Neil Alberico Dominates Cooper Tires USF2000 Winterfest Opener
Sophomore USF2000 driver Neil Albierico set out as he intends to continue by dominating this afternoon’s opening round of the Cooper Tires Winterfest Championship at Sebring International Raceway. Albierico, 20, from Los Gatos, Calif., qualified Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing’s #2 Racelite Protection/Bondurant School of High Performance Driving Van Diemen-Mazda on pole position, made a clean start and was never seriously challenged.
Alberico held a lead of 1.3 seconds over teammate Scott Hargrove, from Vancouver, B.C., Canada at the end of the opening lap around the 3.74-mile track and continued to stretch his lead with every lap, establishing a new USF2000 lap record of 2:03.074 – more than 0.8 seconds faster than his qualifying time – on Lap Nine as he sped to a convincing first-ever professional victory. The feat also ensured he will start on the pole position for the first of two more races tomorrow.
Hargrove was similarly untroubled in second place aboard the #38 Analytic Systems/Race Energy/Metal Action/Skip Barber Racing/Bell Racing Van Diemen.
Third place fell to USF2000 rookie Danilo Estrela, from Goiania, Brazil, driving the #11 entry for Belardi Auto Racing. A standout in the Skip Barber Racing series for the past two seasons, Estrela qualified fifth, made up two positions on the opening lap and held off a determined mid-race challenge from fellow USF2000 rookie Stefan Rzadzinski to ensure his podium appearance.
|Podium - Estrela (2nd from left), Albierico and Hargrove (R). Dayson (far left) took the National class|
Rzadzinski, from Edmonton, Alb., Canada, lost a position on the opening lap but recovered to place Estrela under pressure in the middle stages of the 12-lap race before making an error in Turn 17. Rzadzinski lost a position to impressive 15-year-old Floridian RC Enerson, from New Port Richey, but regained it on the last lap to finish fourth in the #93 Can Torque/Christenson Developments Van Diemen entered by JDC MotorSports.
Enerson had to be content with fifth in the #10 Team E/Patriot Bank/ZSports Midwest Van Diemen, marking a solid debut in the Championship class after earning four wins in National Class competition in 2012.
Reigning Skip Barber Racing Series champion Jake Eidson, 17, from Littleton, Colo., also drove a good race to finish sixth on his debut for Afterburner Autosport, despite completing only a minimal number of laps in practice and qualifying due to some technical problems.
Garett Grist made a notable debut with Andretti Autosport in the #7 DaVinci Foods entry coming from last on the grid after not posting a time in qualifying to move as high as seventh by Lap 7 before brake issues ended his campaign.
James Dayson, from Vancouver. B.C., Canada took home the National Class Presented by SCCA Enterprises spoils, finishing 16th overall in the #16 Dayhu Group of Companies/Me and Lewis Ideas Inc. Formula Enterprises Van Diemen-Mazda fielded by ArmsUp Motorsports.
Rounds 2 and 3 of Cooper Tires Winterfest competition will take place at 1:20 pm ET and 4:20 pm ET tomorrow. Live timing and scoring will be available at www.usf2000.com.
The 2013 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda will open on March 14/15 with two races in support of the American Le Mans Series and 61st running of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida.
Neil Alberico, #2 Racelite Protection/Bondurant School of High Performance Driving (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing) – First: “We knew going in and starting from the pole that we wanted to get out front and be consistent and turn some good lap times. The Cape guys – Dominic, Nicholas, Will and all the mechanics – they all make it easy for me to do my job. It was a good day today and, hopefully, we can duplicate it tomorrow.”
Scott Hargrove, #38 Analytic Systems/Race Energy/Metal Action/Skip Barber Racing/Bell Racing (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing) – Second: “The race was a lot of fun and it was great to be near the front for a change. Cape Motorsports did a great job in providing me with the car and I just need to go and catch up to Neil [Albierico] for tomorrow. Everything ran flawlessly, so it is a good thing that there is still more racing.”
Danilo Estrela, #11 (Belardi Auto Racing) – Third: “It was a very good race. The team gave me a good car. This was my first time [in a USF2000 race] so I am still getting used to it. Brian [Belardi] has a very good team and Chuck [Lessick, Team Manager] and everyone did a great job so I think we have a very good start to the season, and I feel we will be fighting for top honors.”
James Dayson, #16 Dayhu Group of Companies/Me & Lewis Ideas Inc. (ArmsUp Motorsports) – National Class Winner: “It is great to be back at Sebring especially since I wasn’t able to put any laps in last year during Winterfest. It is a fun track to drive and it looks like there is going to be some good competition, and I am looking forward to getting some more competition in my class. I just keep practicing and hammering away each time that I am in the car to keep improving. I still have a long way to go.”