By Steve Wittich
Game on! Only nine points separate Braden Eves and Hunter McElrea in the chase for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship title chase with only four races left on the calendar.
The 20-year-old Eves started the season with four straight trips to victory lane and a 44-point lead over Pabst Racing rookie McElrea when the “Month of May” came to a close.
One win, and two races later, the New Albany, Ohio driver began summer with a 41 point advantage over his Yankee/Kiwi/Aussie rival.
But, a mistake, some bad luck, a lack of pace, and being a victim of another driver’s aggressive driving has resulted in an average finish of 7.5 over the last four races.
In that same span, McElrea has a win and three podiums, outscoring Eves by an 88 to 56 margin.
The bottom rung of the Road To Indy has visited the 1.964-mile, 12-Turn road course four times and all four times, it was Cape Motorsports driver that stood on the top step of the podium.
Previous USF2000 winners at Portland International Raceway
|2018 Race #2||Kyle Kirkwood||Cape Motorsports|
|2018 Race #1||Kyle Kirkwood||Cape Motorsports|
|2006 Race #2||J.R. Hildebrand||Cape Motorsports|
|2006 Race #1||J.R. Hildebrand||Cape Motorsports|
Eves has a slight track knowledge advantage over McElrea after making his series debut on the 1.964-mile, 12-Turn road course last year. Competing with Newman Wachs Racing, he finished an impressive sixth in his first race and was taken out in Turn 1 on Lap 1 in his second race.
But, with a trio of 45-minute test sessions today, that advantage shouldn’t be too significant.
Road Course Crystal Ball… advantage McElrea?
Maybe, but certainly not by much.
The final four races of the championship will be contested on natural terrain road courses, giving us reason to look backward.
In the previous six races contested on natural terrain road courses at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Road America, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Hunter McElrea has outscored Braden Eves by a slim 160 to 143 margin.
Eves has three wins compared to two for McElrea (Christian Rasmussen has the other win), but McElrea’s average finish of 2.0 is better than Eves’ average of 3.7.
Road Course Points Through Six Of Ten Races
|1||Braden Eves – R||260|
|2||Hunter McElrea – R||251||-9|
|5||Christian Rasmussen – R||198||-62|
|6||Manuel Sulaiman – R||161||-99|
|7||Cameron Shields – R||137||-123|
|9||Jak Crawford – R||130||-130|
|10||Reece Gold – R||125||-135|
|11||Matthew Round-Garrido – R||122||-138|
|12||Yuven Sundaramoorthy – R||119||-141|
|14||Eduardo Barrichello- R||93||-167|
|16||Nolan Siegel – R||89||-171|
|17||Christian Bogle – R||75||-185|
|18||Jack William Miller – R||69||-191|
|19||Anthony Famularo – R||67||-193|
|24||Nate Aranda – R||2||-258|
Going fast and leading laps aka bonus points
With only nine points separating Braden Eves and Hunter McElrea, don’t be surprised if bonus points play a role in who wins the title.
Each race has three bonus points available; one each for winning the pole, one for leading the most laps, and one for having the quickest race lap.
Eves has three poles, led the most laps on four occasions and had the quickest lap of the race twice to score nine bonus points so far this season.
McElrea has six bonus points, including a trio of pole positions, twice leading the most laps as well as collecting the quickest lap of the race once.
The only driver to score ‘max points’ so far in 2019 is Eves, who accomplished the feat in the second race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
USF2000 bonus points in 2019
|2||Braden Eves – R||9|
|3||Hunter McElrea – R||6|
|4||Christian Rasmussen – R||5|
Hunter McElrea isn’t the only driver that has made up significant ground in the championship in July.
Jay Howard Driver’s Development’s Christian Rasmussen heads to the final four races as the hottest driver over the last five races. The rookie’s 131 points are 19 more than the next most productive driver.
Rasmussen has two wins, four podiums, one pole, and has led 55 of 97 laps over that five-race span. He has also had the first or second quickest race lap in all five races.
The Danish driver will need some significant help if he is to win the title and advancement scholarship. But, don’t be surprised to see him play the role of spoiler.
Other potential spoilers
Only nine points separate Darren Keane, Colin Kaminsky, and Christian Rasmussen in an entertaining battle for the third spot in the championship.
Cape Motorsports veteran Keane currently holds that third spot and is also on a role. The 19-year-old University of Florida sophomore has scored the second-most points over the last five races, including his first career win, three podiums, and three quickest race laps.
“I’m really looking forward to racing at Portland this weekend and the next four races,” Keane enthused, having just started his sophomore year at the University of Florida. “I think it is a track that I will mesh well with. The goal is two clean finishes and some good points, but I’m always aiming for the top step of the podium! I’m third in the championship and a bit far behind the leaders and I feel a bit like I’m the underdog with nothing to lose, so I’m just going to go for the wins. This championship is theirs to loose. I can’t wait to get on track this Thursday and show what we’ve got. It’s also nice to be back with the Cape boys after a long break. All in all, I’m excited for a great weekend!
Kaminsky is coming off a pair of podiums at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and trail only McElrea and Eves in points scored on natural terrain road courses. The University of Pittsburgh student’s average finish in the six previous natural terrain road course is 4.2.
The USF2000 Driver’s Championship isn’t the only one that is heating up. We’ll be carefully watching the Team Championship over the last two events.
Cape Motorsports had sprinted out to a healthy lead early in the season, but Pabst Racing has been on a tear lately and has cut the gap to a slender nine-point margin.
The Oconomowoc, Wisconsin based Pabst Racing has won the last two team titles.
USF2000 team points
|4||Newman Wachs Racing||83|
|6||Jay Howard Driver Development||132|
|8||Miller Vinatieri Motorsports||46|
After contesting the first 11 races of the season with Miller Vinatieri Motorsports, Eduardo Barrichello will be making a move to DEForce Racing to get behind the wheel of the Bib’s Chocolate sponsored No. 91.
“I’m really happy to have the opportunity to drive with DEForce for the last two race weekends of the USF2000 season. I want to thank Miller Vinatieri Motorsports for their support throughout the year. Now I’m looking forward to the new challenge ahead of me.”
The Brazilian’s three top-10 finishes this season have come on the natural terrain road courses at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Road America.
Making his return to the series for the first time this season Kyle Dupell, who calls Portland, Ore. home. The 20-year-old will be at the wheel of the Opal Creek Capital / Family Help and Wellness sponsored No. 73 from the Newman Wachs Racing stable.
Dupell made 14 USF2000 starts last year, including a pair of tenth place finishes on the 1.964-mile, 12-Turn road course.
“I’m extremely excited to be joining Newman Wachs Racing for the Grand Prix of Portland,” Dupell enthused. “I believe we can do some great things together this weekend. Everything started coming together in winter testing this year, leading sessions in both Indy Pro 2000 and USF2000 in official testing. I’m looking forward to the challenge of jumping into the car for the first time this year and seeing what we’re made of. Thank you to Opal Creek Capital for coming on-board with us again, and Family Help and Wellness for joining up with us and making this possible.”
Jay Howard Driver Development will be running a third car this weekend. F1600 Championship Series stand-out Josh Green will be behind the wheel of the JHDD, CSU | One Cure, Pelican Energy, Lucas Oil sponsored No. 5.
The Mount Kisco, N.Y. driver, has won seven times and finished on the podium in 18-races, sitting second in the championship. The high-school senior was recently named as one of the six finalists for the Team USA Scholarship.
“I’m extremely excited to get to work this weekend!” said a thrilled Green. “Being my first time in the car at a new track, it’ll be a huge learning curve, and I’m confident I’ll learn a massive amount with a team as prestigious as JHDD. I can’t wait to figure out what this new car likes from both an engineering and driving standpoint, as well as speaking to, and learning from, as many new people as possible. I can’t thank Jay Howard and JHDD enough for the opportunity.”
Ayrton Ori, from Orlando, Fla. is the second F1600 Championship Series driver that will be making his series debut piloting the No. 77 Legacy Autosport USF-17. The 15-year-old has stood on the podium one time throughout two seasons and also has experience in SCCA Formula F competition.
“The whole crew at Legacy Autosport treated me like family,” explained Ori. “I was able to get fitted to the car comfortably and while on track, the team consistently worked with me to ensure I was learning with each passing lap. Driving a non-winged car is much different than a USF2000, but I am excited and ready for the challenge that lies ahead.”
DEForce Racing rookie Manuel Sulaiman heads to the Pacific Northwest as a champion. The Puebla, Mexico won ten times on the way to clinching the 2018–19 edition of the NACAM Formula 4 Championship. Fellow USF2000 competitor Jak Crawford finished right behind Sulaiman.
This week 13 years ago, Alexander Rossi, who is in the fight for the NTT IndyCar Series championship, tested with Cape Motorsports. Here was the press release from the series at that time. https://web.archive.org/web/20061024041122/http://www.cooperseries.com/news/news_september0206_alexander_rossi_tests_in_palmetto.html
Palmetto FL (September 1, 2006) – The fourteen-year-old talented driver and Skip Barber 2006 Scholarship winner from Nevada City, California came to Group Four Park with the expectation of doing well but not setting the world on fire. It turned out he would set a track record in a Formula 1000 car.
Despite blistering heat and having never driven the F1000 car, Alexander Rossi would adapt quickly and begin putting down laps that would challenge the times of other drivers many years his senior. Dominic and Nicholas Cape, owners of Cape Motorsports, would put Alexander through a series of tests to assess his ability to adapt and communicate how the car was performing.
Nicholas Cape, co-owner of Cape Motorsports, stated, “Rossi is a talent beyond his years. He showed impressive pace and adaptability and never put a wheel wrong. When you consider his age and where he is in his career, this definitely marks him as future champion.”
Alexander would continue putting in faster laps as the day progressed, learning the car and controls, adjusting the setup and then concentrating on the track. By early afternoon he would go on to set a new track record in an F1000 car.
Rossi would draw on his experiences in a Skip Barber car and a Formula Renault car to provide analysis of the new F1000 car. “The Skip Barber car is similar as it’s a frame rail chassis, but it doesn’t have as much power. The Formula Renault 1.6 is the exact opposite. It has a carbon fiber chassis and only 90 hp at the wheels. The F1000 car was an in-between thing because it had power but was a frame rail chassis, so it didn’t take me long to adjust. I really enjoyed the car. It was fun to drive.”
Rossi’s background in karting and experience with Skip Barber and Formula Renault is the foundation for a bright future for this young but mature driver from California. He is currently third in the point’s race in the Skip Barber National Championship presented by RACER. His next race will be one of the support races with the Champ Car World Series at Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI, September 22-24.
Other Steve type things
- Braden Eves has five podiums this season. All of them are wins.
- The USF2000 Championship has only visited Portland International Raceway twice and that eventual champion – J.R. Hildebrand in 2006 and Kyle Kirkwood in 2018 – has won.
- The pole-sitter has won three of the four USF2000 races at Portland International Raceway.
Race Weekend Basics
Race #1: Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix Presented by Allied Building Products
Race #2: Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix Presented by Allied Building Products
Race #1 distance: 25 laps or 40 minutes
Race #2 distance: 25 laps or 40 minutes
Each entry can utilize three new sets of Cooper Tire slicks as well as one set of used/scuffed tires from the test at Portland International Raceway.
Drivers failing to slow at least 15% in a timing sector with a local yellow will be subject to a two-place grid spot penalty.
Drivers who fail to heed the checkered flag at the end of a session will receive a two-grid spot penalty
Causing one red flag will result in a driver losing their fastest lap.
Causing a second red flag will wipe out all of drivers laps, and they will be parked for the remainder of the session
Driver points are distributed as follows: 30 – 25 – 22 – 19 – 17 – 15 -14 – 13 – 12 – 11 – 10 – 9 – 8 – 7 – 6 – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – an additional one point will be awarded to the pole sitter, to the driver who leads the most laps, and to the driver who turns the quickest race lap
Watch last year’s USF2000 races
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