As two of the “official feeder series” for the Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout, and also as American based junior open wheel series, the F1600 Formula F Championship Series (F1600) and F2000 Championship Series (F2000) are two championships that TSOLadder will be following closely in 2016.
Over the past five years, the F1600 and F2000 series have provided the Mazda Road To Indy with 17 drivers that were on track in the opening weekend at St. Petersburg, including: Neil Alberico, Garett Grist, Jake Eidson, Aaron Telitz, Ayla Agren, Austin McCusker, Eric Filgueiras, Sam Chastain, Garth Rickards, Nikita Lastochkin, Max Hanratty, Jordan Cane, Robert Megennis, Brendan Puderback, Chales Finelli and Michai Stephens.
F1600 Formula F Championship Series
This past weekend (April 8-10, 2016), 17 drivers took to the 12 Turn, 2.54 Mile road course at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia for the first three races of their 21-race championship. All three races featured a different winner, and has become the norm in F1600, each race featured a scintillating finish decided by less than 0.5 seconds.
A veteran of two Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda seasons, Peter Portante won Saturday’s first race after a multi-car final lap battle. Portante, a 20 year-old driving a Honda powered Mygale for K-Hill Motorsports started the race from pole and was able to cross the line a mere 0.128 seconds ahead of Team Pelfrey’s Honda/Mygale of Phillipe Denes, who was making his very first start in a formula car.
“These guys are nuts,” said Portante, who won on his Series debut. “The draft was insane. I tried to break away but everyone became friends to catch me.”
“We almost had it,” added Denes, “it was a close race.”
The final spot on the podium and also the top finishing Masters class driver, was held by experienced Canadian Steve Bamford (Rice Race Prep – Honda/Mygale). Rounding out the top five were 15 year-old Neil Verhagen (K-Hill Motorsports – Honda/Mygale) and Guyana native Calvin Ming (Team Pelfrey – Honda/Mygale).
Saturday’s second race had Mooresville, North Carolina native Verhagen, starting on pole on the strength of 1:29.911 lap, the quickest of Race #1 and the only sub 1:30 lap on Saturday. The youngster fell back to eighth early in the race, but was able to storm back and just nip Race #1 winner, Portante by 0.140 seconds as the checkered flag fell.
“We got a bad start,” said Verhagen, “but I need to thank K-Hill for all the work, the car was phenomenal.”
“It was pretty different than the first race,” said Portante, who had also tracked down the lead group from four-plus seconds out, and went from fifth to first at one point in the race in 13 corners. “I had to work my way forward. Once I got to the front, I wanted to be second going on the last lap. I set it up on the second to last lap but no one took the bait.”
Completing the podium and winning the Masters class for the second time in two races was Bamford, who was joined in the top five by the Team Pelfrey duo of Denes and Ming.
Sunday’s finale and third race of the weekend featured a crazy final lap ten-car shootout that finished with Swan Motorsports Max Mallinen crossing the line just ahead of Bamford, who scored his third straight podium and Masters class victory.
“It’s been an interesting weekend, and I’m happy to end it on top,” said Mallinen, who started in eighth place in his Honda powered Spectrum. “I ate the wall a bit in qualy on Saturday and had to start last in the first race. Coming into the last lap I was in second and I knew I could pull a draft on the back stretch.”
After two fifth place finishes on Saturday, Ming was able to recover from a first lap spin and fight his way through the field to record his first F1600 podium. Ming was joined in the top five by Trenton Estep (Exclusive Autosport – Honda/Spectrum) and Verhagen who missed out on his second podium of the weekend by only two-tenths of a second.
F2000 Championship Series
A total of 16 F2000 drivers took to the the 12 Turn, 2.54 mile Road Atlanta road course, and it was experience that trumped youth in the first two of 14 races that will determine the 2016 championship.
Experienced racer Steve Bamford pulled double duty, racing in all five F1600 and F2000 events. The Canadian stood on the podium three times in F1600, but did not find the top step of the podium until he stepped into his Rice Race Prep Citation F2000 machine.
Sponsored by “Me Myself & I”, Bamford started in seventh (Saturday Race #1) and sixth (Sunday Race #2) spots, but was able to race his way to 1.2 second and 0.385 second victories.
“It was enjoyable,” said Bamford, about Race #1. “I need to thank the team, we had a broken differential after qualifying. I wasn’t sure we were going to make the race. I was sitting in the car when they were putting the side pods on. We made it to grid at the three minute warning.”
In Race #1 on Saturday, Bamford was followed closely by fellow Masters class driver Brandon Dixon, who qualified on pole in a Citation but was not able to keep the lead. Rounding out the top five were: John McCusker (Dotworks Racing – RFR), David Grant (Polestar Motor Racing – Spectrum), and Dave Weitzenhof (Weitzenhof Racing – Citation).
On Sunday, in Race #2, Grant was able to improve on his fourth place finish and chase Bamford to the line, finishing only 0.385 seconds behind the winner. Standing on the bottom step of the podium for the third straight race was John McCusker. Dixon was joined in the top five by fellow Master class driver Steve Jenks (Houndspeed Racing – Van Diemen).
The Fat Boy Racing twosome of Charles Finelli (7th and 11th) and Brendan Puderbach (9th and 7th) also toke part in both F2000 races this past weekend. The duo were also National class participants in the season opening Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda event in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The F1600 Formula F Championship Series and F2000 Championship Series will be on track next from May 13-15, 2016 at Watkins Glen.
Don’t forget to follow along with both series at: