A record number of drivers took the opportunity to gain a head start on the 2023 USF Pro Championships Presented by Cooper Tires season during the traditional USF Pro Fall Combine Open Test which concluded Sunday afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Local driver Jack William Miller (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports), from Carmel, Ind., was the pacesetter among an incredibly tight field of 15 USF Pro 2000 Presented by Cooper Tires drivers who took part in the two-day outing on the 2.439-mile track, while Pabst Racing’s Simon Sikes, from Athens, Ga., emerged fastest from an impressive group of no fewer than 26 USF2000 Presented by Cooper Tires contenders.
Miller edges the USF Pro 2000 field
Miller carried forward the form that brought him three top-six finishes at the end of this season by topping the USF Pro 2000 contingent this morning. His fastest lap of 1m21.9745s (107.111mph), narrowly eclipsed the best time from Saturday set by Ireland’s Jonathan Browne at 1m21.9931s for Turn 3 Motorsport.
As a mark of the extreme level of intensity, five different drivers topped the timing charts in a total of six sessions. Furthermore, the top four drivers in Sunday morning’s first session, held in almost perfect autumn conditions, were all within 0.1s, and the top dozen were blanketed by less than 0.5s.
Miller, who also gained his first taste of an Indy Lights car during the Chris Griffis test on Friday with Abel Motorsports, was immediately on the pace when he switched back to his more familiar family-run USF Pro 2000 car on Saturday.
“It’s always good to be P1,” said Miller. “I didn’t run the last session to save some tires for (later) testing. Overall, it was a good two days in the car but I am pretty worn out from Friday. I did a lot of laps and, really, I think my highlight for this weekend was getting in that Lights car and I think I did a good job in showing that I can adapt to that and run fast. Overall, this was a good two days to go out there and run some fast laps. I don’t think there is too much testing that actually goes on here.”
Miller also helped fellow local resident Jackson Lee, from Avon, Ind., who made the step up from USF2000 at the wheel of a second Miller Vinatieri Tatuus PM-22. Lee ended the weekend 10th fastest, only 0.3563s shy of Miller’s best time.
“I think Jackson (Lee) did a really good job,” Miller continued. “It was his first real official day in the car. I think it boosts team morale having people here, and I think he was able to learn from some of the stuff that I have done and I know I was able to learn from some of the things he was doing. Hopefully it works out and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Browne’s quickest time in the opening session on Saturday, 1m21.9931s, remained good enough for second fastest overall. The Irishman also topped the charts in the final session on Sunday afternoon to cap a solid weekend for the Turn 3 Motorsport team.
Fellow USF Pro 2000 veterans Yuven Sundaramoorthy (Pabst Racing), from Delafield, Wis., and Kiko Porto (DEForce Racing), from Recife, Brazil, headed the other two Saturday sessions, with Sundaramoorthy ending the weekend third fastest overall at 1m22.0144s.
This year’s Formula Regional Americas champion elect and 2018 Asian Formula 3 Champion, Raoul Hyman, from Durban, South Africa, gained his first experience of the category today but was immediately on the pace for TJ Speed Motorsports, which has taken over the equipment used previously by Juncos Hollinger Racing.
Hyman ended the day fourth fastest, within one tenth of Miller and narrowly ahead of Bijoy Garg (DEForce Racing), from Atherton, Calif. Callum Voisin (Jay Howard Driver Development), from Bath, England, who was a front-runner in this year’s GB3 season, was fastest in today’s second session and seventh overall just ahead of Jace Denmark (Exclusive Autosport), from Scottsdale, Ariz., who finished a close third in this year’s USF2000 championship, and Francesco Pizzi (JHDD), from Rome Italy.
Sikes makes his mark in USF2000
Sikes, 21, has completed partial USF2000 campaigns over each of the past three years without ever managing to fund a complete season. Even this weekend he was able only to secure support for a single-day with the crack Pabst Racing organization, but he left no doubt as to his capabilities by posting the fastest time in each of the three seasons today.
Sikes, who has four podium finishes to his credit in a total of 26 USF2000 starts – as well as an impressive resume which includes an FRP F1600 Championship, two SCCA National titles and a coveted Team USA Scholarship – also posted the fastest time of the entire test at 1m25.8876s, an average speed of 102.231mph. He recorded that lap during the first session this morning and was only fractionally slower while topping the charts in the second one-hour period. He remained the only driver to dip below 1m26.0000s.
“It was a one-day test for me but I have been here all weekend learning with the Pabst team,” said Sikes. “It was my first start with this great organization. Augie (Pabst) does such a good job with these cars. I was here yesterday sitting and watching Ayrton Houk run. He was doing a great job and I was learning off of him and seeing what I could do today. We went out this morning and it was the perfect day, perfect weather. The times were there and Pabst put out a good car.
“I have some experience here from four race weekends or so and it all came back pretty quickly. We were able to go P1 in all three sessions. I am overall thrilled with the day. The team has been phenomenal and everyone has been so gracious. The new USF Pro Championships and Cooper Tires have done a great job in putting together this event and I am really glad to be back. My goal for next year is to do USF2000 and try to do a full season. If I can do it with these guys over at Pabst Racing, that would be a dream.”
Recently crowned inaugural USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires champion Mac Clark also impressed while recording the second fastest time of the two days for DEForce Racing. Clark, 18, from Milton, Ont., Canada, was fastest in the very first session on Saturday at 1m26.4943s, good enough for fourth on the day, and improved this morning to 1m26.0981s.
Andre Castro, from New York, N.Y., ended the weekend with the third fastest time, 1m26.2609s, despite not turning meaningful laps today for the impressive new Future Stars Racing team. Castro, who has also completed partial seasons at this level, switched cars today with fellow USF Juniors graduate Elliot Cox, from Indianapolis, Ind., who also impressed by being sixth quickest in each of the final two sessions while Castro battled an intermittent electrical gremlin.
After finishing third in this year’s USF Juniors title chase and also recording a podium finish during a partial season of USF2000, VRD Racing’s Nikita Johnson, 14, from Gulfport, Fla., was fourth fastest overall at 1m26.2980s, narrowly ahead of Chase Gardner (Exclusive Autosport), from Sherman, Texas, on 1m26.3326s, Australian Lochie Hughes (Jay Howard Driver Development), who was second fastest during the middle session Sunday at 1m26.3703s, and Danny Dyszelski (VRD Racing), from Charlotte, N.C., on 1m26.3811s.
Jay Howard Driver Development’s Evagoras Papasavvas, from Loveland, Ohio, on 126.4330s, Pabst Racing’s Houk, from McCordsville, Ind., on 1m26.4496s, and George Garciarce (JHDD), from Guadalajara, Mexico, on 1m26.5568s rounded out the top 10 in a closely matched field.