By Steve Wittich
Jagger Jones, a third-generation racer in only his fourth open-wheel start, drove like anything but a newcomer on the way to his first Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship victory.
The Cape Motorsports rookie used a daring outside pass to take the lead and then drove a nearly perfect race under challenging conditions to reach the top step of the podium.
“But Sunday proved that we’d had the pace all weekend, and we finally did it,” exclaimed a thrilled Jones after getting out of the car. “That’s what it came down to; me putting it all together – getting a good start and getting into the lead. I made sure to make no mistakes.
“Lap one was pretty crazy. The track had been soaking wet when we headed for the false grid but it was much drier than we thought it would be once we got out on track. I realized that on the pace laps and at the green flag, the guys in front checked up super early, so I made a move around the outside in turns two and three and was out in front by turn five – basically, I repeated the move from Saturday but made it work this time. The Cape brothers gave me such a good car: all I had to do was hit my marks, keep it on track, and not do anything extravagant. And that’s what got me to victory lane. Just so happy to get my first series win, hopefully, more to come.”
Jones, the grandson of legend Parnelli Jones, has four consecutive top tens to start the season and is now third in points, only 8 out of the championship lead.
The win is the seventh for Cape Motorsports at the park-like Barber Motorsports Park. Jones joins Oliver Askew (two wins), Nico Jamin (one win), Aaron Telitz (one win), and Parker Thompson (two wins) as drivers that have brought the Cape brothers to victory lane in Alabama.
His veteran Cape Motorsports teammate, Michael d’Orlando, hounded Jones throughout the 17-lap race, finishing second, his fourth consecutive top-five finish to start the season.
The trip to the podium was his 15th in USF2000 for the driver of the Focused Project Management sponsored No.2
The 20-year-old’s consistent start means he enters the second quarter of the 2022 season tied for the points lead with Myles Rowe (Pabst Racing) in the chase for the $400,000+ advancement scholarship.
After the one-two finishes on Sunday, drivers representing the Dominic and Nicholas Cape run squad have a baker’s dozen trips to the podium at Barber Motorsports Park.
With the grip level unknown on the damp surface, pole-sitter and Turn 3 Motorsport pilot Christian Weir was understandably cautious through the first few turns, losing a pair of spots to the drivers that started behind the front row.
The 15-year-old settled in and grabbed his first career USF2000 podium in only his 12th race, an impressive feat for a driver who suffered a spinal compression fracture less than six months ago.
“It was a weekend of firsts for me,” said Weir. “The first race of the weekend was good. We were able to stay out of trouble, move forward, and gain experience going into the second race. What a great feeling it was to get my first pole position in Qualifying 2! I knew starting Race 2 from the front was going to be tough, and I think if I was able to avoid the contact on the opening lap, we could have scored our first win, but I’m so happy to come out of the weekend with my first podium in USF2000. I can’t wait to try and carry this momentum into Indy in just a couple of weeks. On to the next one!”
Turn 3 Motorsport is the 11th different team to score a podium at Barber Motorsports Park. Additionally, it’s the third series podium for the Mundelein, Ill. squad.
Saturday’s winner Myles Rowe also lost a pair of spots on the opening lap but could withstand 16 laps of constant harassment from Thomas Nepveu (DEForce Racing) and Simon Sikes (Legacy Autosport), bringing the Penske Entertainment sponsored No. 23 home in the fourth spot. Rowe’s fourth-place finish is his first top-five, which wasn’t a win.
If Rowe, who is tied for the points lead, doesn’t find some more sponsorship or funding, his season ended on Sunday. Here is his gofundme if you would like to help out –> https://www.gofundme.com/f/road-to-indy
Sikes’s solid start to the season continued on Sunday. The Georgian and his single-car Legacy Autosport team have finished fifth in three of four races.
“We ended up in the same spot as yesterday; we finished fifth,” said the 21-year-old Sikes. “I was a little happier with today’s performance; no mistakes on my end. It was a tough start. We got stuck in a lane that ended up not being the right lane for Turn 2. A couple of people on the outside managed to get by.
“It’s a really tough track to pass on. I fell to sixth place, but I made a really nice move on the outside of a car (Thomas Nepveu) in the second last corner (Turn 16) to make it up to fifth place.
The Legacy Autosport boys put a fast car out on track. I felt we were the fastest car out there and had really good pace.
