The 17-year-old sophomore Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda driver was unofficially quickest in two of the four test sessions, which showcased a remarkable group of rising talent with the top-10 drivers – many of whom were turning their first laps in a USF2000 car – separated by a mere half second.
Di Leo narrowly bested the JDC MotorSports’ pair of Michael Johnson and Sennan Fielding for top honors. Johnson, 20, who made his USF2000 racing debut this season and is the first paralyzed racer on the Mazda Road to Indy, was quickest in the third session and his best lap of 1:27.637 (103.271 mph) was only 0.014 seconds off of Di Leo’s mark. Equally impressive was the performance of 16-year-old Sennen Fielding.
The Chesterfield, England, driver – who competes in the British Ginetta Junior Championship – was only 0.015 seconds in arrears of Johnson in his first-ever USF2000 outing.
Antti Buri, 23, of Turku, Finland, also garnered his share of attention aboard another JDC MotorSports’ entry. The test invitee – courtesy of his MSA Formula Ford Championship of Great Britain crown and INDYCAR’s alliance with the series – was quickest in testing on Day One and took his turn aboard a Star Mazda ride on Thursday posting the fifth fastest lap in both sessions.
Skip Barber Winter and Summer Series Presented by Mazda champ Jake Eidson, 17, posted the fourth quickest time for Belardi Auto Racing. RC Enerson, who finished a close third in this year’s National Class championship, set the fifth fastest time in his graduation to a Championship Class car with ZSports Midwest with Team E Racing. The top five were separated by a scant 0.128 seconds.
“This was a great outing,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions.
“The talent I have witnessed these two days is incredible. There are numerous future stars in the group that we had on hand. Obviously, the drivers that participated in the full test benefitted from two days of running so the times are really not representative for the single-day drivers. If this test is any indication, we are in store for a fantastic season of racing next year.
“It was heartwarming and gratifying to see our series’ graduates do so well in the test, and I have to thank INDYCAR and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for this event and their continued support of the Mazda Road to Indy program. I also want to say a thank you to [IZOD IndyCar Series driver] Josef Newgarden who donated his time as a driver coach for the test, which was greatly appreciated by everyone.”
USF2000 graduates Spencer Pigot, Matthew Brabham and Shelby Blackstock made impressive Star Mazda debuts with Pigot at the top of the timesheets in all four sessions, Blackstock running second in both Day One outings and Brabham coming in third and fourth on Day Two. In Firestone Indy Lights, 2011 graduate Zach Veach set the fastest time of the two days.
Over 50 drivers participated in the two-day test among the three series.
USF2000 will be back in action in February with the Cooper Tires Winterfest – a pre-season, six-race mini-series – featuring rounds at Sebring International Raceway on February 5/6 and Palm Beach International Raceway on February 9/10.
Tamy Valkosky – Public Relations – Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda