Thursday was the busiest day of the weekend for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, which prepares for a pivotal three-race weekend as it usually does at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
On Thursday, three test sessions were scheduled ahead of the first and only official practice session. Qualifying took place then on Friday morning before the first race of the weekend.
The story heading into the weekend is the championship battle between Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing drivers Parker Thompson and Anthony Martin, with the Canadian sophomore getting the upper hand on the Australian second-year driver after Thompson’s trip home to Canada.
Though he hails from Red Deer, Alberta and not in Toronto proper, Thompson banged out a third and a win in his two races. Meanwhile Martin crashed during Friday’s practice, which left him fighting a hand injury for the remainder of the weekend. He fought through the rest of it but crashed out late in Saturday’s race one, before rebounding to second place in race two.
The two had entered Toronto tied but leave Mid-Ohio separated by 20 points (270-250), Thompson now ahead before the Mid-Ohio triple – a race weekend swept by Cape’s Nico Jamin last year.
The 22-car grid for the weekend featured a few changes. Notably, Ayla Agren is back after missing Toronto in the lead No. 33 John Cummiskey Racing entry. That car had been utilized by Jordan Lloyd of Pabst Racing in Toronto in Agren’s absence; TSO will have more on the JCR/Pabst “musical car” swap later in the weekend.
Elsewhere Christian Munoz has been added in a second Afterburner Autosport entry. Blake Mount was listed to run the test sessions only for ArmsUp Motorsports and Joey Selmants, a local driver, had tested here a few weeks ago and was initially set to debut in the National class, but was withdrawn once the formal entry list came out.
Martin and Thompson led the way in the unofficial test sessions, and therefore those two along with Cape teammates Nikita Lastochkin and Jordan Cane didn’t actually set times in the official first practice later today. Neither did the last two Mazda scholarship recipient drivers, Dakota Dickerson (Afterburner) and Luke Gabin (JAY Motorsports).
The fact no Cape cars took official times shouldn’t have detracted from Agren’s great first day back in the car after missing the Toronto race. The talented young driver of Norwegian and Swedish background topped the official charts Thursday with a best time of 1:22.1304, which wasn’t even as quick as she ran in testing.
This is a track where Agren had success in the F1600 ranks in the past, and coupled with that and on the heels of her best result this season (fourth at Road America race two) makes her a candidate to finally secure her first career USF2000 podium this weekend – and the first for the team since Martin did so at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in 2015.
ln second was Victor Franzoni (ArmsUp), and the Brazilian who sits 42 points back of the Cape twins needs a big weekend to properly mount a championship charge as the third and really last realistic driver with a shot.
Young 16-year-old Robert Megennis, who on Thursday was also named a candidate for Jeremy Shaw’s Team USA Scholarship, continued with his good run of form by ending in third for Team Pelfrey.
Proving the Cummiskey pace wasn’t a fluke, Brazilian rookie Lucas Kohl was fourth with Lloyd fifth on the charts.
Of note and as discovered by the voice of the Mazda Road to Indy, Rob Howden, USF2000 veteran Jake Eidson also made a comeback in a setup and advisory for RJB Motorsports, to help the rookie team that runs Michai Stephens and Clint McMahan.
— MRTI Insider (@MRTI_Insider) July 28, 2016
Practice times are below. Of the 15 cars that did take official times, all ran between 10 and 17 laps.
|16||2||Parker Thompson||No Time||—||—|
|17||3||Nikita Lastochkin||No Time||—||—|
|18||4||Jordan Cane||No Time||—||—|
|19||8||Anthony Martin||No Time||—||—|
|20||18||Dakota Dickerson||No Time||—||—|
|21||91||Luke Gabin||No Time||—||—|
Perhaps as expected, the Cape twins resumed back on top of the timesheets once it came time to qualify for the first of three USF2000 races at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Martin seized the momentum over Thompson, with the driver of the No. 8 car clocking in a 1:21.047 best time to secure the pole position. Thompson was second in the No. 2 car at 1:21.319.
In third, and scoring what is easily his best qualifying position of his rookie season, is Afterburner’s Dakota Dickerson in the No. 18 car. Dickerson posted a 1:21.654 to edge Garth Rickards, top of the three Pabst Racing entries, in fourth at 1:21.681.
Franzoni (ArmsUp) completed the top five, ahead of Australians Gabin and Lloyd. Official practice one leader Agren clocked in a perhaps disappointing 12th place in the session.
The first of three 30-minute USF2000 races runs in the 1:00 to 1:45 p.m. window later this afternoon, with the potential of rain hitting around the 2 p.m. hour.
Qualifying times are below.