Today’s opening two rounds of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship at Barber Motorsports Park saw honors shared as Yuven Sundaramoorthy (Pabst Racing) and Prescott Campbell (DEForce Racing) both claimed well-deserved maiden victories. But a second-place finish in the opening leg of the Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Alabama enabled 20-year-old Campbell, a mechanical engineering student at Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom, to take an early championship lead.
After starting on pole position for Race 2, Campbell’s teammate Nolan Siegel, from Palo Alto, Calif., had to be content with second, while Josh Pierson, from Wilsonville, Ore., also enjoyed a tremendous day, earning a pair of third-place finishes for Pabst Racing.
Sundaramoorthy made a dream start to his third full season of USF2000 in qualifying yesterday by claiming his first Cooper Tires Pole Award. The lap of 1:21.1201, an average speed of 102.071 mph, comfortably eclipsed the old track record set by Englishman Michael Epps way back in 2014.
The 18-year-old college freshman took advantage of his pace and his experience to maintain his advantage at the start. He remained under intense pressure from Campbell for a few laps following an early full-course caution but refused to become distracted. Instead he turned a series of 10 ultra-consistent laps, all within a couple of tenths of a second, to eke out a little breathing space and ensure a finely judged maiden victory by 2.3321s.
“This feels so great, it’s been so long coming, so long in the works,” said Sundaramoorthy. “To finally do this, and to do it from pole, feels great. I didn’t get fast lap, so I didn’t get the grand slam of points, but I’ll take it! I knew Prescott would burn his tires up in the aero wash so I just waited for him to fall back and focused on putting my laps together with no mistakes. It was a lot of pressure so mistakes were my biggest worry, but everything worked out. And having my teammate on the podium, with plenty of points for the team, makes it that much better. The Pabst team put everything together and the Cooper tires held up perfectly.”
Here is your top 3 finishers from USF2000 Race 1 at Barber🏁
— USF2000 Series (@USF2000) April 17, 2021
Campbell, from Newport, Beach, Calif., also secured his best-ever USF2000 result after joining DEForce Racing for his sophomore campaign, although rather than being able to sustain his challenge for the win, instead he had to focus on the challenge from behind as Pierson remained seemingly glued to his gearbox.
Michael d’Orlando (Cape Motorsports), from Hartsdale, N.Y., finished three seconds farther back in fourth after fending off a race-long challenge from Christian Brooks (Exclusive Autosport), from Santa Clarita, Calif., and impressive teammate Billy Frazer, from Pukekohe, New Zealand, who was the top rookie finisher and also earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award after working his way up from 12th on the grid. Fellow rookies Spike Kohlbecker (Cape Motorsports), from St. Louis, Mo., and Jace Denmark (Pabst Racing), from Scottsdale, Ariz., also finished close behind, although Denmark had run as high as fifth before making a couple of small errors.
Siegel, who finished a disappointing 10th in the opening race – but showed his speed by claiming the fastest lap of the race, worth an extra championship point – had another opportunity to shine in Race 2 for which he had earned the Cooper Tires Pole Award during a second qualifying session on Friday.
“I’m disappointed but, overall, it was a good day,” said Siegel. “It’s great for the team and great for the championship as well. At this point, even in the first couple of races, it’s all about setting up the last part of the season to go for the title. We are coming away from the weekend with good points, a pole and a podium, and we know that the DEForce cars have been fast in the past at St. Pete so we’re already looking ahead. I’m looking forward to that one.”
The start was delayed until after NTT IndyCar Series qualifying by a power-outage, and began with the DEForce trio of Siegel, Campbell and Brazilian Kiko Porto holding the top three positions. Significantly cooler conditions and a couple of brief early caution periods brought some shuffling of the order as Pierson jumped from sixth to fourth and then, more significantly, Campbell managed to take the lead when Siegel slid a little wide at Turn 1 following the second restart on lap 7.
From there, Campbell never looked back as he maintained a narrow edge over a pack of four pursuers for the remainder of the race. He finally took the checkered flag just over a half-second clear of Siegel with Pierson, Porto and Brooks virtually in his wheel tracks.
“It’s hard to put this into words, I’m just ecstatic to finally get this done,” said Campbell. “I qualified P2 for race one, P2 in race two, finished P2 in Race 1, so I was really hungry to go one better and I finally got it done. I ran a clean race, no mistakes, and that was the difference. With the aero wash, it’s hard to pass here so it takes a mistake to change position when you’re that close, but I’m gutted for Nolan. Huge thanks to the team, they gave us the best car this weekend as evidenced by my teammates’ performance as well – and thanks to my parents, they’re the ones who have gotten me here, and my sponsors as well.”
What a fight @PCampbell_60 put up to fend off his @DEForceRacing teammate @nolan_siegel and takes the Checkers here at Barber in race 2 of USF2000! 🏁🍾#RoadToIndy | #TeamCooperTire | #HIGPA pic.twitter.com/TSVIl9D7N8
— USF2000 Series (@USF2000) April 18, 2021
Added Pierson, “I gave it a good fight in Race 1 but it’s so hard to pass in the aero wash here, and it’s easy to make a mistake – there are a lot of places that if you touch a wheel, you’re off. Not putting a wheel wrong in the race under pressure was tough, but in the end, neither Yuven nor Prescott made any mistakes. I wish I could have gone for the victory, but there’s always next time. Michael (d’Orlando) pushed me pretty hard in the beginning and I enjoyed that. In Race 2, I feel as though I was the only car really making moves out there and I enjoyed that as well. I wasn’t able to do anything in the end but I had good pace and a good run – and a double podium on the day, so it’s a great way to start the season.”
Myles Rowe, from New York, N.Y., also impressed on the debut both for himself and the Force Indy team, part of INDCAR’s Race for Equality & Change. Rowe, who started fourth, slipped as low as ninth before making some fine passes in the closing stages to finish hot on the heels of Brooks.
Rookie Jackson Lee (Jay Howard Driver Development), from Avon, Ind., took home the Tilton Hard Charger Award by virtue of climbing from 23rd on the grid, following a problem in qualifying, to 14th.
Augie Pabst and cousins David and Ernesto Martinez of DE Force Racing each earned a PFC Award as the winning team owner.
The USF2000 protagonists will experience an entirely different challenge in less than a week’s time when they take on the unforgiving streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., for another pair of races once again held in support of the NTT IndyCar Series.
Provisional championship points after 2 of 18 races:
1. Prescott Campbell, 56
2. Josh Pierson, 44
3. Yuven Sundaramoorthy, 43
4. Nolan Siegel, 37
5. Christian Brooks, 34
6. Michael d’Orlando, 31
7. Kiko Porto, 30
8. Josh Green, 26
9. Spike Kohlbecker, 24
10. Billy Frazer, 23