SEBRING, Fla. – Neil Alberico began the season as a hot favorite for top honors in this year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda after winning five of six races in the Cooper Tires Winterfest mini-series last month. His regular season began with disappointment yesterday in the first of two races at Sebring International Raceway when his Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing Van Diemen-Mazda encountered a problem at the start, but the 20-year-old Californian rebounded magnificently this morning as he took a convincing victory in Round 2.
Teammate and first round winner Scott Hargrove (#38 Analytic Systems/Race Energy/Metal Action/Sip Barber Racing/Bell Racing) started from the pole but slipped back to third during an eventful first lap which saw Garett Grist in the #7 DaVinci Foods entry take the lead for Andretti Autosport, while Alberico (#2 Racelite Protection/Bondurant School of High Performance Driving/eFormulaCarNews.com/J&M Trophies) managed to fight his way from fifth on the grid to second.
An incident farther down the 31-car field brought out the caution flags at the end of Lap 1, and after a lengthy cleanup Alberico once again leapt into action, vaulting past Grist into a lead he never looked likely to relinquish. Grist, who had charged impressively from ninth to second in yesterday’s opener, was unable to carry that form into today’s race, slipping back to fifth place by the finish.
Hargrove followed Alberico into second place, which was enough to cement his lead at the top of the championship point standings, although Alberico snared a pair of bonus points by virtue of leading most laps and posting the fastest race lap.
Former Skip Barber Racing standout Danilo Estrela, from Goiania, Brazil, drove another fine race for Belardi Auto Racing to claim his second successive podium finish. Jesse Lazare of Pabst Racing Services, a podium finisher at Sebring during the Winterfest, held off numerous challenges to cross the line fourth in the #21 Door Doctor Inc. entry.
Other noteworthy drives included RC Enerson of ZSports Midwest with Team E Racing who advanced 11 positions from 29th to 18th in the #10 Team E/Patriot Bank machine to claim the Tilton Hard Charger Award; Wyatt Gooden of Afterburner Autosport, who finished sixth after starting 13th in the #17 Ohio Center for Sport Psychology entry; and Jason Wolfe of Pabst Racing Services, who brought the #23 Pabst Racing/Wolfe Trucking, Inc. car home in seventh after starting 14th.
Once again, eight different teams were represented by the top-10 finishers.
In the championship standings, Hargrove (58 points) has a 14-point lead over Estrela (44) with Grist (42) two additional points in arrears in third. Alberico sits fourth with 33, with three drivers currently tied at 29 points for fifth – Lazare, Stefan Rzadzinski of JDC MotorSports, and Gooden.
In the National Class Presented by SCCA Enterprises, Alliance Autosport’s Scott Rettich notched his second win of the year in the #71 PDI Communication Systems/Springboro Car Wash entry.
Additional awards included the PFC Award to the winning car owners of Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing and Alliance Autosport; the Staubli Award to Alberico; and the National Class Masters Award Presented by Elite Engines/Comprent to Rettich.
The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda will be back in action next weekend with a double-header on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., in support of the season-opening race of the IZOD IndyCar Series which will feature all levels of the Mazda Road to Indy.
Neil Alberico, #2 Racelite Protection/Bondurant School of High Performance Driving/eFormulaCarNews.com/J&M Trophies (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing) – First: “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.”
Scott Hargrove, #38 Analytic Systems/Race Energy/Metal Action/Skip Barber Racing/ Bell Racing (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing) – Second: “Today’s race was a little bit more exciting. I didn’t get quite as good of a start as I had yesterday and had pressure right away from Garett [Grist]. He was able to pass me right before the yellow so I didn’t have a chance to try and attack him back. When he got by me, Neil did as well. Coming to the restart, I stayed right with Neil and we split Garett and made it a Cape sandwich with me on the inside and Neil on the outside and then we settled into a rhythm after a few laps. Once we got going I tried to chase Neil down but he was in a league of his own today so congrats to him.”
Danilo Estrela, #11 Belardi Auto Racing – Third: “At the start of the race I was a little bit conservative, but it was good. My car was very good so I started pushing harder and harder. With our result today, we are sitting second in points which is great. I am really happy with the race today. On the last restart, I didn’t do a bad job but I could have been better. The front row did it perfectly but I am happy with our result.”
Scott Rettich, #71 PDI Communication Systems/Springboro Car Wash (Alliance Autosport) – First National Class: “Our race went very well. It couldn’t have gone better. I put my head down, posted consistent laps and never really looked in my mirrors too much. On the restarts I was challenged a little bit but after the first half-lap I was able to open up a good gap and I have to thank my Alliance Autosport team.”
About USF2000: The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda debuted in 2010 and is a continuation of the highly-regarded USF2000 series which ran from 1990 through 2006, launching the careers of many of today’s top drivers. Sanctioned by INDYCAR and managed by Andersen Promotions, the series is the first official step on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system. The top driver in the Championship class will earn a scholarship package from Mazda to advance to the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. The series also is part of the MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development Ladder program which assists young drivers in advancing from the Skip Barber Racing School to USF2000. Additional information can be found at www.usf2000.com.
About Mazda: Mazda is the number-one brand for road-racers across North America. Thousands of Mazda powered grassroots racers compete in various classes with the SCCA and NASA highlighted by Spec Miata, the world’s largest spec class with over 2,500 cars built. In 2006 Mazda established the MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development Ladder to assist racers in moving up through the ranks. In 2010 this was expanded to include the Mazda Road to Indy. Key to Mazda’s success is strategic partnerships with the Skip Barber Racing School and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
MAZDASPEED Motorsports is managed by Mazda North American Operations (MNAO). MNAO is headquartered in Irvine, Calif. and oversees the sales, marketing, parts and customer service support of Mazda vehicles in the United States, Canada and Mexico through nearly 900 dealers. Operations in Canada are managed by Mazda Canada, Inc., located in Ontario; and in Mexico by Mazda Motor de Mexico in Mexico City. Consumer information can be found at www.mazdausa.com with press information at www.mazdausamedia.com. Racers and fans can follow the action on Facebook (Mazdaspeed Motorsports).
About Cooper Tire & Rubber Company: Cooper Tire & Rubber Company (NYSE: CTB) is a global company with affiliates, subsidiaries and joint ventures that specialize in the design, manufacture, marketing and sales of passenger car and light truck tires. The company also has subsidiaries that specialize in medium truck, motorcycle and racing tires. With headquarters in Findlay, Ohio, Cooper Tire has manufacturing, sales, distribution, technical and design facilities within its family of companies located in 11 countries around the world. Additional information can be found at www.us.coopertire.com.
From Tamy Valkosky, Public Relations