From photo finishes to multiple lead changes in the rain, Formula 4 United States Championship Powered by Honda delivered three dramatic rounds of racing in the season debut at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. Inclement weather dictated team strategy with three different winners emerging atop of standings.
Series sophomores Teddy Wilson and Francisco “Kiko” Porto claimed maiden victories in the opening two rounds of racing and Crosslink/Kiwi Motorsport’s Joshua Car continued his winning momentum from last year, adding to his series wins.
“What a way to start the year, from fifth to a win in some really tricky conditions. It wasn’t made easy with constant pressure from behind, but I managed to fend off and grab the win,” said Wilson, who finished as high as second in his rookie season. “Thank you to everyone at DC Autosport with Cape Motorsports for giving me a great car. Also to my sponsors, C.S. Ellis, Versatlie Venues, Safe Products and Scholl Concepts, without them I wouldn’t be here.”
After lightening and heavy rains moved in overnight, causing flash floods, qualifying was canceled on Friday. While rain stopped before Race 1, the amount of water collected on the track, deemed the race to be a wet start. All 25 Ligier JS F4 cars were equipped with the mandated Hankook wet weather tires. During the reconnaissance lap, rain started to fall, forcing Race Director Scott Goodyear to shorten the race time from a full 30-minute session to 22-minutes in order to miss the torrential weather moving through behind the light shower.
Since F4 debuted at Road Atlanta, qualifying grids were based on the best practice times from the previous day instead of championship results. Car dominated fast times in the set of practices to secure the first pole of the season. Hotwheels official driver and Jay Howard Driver Development rookie Christian Brooks started off-pole with DEForce Racing drivers Porto and Guilherme Peixoto owning Row 2.
On the opening lap, British driver Oliver Clarke experienced mechanical failure after going off-course that ended his race day in a fiery halt. Safety crews contained the blaze, however, Clarke, despite not being injured, did not return to the race.
On the restart, Wilson charged from his top-five start, challenging Car for first, and within two laps, overtook the young Australian for the lead. Brooks finished his first single-seater race in second, while Porto and Car crossed the line in a two-wide photo finish with Porto crossing the stripe just 23 thousandths of a second ahead of Car for third. After starting eighth, Dylan Tavella completed the top-five.
Brooks was later disqualified after failing post-race tech with non-compliant fuel, promoting Porto to second and Car to third and so on down the line.
“Even though that was a shortened race, it was exhausting,” said Porto. “Trying to hold Joshua off while not making any mistakes in the rain, was tough, but my DEForce team gave me a great setup. We’ve been practicing all off season and getting on podium is a great way to start the season.”
Light rain continued to fall early on Saturday. With track conditions drying but still variable after Formula Race Promotions opened the day, Race 2 for F4 was declared a dry race. Jay Howard Driver Development karts to cars standout Jonny Wilkinson started on pole for Race 2 after turning the fastest lap in the previous session. However, after hitting a wet spot while getting his tires to temperature on the pace lap, Wilkinson spun behind the pace car, forfeiting his front row start. Porto started in Row 1 uncontested during the F1-style standing start while Group-A Racing’s David Porcelli and Jose Blanco filled Row 2.
Starting third, Porcelli pulled out early, holding pace to create a comfortable lead for the first part of the race. On the rolling restart following a full course yellow, Porcelli’s speed started to fade, finishing the race in ninth. After getting the jump on the restart, Porto picked off three cars in six laps to take first. Tavella wheeled his Alliance Racing sponsored by Gas Monkey Energy Drink car into second, claiming his first F4 U.S. career podium. Returning F4 championship contender Jose Blanco rounded out the podium.
“I am so happy right now,” Tavella said. “This is Alliance Racing and my first podium finish. We worked really hard over the off season to accomplish this goal. The car’s been really fast all weekend. Our next stop is that top step.”
Alliance Racing’s Chandler Horton finished in the top-five for the first time in his F4 career, and after suffering a penalty in Race 1, Brooks, who started 24th, launched through the field to a top-10 points finish. Clarke also had an exceptional race from behind, picking up half the field to finish the race with the second-fastest lap time.
In the weekend finale, Aidan Yoder started on pole in the No. 44 Primus Racing Team car, sharing the front row with Clarke. In his best qualifying position to date, Horton started third with Porto in Row 2.
Proving that experience is key on the rolling hills of Road Atlanta, Car picked off a car a lap from seventh to take first. Despite two yellow flags, the Crosslink/Kiwi Motorsport driver never relinquished the lead, finishing ahead of the field by more than five seconds. Car’s teammate Arthur Leist took his first podium of the year in second and Porto added another trophy to his growing collection, capping off the weekend with a third-place finish.
“It was awesome to make great overtakes and fight hard for the win,” Car said. “I believe we were the quickest all week, but just didn’t have a clean enough weekend to take more points. I’ll adjust and adapt for our next event in Pittsburgh.”
After a rough start, Brooks finished the weekend on a positive note with 26 passes in two races to claim the first Sabelt Hard Charger Award of the season.
The F4 U.S. drivers and teams have an extended break in the season, with five weeks off before the second event at Pittsburgh International Race Complex June 21-23. For more information on the series, drivers or teams, or for full results visit F4USChampionship.com.