil, that front row start didn’t last long as mechanical issues allowed the field to simply inhale him and lead to his retirement from the race on Lap 2. Hargrove on the other hand, leaped to a multi-second lead and easily outpaced the field. Although Hargrove was off by himself in P1, there was a lot of great racing back in the pack. Andretti Autosport’s Garrett Grist stalked Belardi Auto Racing’s Danilo Estrela throughout the race and made a great move headed into Turn 1 to take P2 on the penultimate Lap 11.
no images were foundFuruseth was the biggest mover of the race moving up from his starting position of 19th to finish 10th and setting the 2nd fastest race lap in the process, placing him on the front row along side Hargrove for Race #2.
“I am kind of speechless about how the race went. The car was just phenomenal; this whole week has been phenomenal. The Cape Motorsports guys have given me an awesome package. I know Neil [Alberico] would have pressured me a lot and it is unfortunate that he didn’t get to race, but it was nice to be out front for sure and secure maximum points. The Mazda engine was awesome all race and I was just clicking off laps waiting for the checkered flag. Coming into this week I had a lot of confidence from the Cooper Tires Winterfest, and having a win in the regular season means a lot.” — Scott Hargrove, #38 Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing
Race #2 transpired more as one would expect. Alberico with serious ground to make up fought his way to the front and around his teammate Hargrove. Once in the lead, Alberico never looked back winning by a three-second margin over Hargrove. Estrela, who started in seventh, made his way up to the podium.
no images were found“It was a frustrating start to the season yesterday. I didn’t put down a good lap time because I didn’t race so I started fifth today. I just really wanted to get a clean start in the first corner, put my head down and turn some good laps and I ended up leading the race. It was great way to end the weekend and I’m looking forward to St. Petersburg next weekend.” — Neil Alberico, #2 Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing
Winning Race #2 was important for Alberico’s championship ambitions, but with Hargrove finishing right behind him in P2, Neil still has a LOT of ground to make up. As past seasons all throughout the Mazda Road to Indy have shown, consistency is the absolute key to winning a championship. Neil absolutely cannot afford any more DNFs this season. Going into St. Petersburg this weekend, Hargrove holds a commanding lead in the championship standings with 58 points. Danilo Estrela is in second thanks to his two podium finishes with 44 points, and Garrett Grist rounds out the top three with 42 points. Alberico is back in fourth with 33 points.
The action starts tomorrow on the Streets of St. Petersburg bright and early at 8:00am for morning practice. The afternoon practice session is set for 3:40pm. You can follow these sessions as well as qualifying and the races for USF2000 at http://usf2000.com/Multimedia/Live.aspx.
Photos from the USF2000 Races at Sebring International Raceway
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