By Steve Wittich

For the second straight day, it was Juncos Racing sophomore Carlos Cunha who used an end of the day, last minute lap to jump to the top of the timesheet. The 18 year-old was able to better his Saturday afternoon lap by over two-tenths of a second, to “win” testing with the fastest lap of 1 minute, 19.202 seconds.

“I’m really happy, Juncos Racing is an amazing team,” said Cunha. “On-track, we are always improving, never going backwards and that’s very good. We have tested a lot but we still need to learn a lot about the car, though we are almost to a perfect setup. The team has given me everything I need to be comfortable inside the car, to know what the car needs, and to know what I need to be a better driver. We have time to improve and we are moving forward quickly.”

Juncos Racing sophomore Carlos Cunha ended the second day of testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the same spot he did the first day. At the top of the timesheet (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography – Joe Skibinski)

Cunha’s swiftest lap was 4.4 seconds ahead of the venerable Mazda Renesis powered Star built chassis.

After having the second quickest lap in two different sessions, it finally looked like Team Pelfrey sophomore Sting Ray Robb was going to end the final session one spot higher, but Cunha’s last second flyer meant that the Idahoan had to settle for second in the session and in the runner-up spot on the combined time-sheet.

“We’ve done several tests this winter, working on my driving and on the car setup – and the chemistry with the team has been a huge factor,” explained the 16 year-old. “Coming into the weekend we know what we can do and here at Spring Training we got P2. The new car is so fast, brakes well, corners well, and it’s way nicer to drive than the old car. It feels like a real race car. Last year was my rookie season and it was a rough year, mentally and physically, so it’s good to be back in the swing of things, back in my rhythm!”

Sting Ray Robb is clearly enjoying his new home at Team Pelfrey. The 16 year-old was the second quickest driver in half of the six sessions and also ended the test as the second quickest pilot. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography – Joe Skibinski)

The remainder of the top five, David Malukas (BN Racing), Rafa Martins (Team Pelfrey) and Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport) were covered by only a scant one-tenth of a second, and were within a half-second of Cunha.

Thirteen of the 15 drivers ended the test within one second of each other, setting the table for what should be an outstanding title fight.

The two drivers, Oliver Askew and Rinus VeeKay, that battled until the final race of the year in the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda championship were only able to manage the ninth and eighth times, respectively.

But, both were fighting bugs. VeeKay was battling mechanical gremlins, and Askew was battling a nasty case of the flu, so don’t be surprised to see the talented duo back at the top of the time-sheets when the series heads to Barber Motorsports Park next week for two day official series test alongside the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup Series on Saturday, March 3 and Sunday March 4.

The 15 PM18 cars that took part in the six-hours of testing turned a total of 1,610 laps (3,558.1 miles). Antonio Serravalle, who completed 169 circuits of the 2.21-Mile Homestead-Miami Speedway road course was the busiest of the pilots, driving a total of 373.5 miles.

Combined timesheet for the two days of Pro Mazda Presented By Cooper Tire testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway

1 1 Carlos Cunha Juncos Racing 1:19.202 132
2 82 Sting Ray Robb Team Pelfrey 1:19.409 -0.207 123
3 79 David Malukas BN Racing 1:19.579 -0.377 78
4 80 Rafael Martins Team Pelfrey 1:19.604 -0.402 111
5 90 Parker Thompson Exclusive Autosport 1:19.685 -0.483 106
6 10 Harrison Scott RP Motorsport Racing 1:19.800 -0.598 39
7 9 Robert Megennis Juncos Racing 1:19.884 -0.642 125
8 2 Rinus VeeKay Juncos Racing 1:19.914 -0.712 129
9 3 Oliver Askew Cape Motorsports 1:19.987 -0.785 127
10 12 James Raven DE Force Racing 1:20.036 -0.834 127
11 78 Kris Wright BN Racing 1:20.150 -0.948 80
12 27 Lodovico Laurini RP Motorsport Racing 1:20.197 -0.995 61
13 81 Andres Gutierrez Team Pelfrey 1:20.249 -1.047 82
14 8 Nikita Lastochkin Cape Motorsports 1:20.876 -1.674 121
15 91 Antonio Seravalle Exclusive Autosport 1:21.038 -1.836 169

For the second straight year, it was a Team USA Scholarship winning Cape Motorsports driver that led the first official test of an upcoming Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season.

Last year, Oliver Askew used the momentum gained during the test to win the 2017 USF2000 Championship, and this year, it will be fellow Jupiter, Fla. native Kyle Kirkwood, who was part of the same Team USA Scholarship class, that will hope to follow in Askew’s footsteps.

Kyle Kirkwood and the No. 8 Cape Motorsports machine on track at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography – Joe Skibinski)

“Everything went really well,” explained Kirkwood to TSO Ladder. “We were obviously very quick yesterday and today. We had a plan for the last two sessions, so that’s why we weren’t quicker in both of them. We were just seeing what our race pace was. I’m really happy with the outcome of the weekend. The car feels amazing, and I think going into St. Pete we should be one of the quicker car.”

Kirkwood will be attempting to win the eighth straight driver’s championship for Cape Motorsports. The St. Petersburg, Fla. based team, who faced a tough challenge from Pabst Racing last year, conceding the team championship to the Augie Pabst led team.

Drivers from the Oconomowoc, Wisc. team ended the test with the second, third, fourth, and sixth quickest laps. Rasmus Lindh, a rookie from Sweden, who will be making his first race start in cars at St. Petersburg led the veteran-laden team, but Lucas Kohl, Kaylen Frederick, and Calvin Ming were all very close together.

“The car feels very good,” explained the 16 year-old. “We’ve been quickest in two sessions and have improved through the weekend. We’ve tested a few times in the car, my first times in a race car. It takes some getting used to, going from a kart to a car. The brakes require much more pressure than a kart and you have to hold that pressure, so that’s new for me. I am used to moving my body in the kart to help the chassis, and I can’t move my body at all in the USF-17. And I’m learning what the car’s limits are, as well as the limits of the tires. It’s been great working with the Pabst team – all four of us have very similar times, so we can compare data and get the best for all of us.”

It was rookie Rasmus Lindh who led his veteran Pabst Racing during the first official Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda test of 2018 (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography)

DEForce Racing sophomore Kory Enders was the only driver to break up the Cape Motorsports and Pabst Racing party at the top of the timesheet and ended the test with the fifth quickest time. The resident of Sugarland, Texas was one of the more consistent drivers of the test, ending with a top-five time in four of the six sessions.

After he got out of his car, Enders told TSO: “I think it went really great. We have a lot of speed and a lot of potential. At this point, we’re just fine-tuning the set-up at this point. We’re really looking forward to St. Pete(rsburg) because we know that we have the speed. We’re right there with Pabst, and ready to push even further to become P1. We wanted it here, but sometimes the best things are worth waiting for.”

During last year’s two-day opening test at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Oliver Askew was the only driver to turn a lap below 1 minute, 24 seconds, and this year, only two drivers, Kirkwood and Lindh were able to break that threshold. After Kirkwood went under Askew’s lap yesterday, it looked like a lot more drivers would break the 84-second barrier, but according to the drivers we talked to the track got slicker as the day wore on, limiting how hard they were able to push.

The top nine drivers all set their quickest laps on the first day of testing, with Julian Van der Watt (Team Pelfrey) being the first driver to set their quickest lap of the test on Sunday.

The 23 USF17 cars that took part in the six-hours of testing turned a total of 2735 laps (6,044.35 miles). Sabre Cook, who completed 169 circuits of the 2.21-Mile Homestead-Miami Speedway road course was the busiest of the pilots, driving a total of 373.5 miles

Combined timesheet for the two days of Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway


1 8 Kyle Kirkwood Cape Motorsports 1:23.772 118
2 23 Rasmus Lindh Pabst Racing 1:23.924 -0.152 103
3 22 Lucas Kohl Pabst Racing 1:24.068 -0.296 104
4 24 Kaylen Frederick Pabst Racing 1:24.095 -0.323 123
5 11 Kory Enders DEForce Racing 1:24.250 -0.478 122
6 21 Calvin Ming Pabst Racing 1:24.476 -0.704 112
7 81 Kyle Dupell Team Pelfrey 1:24.484 -0.712 123
8 12 Jose Sierra DEForce Racing 1:24.566 -0.794 121
9 36 Darren Keane Newman Wachs Racing 1:24.655 -0.883 121
10 80 Julian Van der Watt Team Pelfrey 1:24.782 -1.010 99
11 28 Zach Holden BN Racing 1:24.857 -1.085 113
12 31 Michael D’Orlando Team Benik 1:24.875 -1.103 139
13 91 Igor Fraga Exclusive Autosport 1:25.005 -1.233 71
14 82 Bruna Tomaselli Team Pelfrey 1:25.109 -1.337 101
15 30 Keith Donegan ArmsUp Motorsports 1:25.147 -1.375 102
16 5 Mathias Soler-Obel Sol.O Racing 1:25.161 -1.389 144
17 27 Colin Kaminsky DE Force Racing 1:25.280 -1.508 139
18 37 Max Peichel Newman Wachs Racing 1:25.392 -1.620 141
19 29 Russell McDonough BN Racing 1:25.627 -1.855 37
20 90 Manuel Cabrera Exclusive Autosport 1:25.803 -2.031 124
21 9 Sabre Cook ArmsUp Motorsports 1:25.967 -2.195 169
22 38 Oscar DeLuzuriaga Newman Wachs Racing 1:26.566 -2.794 150
23 93 Jason Clunie Exclusive Autosport 1:27.143 -3.371 159


USF2000 and Pro Mazda notebook:

  • The 2.1 mile, Homestead-Miami Speedway 14-turn road course has hosted a number of different road racing series including: ACCUS Florida Winter Series, Formula Atlantics Championship, F4 United States Championship Powered by Honda, FIA GT, Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series, SCCA US Road Racing Championship,Trans-Am, and US F2000 Winterfest. The 14-turn circuit features nine left-hand turns and six right-hand turns.

The 2.21-mile, 14-turn Homestead-Miami Speedway road course (Photo courtesy of Homestead-Miami Speedway)

  • When attending a test at Homestead-Miami Speedway, one often spends some time looking at the sky. The Homestead Air Reserve Base is located just to the northeast of the track, and the flight path takes planes right over the facility. The base is home to the 482nd Fighter Wing and their Lockheed F-16C Fighting Falcons and the 125th Fighter Wing of the Florida Air National Guard and their McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagles. Also calling the based home are United States Coast Guard EADS HC-144 Ocean Sentries, and various aircraft from U.S. Customs And Border Protection.
  • Each entry for spring training is allocated two sets of sticker Cooper Tire slicks for each day of the test, so they do have to be judicious in their use. Most teams spent the majority of Saturday’s first session on tires left over from testing before putting on sticker tires to end that first session. Each entry is allowed to carry over one set of tires from a previous event, but that set of carryovers does have to be used in the first practice session of another event. Tire “strategies” for the remaining four sessions varied, with some drivers/teams choosing to do their new tire, runs at the beginning of the sixty-minute session and
  • Jan Heylen will be replacing Scot Elkins as the USF2000 race director. Elkins is now the race director for the ABB FIA Formula E Championship. Heylen, originally from Belgium spent the early part of his career in open wheel racing piloting Formula Ford, Formula 3, Formula 3000, Indy Lights and Indy cars, before making the move to sports cars, where the 37 year-old has earned a reputation as an outstanding driver coach. Remaining in their race director roles from last year are Johnny Unser (Pro Mazda) and Tony Cotman (Indy Lights). Also remaining in his role as steward and USF2000 driver coach will be Joel Miller.
  • We’ve had a number of people ask us about the JUMBO sponsorship on the side pods of Rinus VeeKay’s race car. After asking VeeKay’s parents, and doing some research, we’ve learned that JUMBO is a 585 supermarket chain that currently has 19% of the Dutch supermarket market share. The chain is owned by the Van Eerd Group, who also recently purchased the La Place restaurant chain that has 60+ locations in 7 countries including stores in New York, N.Y. and San Francisco, Calif., so that logo is also now visible on the No. 2 Juncos Racing machine. The company is run by Frits van Eerd, a regular in the BOSS GP series, a first-time competitor at Le Mans in 2017, partnering with Jan Lammers and Ruebens Barrichello to finish 13th overall in the historic French event.

The livery of Rinus VeeKay for the 2018 Pro Mazda Presented By Cooper Tire season, featuring JUMBO and La Place. (Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography – Joe Skibinski)

  • USF2000 sophomore Darren Keane who drives for Newman Wachs Racing goes to high school in Coconut Creek, Fla, in the same school district and only six miles from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSDHS), the scene of a horrific school shooting less than two weeks ago. Keane told TSOLadder that one of his best friends attends MSDHS, and that the tragedy has really had an impact on all of the students in the area. The 18-year-old felt like he needed to show his support for his friends at the neighboring school, so the No. 36 is adorned with Parkland Strong 17 and #MSDStrong school logo stickers.

Photo By Steve Wittich

Photo by Steve Wittich