O’Ward Edges Kelley, Herta Extends Series Lead The third and final three-race weekend of the Pacific Formula F1600/F2000 Championship Series was held on Saturday at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The 1.940 mile outfield road course saw Patricio O’Ward claim his third consecutive win in F2000 since joining the series and Colton Herta win his series leading eighth race in F1600 as the series opened the season ending race weekend, racing with the Vintage Auto Racing Association during the Datsun-Porsche Shootout Event.
The mid-morning qualifying for round 13 was held under sunny skies, mild (low seventies) temperatures and a slight breeze as the drivers took to the track.
The F1600 group was lead by Joey Bickers, #34, PR1 Motorsports Mygale/Honda. Bickers claimed pole position and the much needed two bonus points by a mere 0.066 seconds ahead of teammate Colton Herta in his #98, PR1 Motorsports w/BHA Curb-Agajanian entry sponsored by DVS shoe Company, Curb Records, Mygale N. America, OMP, Bell Helmets, Penske Shocks, Mygale/Honda. This pair was followed by Alex Keyes, #32 and Andrew Evans, #19, both in Spectrum/Hondas for Lynx Racing, Les Phillips, returning to the #89 Swiss Motorsports, Porterfield Brakes, Mygale SJ04/Honda and newcomer Tazio Ottis in the #17, HPD, Piper Honda for Cameron Racing.
Patricio O’Ward continued to show his dominance over the F2000 field and took the pole position, his third, driving his #6 POW Motorsports, Pequeneces, DFR Van Diemen. The only driver to have the pace of O’Ward was 2012 Series Champion Bobby Kelley driving the #2, DFR Van Diemen lapping within three tenths of O’Ward’s lap of 1:24.534. Row two featured Bob Negron, #9,Terri Negron Web Design, fengshuimebaby.com, Van Diemen and Ira Fierberg in his #27, Pinnacle Performance, Sparco USA, DFR, Van Diemen with Tom Hope, #18, H&M Racing, Dart, Carbir, Peter West, #99, Frank Monise Motors, Zombo.com, Kodenko Jeans, T.J. Martell Foundation, DFR Van Diemen and Peter Hastrup, #62, Western Building Materials, DFR Van Diemen completing the grid.
O’Ward took the advantage at the start, just edging ahead of Kelley as the pair raced toward turn one followed by Fierberg, Negron, West and Hastrup.
O’Ward maintained his lead over Kelley as the pair raced off, nose to tail, leaving the remainder of the field behind. Kelley patiently followed O’Ward for the remainder of the race while he plotted his strategy for his attack on O’Ward. Kelley gained a slight edge as the field was lapping one of the slower cars and drew alongside O’Ward down the front straight through turn one and finally conceding the position as they entered turn two. Kelley’s final attempt came as they exited the final turn on the last lap and Kelley with a slightly better exit drew alongside, the pair touched and fought all the way to the checkers with O’Ward taking victory by 0.075 seconds, about three feet, his third straight and claimed the fastest lap to take maximum points.
Kelley drove extremely well considering this was his first race since winning the championship at this event last year.
Behind O’Ward and Kelley were Ira Fierberg and Bob Negron battling, not only for third position, but for the lead in the championship which Fierberg maintained to the end to take the final step on the podium and claim the Master Class win, while Negron was never quite close enough to try an overtaking move and finished in fourth.
Next were Peter West and Peter Hastrup, teammates at Dave Freitas racing, having their own two car fight. West led from the start and managed to hold off Hastrup until lap ten when Hastrup charged through to take fifth place, where he finished despite West’s last lap charge, aided by slower traffic that fell just short, finishing in sixth.
Seventh place went to Tom Hope, whose run of bad luck continued as the throttle cable snapped as he took the green flag. Hope managed to coast around to the straight between turns two and three and pulled off course and was left stranded until the end of the race. Hope had led the championship for much of the season until the mechanical issues took its toll.
Colton Herta made an excellent start seized the lead of the F1600 group at the green, a position he was not to relinquish throughout the race. Herta was able to pull out a gap on Joey Bickers in second place and finished a whopping 13.497 seconds ahead when the checkered flag fell, his largest margin of the season. The win was his eighth of the season and all but clinched the F1600 title in addition to taking the race’s fastest lap.
Bickers in second fell back into the clutches of Alex Keyes from the start and spent several laps trying to break away to pursue his teammate. By this time Herta had built a three second lead and was continuing to inch ahead. His hopes of catching Herta ended when lapping a slower car was forced wide and off course losing almost all of the advantage he had built up over Keyes trailing in third place. He managed to hold off Keyes and take second place.
Keyes in third drove exceptionally well keeping in touch with Bickers throughout, something he had not been able to do in past events, signaling an improvement in his performance. Keyes finished in third, the final step on the podium, for the eighth time this season and seems sure to take third in the championship.
Behind Keyes was his Lynx Racing teammate Andrew Evans who, for the first time this season, was unable to maintain the pace of his teammate. This was the first time the pair had raced here which may have had some affect on Evan’s performance and he finished fourth.
Newcomer Tazio Ottis in only his first outing in the Piper, sitting in the car for the first time on Friday during testing, finished in fifth place.
Les Phillips retired five laps from the end of the race having run out of fuel on lap 10.
The series now has two more races on Sunday, the first at 8:40am followed by the season finale at 12:50pm.
The single-seat, open-wheel F2000 cars are powered by 2-liter Ford Zetec engines and run on Hankook tires supplied by Sierra Tire. The F1600 cars will be powered by either the 1500cc Honda Fit engine or the 1600cc Ford ‘Kent’ engine and will run on Toyo tires.