“Unfortunately, at Barber Motorsports Park, you get a lot of aero-wash, and it really hinders the passing. It’s hard to get close to the car in front of you. I stayed in contact and made a couple of attempts at passing the car in front, but we ended up in fifth. So I’m not too disappointed in that. It was a solid points weekend, and I’m looking forward to the next one in two weeks.”
The 17-lap race featured 48 passes for position. Dylan Christie (DEForce Racing), who had an impressive commentary debut during Friday’s USF Juniors race, was the biggest mover, gaining five spots to finish eighth.
After a long delay for weather, the call to fire the engines for the 25-minute timed race came at 11:10 am, and after two pace laps – with the second yellow flag lap counting – behind the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires safety car, the front row of first-time pole sitter Weir and Race #1 winner Rowe brought the field to the green flag.
From Naperville, Ill, Weir led through the first four corners before giving up the lead to an aggressive Jones, who went around the outside of the EComfort.com/Ferguson/ProFlow sponsored No. 32 in Turn 5.
Weir, d’Orlando, and Myles were three-wide on the run down to the tricky museum complex of Turn 8 and 9. Veteran d’Orlando had the preferred inside line, grabbing the second spot with a clean pass.
The running order after the first green flag lap was Jones, d’Orlando, Weir, Rowe, Nepveu, Sikes, Jace Denmark (Pabst Racing), Nicky Hays (Cape Motorsports), Jacob Douglas (Exclusive Autosport), Christie, Spike Kohlbecker (Turn 3 Motorsport w/Ignite Autosport), Bijoy Garg (DEForce Racing), Jackson Lee (Cape Motorsports), Jorge Garciarce (Jay Howard Driver Development), Trey Burke (Joe Dooling Autosports with Curb/Agajanian), Viktor Andersson (Velocity Racing Development), Danny Dyszelski (Jay Howard Driver Development), Yeeroo Lee (Jay Howard Driver Development) and pit road bound Billy Frazer (Exclusive Autosport).
After finishing in second place in Race #1, Frazer in the deep red colored Corpay Cross-Border Solutions No. 92 had a less fulfilling experience in Sunday’s Race. The Kiwi, who is traveling the USA this season in a travel trailer with his dad, pinballed off other cars in Turn 8 and Turn 9, losing his front wing.
The 19-year-old entered the race only two markers out of the points lead, but the pit stop and lack of yellows resulted in a 17th place finish, dropping him to fifth in points. In the clean air, Frazer was able to turn the quickest lap of the race, earning a crucial bonus point.
“We were definitely fast this weekend,” said Frazer. “Unfortunately, Race 2 didn’t quite go to plan., as I was hit on the opening lap, damaging my front wing; causing an unscheduled pit stop to change it. I pushed on with a damaged car, setting the fastest lap of the race. However, no safety car periods meant I couldn’t catch the pack. Proud of the way we didn’t give up. The luck will change and we will finish where we deserve at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in two weeks. Many thanks to the Exclusive Autosport crew, Giltrap Group and Corpay.”
On the second green flag lap, Jackson Lee made a spectacular three-wide pass of Garg and Kohlbecker into the fast left-hand Turn 1, moving to 11th after losing three spots on the start. The Cape Motorsports sophomore would gain two more spots, moving to 9th.
“Sunday morning was tough, with the changing conditions, but the Cape boys did a great job to insure we had the best possible scenario,” said the pilot of the IU Cancer Center/Browning Chapman/Spruce sponsored No. 2. “Unfortunately, the track was very green, with not much grip, so it was tough to pass. I tried to force the guys ahead into mistakes, but it just didn’t happen.”
After seven laps of action, with 14-minutes remaining on the clock, there was a consistent gap between the top four, with Rowe in fourth, 3.1 seconds behind the leader.
Hays, who had moved up to seventh from his 11th starting spot, went wide in Turn 1, allowing Denmark and Douglas past him. The Californian recovered well, regaining those spots to finish seventh, the rookie’s best career finish and third straight top ten.
Jones’ lead over his veteran teammate is 1.3 seconds with ten remaining minutes and ten laps in the books.
With six minutes remaining, newcomer Dyszelski in the Formula Imports/Charlotte Mechanical No. 8 has an issue in Turn 3 and briefly stops between Turn 4 and Turn 5.
The Jay Howard Driver Development driver can pull away on his own just as the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team pulls up.
“Barber was a great learning opportunity for me,” said the just turned 14-year-old Dyszelski, who was making his first start in cars . “Between the increased competition levels and hanging out around the IndyCar paddock, I was able to learn so much from the competitors. We had struggles on track, but avoided any damage which was the ultimate goal of my first weekend. I’m excited to get back behind the wheel in Indianapolis in two weeks and improve my performance!”
The yellow flag did fly for a half-lap, bunching the field back up and testing newbie Jones’ restart skills.
The green flag came back out with four minutes remaining.
Jones got a good jump coming as they streamed downhill in Turn 1. After the front two, however, the battling for position in the top 10 was fast and furious as the gaggle of USF-21s rushed towards Charlotte’s Web (Turn 5).
Sikes in the recognizable royal blue and bright orange Metalloid/Sturgis Finishing/Group6Gear sponsored No. 19 made a late move to the inside of Rowe, but the Race #1 winner was able to hold off the 2020 F1600 Series champion.
On the next lap, Sikes made the same move on Rowe in Turn 5; again, the Pace University senior held him off, remaining in fourth place.
Behind that battle in the same corner, Douglas got to the inside of Denmark in the struggle for seventh, with the Kiwi’s No. 90 making contact with the Metal Works Custom Fabrication No. 23 spinning in front of the remainder of the field.
The Arizonan tied for the points lead with his teammate Rowe continued in his damaged race car, finishing two laps down and dropping into a tie for fourth on the points table.
Douglas crossed the finished line in eighth, which would have been the 16-year-olds first American top ten, but after the race, he was penalized 30-seconds for avoidable contract, dropping him to the 16th finishing spot.
Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Alabama Race #2 results
|1||3||Jagger Jones||Cape Motorsports||17 LAPS|
|2||4||Michael d’Orlando||Cape Motorsports||-0.5455|
|3||32||Christian Weir||Turn 3 Motorsport||-1.2888|
|4||22||Myles Rowe||Pabst Racing||-1.8234|
|5||19||Simon Sikes||Legacy Autosport||-2.0295|
|6||10||Thomas Nepveu||DEForce Racing||-2.5243|
|7||5||Nicky Hays||Cape Motorsports||-4.9989|
|8||11||Dylan Christie||DEForce Racing||-7.0421|
|9||2||Jackson Lee||Cape Motorsports||-7.4665|
|10||12||Bijoy Garg||DEForce Racing||-7.8192|
|11||33||Spike Kohlbecker||Turn 3 Motorsport w/Ignite Autosport||-8.0841|
|12||9||Jorge Garciarce||Jay Howard Driver Development||-8.6205|
|13||30||Viktor Andersson||Velocity Racing Development||-8.937|
|14||63||Trey Burke||Joe Dooling Autosports||-9.2329|
|15||7||Yeoroo Lee||Jay Howard Driver Development||-17.3665|
|16||90||Jacob Douglas||Exclusive Autosport||-36.1016|
|17||92||Billy Frazer||Exclusive Autosport||-52.6995|
|18||23||Jace Denmark||Pabst Racing||-2 LAPS|
|19||8||Danny Dyszelski||Jay Howard Driver Development||– 4 LAPS|
Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship points after four rounds.
|T1||Myles Rowe||Pabst Racing||86|
|T1||Michael d’Orlando||Cape Motorsports||86|
|3||Jagger Jones||Cape Motorsports||78|
|T4||Jace Denmark||Pabst Racing||70|
|T4||Billy Frazer||Exclusive Autosport||70|
|6||Simon Sikes||Legacy Autosport||63|
|7||Bijoy Garg||DEForce Racing||58|
|8||Christian Weir||Turn 3 Motorsport||55|
|9||Thomas Nepveu||DEForce Racing||53|
|10||Nicky Hays||Cape Motorsports||46|
|11||Spike Kohlbecker||Turn 3 Motorsport||45|
|T12||Jackson Lee||Cape Motorsports||39|
|T12||Dylan Christie||DEForce Racing||39|
|T12||Jacob Douglas||Exclusive Autosport||29|
|T12||Trey Burke||Joe Dooling Autosports||29|
|T12||Jorge Garciarce||Jay Howard Driver Development||29|
|17||Viktor Andersson||Velocity Racing Development||26|
|18||Yeeroo Lee||Jay Howard Driver Development||24|
|19||Frederik Lund||Jay Howard Driver Development||11|
|20||Danny Dyszelski||Jay Howard Driver Development||4|
The same teams and drivers are back on track for three races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, starting with practice on May 12, 2022.