USF2000 – Hargrove Extends Championship Lead at Laguna Seca

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The Cooper Tires Presents the USF2000 National Championship Powered by Mazda joined the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series in Monterrey, CA to compete at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, home of the most infamous corner in North American road racing “The Corkscrew”. The young Mazda Road to Indy drivers ran two races over the weekend, one on Saturday and one on Sunday, with open testing on Friday.

Scott Hargrove came to Monterrey with 46-point lead over a resurgent Neil Alberico. Alberico, however fast he may be, has had issues with consistency that has prevented him from closing in any tighter to his Cape Motorsports teammate. Although, Neil has more wins that Scott, five to three, he also has three DNFs a P20 finish and only one other podium finish. Scott, on the other hand, had only two finished out of the top 10, a 15th and a 17th, and has four podium finishes in addition to his three wins. Consistency is key to winning championships!

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is a circuit, much like Mid-Ohio, where there is no room for error and mistakes are brutally punished. Keeping an eye on maintaining the consistency he’s shown throughout the season, Hargrove was optimistic yet realistic about the Monterrey weekend.

“Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca was where I drove a race car for the very first time back in 2010 with Skip Barber. The USF2000 championship is coming down to the final two weekends, meaning there is no room for a mistake. I haven’t won a race since March and I expect that could change this weekend. Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing has done an awesome job all year and we are all ready to step up our game and finish the year off strong!” — Scott Hargrove, #38 Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing

The odds were really stacked against Alberico as he’d never raced at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in spite of having grown up in the area, while Hargrove has significant experience at the circuit.

Race #1

The opening race of the weekend was a real stunner! Afterburner Autosport recently signed on young Frenchman Alexandre Baron. Baron tested a USF2000 Van Diemen earlier, but this was his first race and his first ever rolling start. He started the weekend in the best way possible, from pole position! Heading down to the Andretti Hairpin, however, Hargrove’s experience won out and Hargrove made the pass for the lead. That lasted only for time it took to run from the Andretti Hairpin to T3. Trying to defend his position, Baron made contact with Hargrove damaging Hargrove’s nose and relegating him to mid-pack status for the rest of the race. Alberico took advantage of the opportunity to gain points on Hargrove and drove up to P2 by the Hairpin. He would maintain that position through to the checkers. Baron would continue to dominate the field and score his first USF2000 win in his debut race!

“I want to say thanks to everyone for the warm welcome and thanks to my team for doing an incredible job. In the race I managed to keep Neil [Alberico] behind me from the start. He tried to close the gap on me but I was able to stay out front and not make any mistakes. My thoughts on tomorrow are to improve the car as nothing is ever perfect and hopefully get another win.” — Alex Baron, #18 Afterburner Autosport

Afterburner Autosport driver Wyatt Gooden would join his new teammate on the podium finishing in P3.

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Race #2

_mg_2035After a lengthy delay due to heavy fog on Sunday morning, Alex Baron picked up on Sunday’s race where he left off on Saturday by leading Lap 1 from pole, staying ahead of a charging Scott Hargrove. An offroad excursion coming out of Turn 6 onto the Rahal Straight allowed Hargrove to take over the lead, a lead he kept for the remainder of the race.

“Yesterday was hard but the team did a great job to get me back out on the lead lap after a nose change. I love racing here at Mazda Raceway. The track is phenomenal, especially going through the Corkscrew in these cars. We carry a lot of speed through there and it is a lot of fun. It was a good race. I feel great heading into Houston. I know the championship is mine to lose at this point and I need to just keep my head down.” — Scott Hargrove, #38 Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing

_mg_2155Winner of Race #3 at Mid-Ohio and driver for Andretti Autosport Garrett Grist drove well, keeping his P2 spot throughout the race, successfully defending it in a one-lap shootout after a late-race full-course caution. This was his fourth podium of the year and strengthens his hold on third in the series championship.

Alex Baron recovered from his Lap 2 mistake and fought his way back to P3, taking even more points away Alberico would finish in P4 and partially negating the gains Alberico made on Hargrove in Race #1.

On to Houston

Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing scored enough team points at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to secure the 2013 USF2000 Team Championship title. The driver’s title is still up for grabs, although Scott Hargrove certainly has the advantage. Hargrove leads his teammate Alberico by 44 points, 269 to 225. Garrett Grist sits in third with 195 points. In order for Alberico to have a chance at the championship, he has to have two flawless races around Reliant Park parking lot. Taking max points in both races still won’t be enough for Neil, he’ll need to earn 23 more points than Scott in each race. Chances that Hargrove will finish out of the top ten in both races are very slim. As he said himself in his post-race quote this past weekend, this is Hargrove’s championship to lose.