LEEDS, Ala. – Saturday’s opening two rounds of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship at Barber Motorsports Park saw honors shared by Yuven Sundaramoorthy and Prescott Campbell.
Both claimed their maiden victories with the series.
However, a second-place finish in the opening leg of the Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Alabama enabled 20-year-old Campbell – a mechanical engineering student at Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom – to take the early championship lead.
After starting on pole position for race two, Campbell’s teammate Nolan Siegel had to be content with second, while Josh Pierson also enjoyed a tremendous day, earning a pair of third-place finishes for Pabst Racing.
Sundaramoorthy made a dream start to his third full season of USF2000 in qualifying Friday by claiming his first Cooper Tires Pole Award.
The lap of 1:21.1201 (102.071 mph) comfortably eclipsed the old track record set by Englishman Michael Epps way back in 2014.
The 18-year-old college freshman took advantage of his pace and his experience to maintain his advantage at the start. He remained under intense pressure from Campbell for a few laps following an early full-course caution but refused to become distracted.
Instead he turned a series of 10 ultra-consistent laps, all within a couple of tenths of a second, to eke out a little breathing space and ensure a finely judged maiden victory by 2.3321 seconds.
“This feels so great, it’s been so long coming, so long in the works. To finally do this, and to do it from pole, feels great,” said Sundaramoorthy. “I didn’t get fast lap, so I didn’t get the grand slam of points, but I’ll take it! I knew Prescott would burn his tires up in the aero wash, so I just waited for him to fall back and focused on putting my laps together with no mistakes. It was a lot of pressure so mistakes were my biggest worry, but everything worked out. And having my teammate on the podium, with plenty of points for the team, makes it that much better.
“The Pabst team put everything together and the Cooper tires held up perfectly.”
Campbell also secured his best-ever USF2000 result after joining DEForce Racing for his sophomore campaign, although rather than being able to sustain his challenge for the win, instead he had to focus on the challenge from behind as Pierson remained seemingly glued to his gearbox.
Michael d’Orlando finished three seconds farther back in fourth after fending off a race-long challenge from Christian Brooks and impressive teammate Billy Frazer, who was the top rookie finisher and also earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award after working his way up from 12th on the grid.
Fellow rookies Spike Kohlbecker and Jace Denmark also finished close behind, although Denmark had run as high as fifth before making a couple of small errors.
Siegel, who finished a disappointing 10th in the opening race – but showed his speed by claiming the fastest lap of the race, worth an extra championship point – had another opportunity to shine in race two for which he had earned the Cooper Tires Pole Award during a second qualifying session on Friday.
The start was delayed until after NTT IndyCar Series qualifying by a power outage, and began with the DEForce trio of Siegel, Campbell and Brazilian Kiko Porto holding the top three positions.
Significantly cooler conditions and a couple of brief early caution periods brought some shuffling of the order as Pierson jumped from sixth to fourth and then, more significantly, Campbell managed to take the lead when Siegel slid a little wide at turn one following the second restart on lap seven.
From there, Campbell never looked back as he maintained a narrow edge over a pack of four pursuers for the remainder of the race. He finally took the checkered flag just over a half-second clear of Siegel, with Pierson, Porto and Brooks virtually in his tire tracks.
“It’s hard to put this into words, I’m just ecstatic to finally get this done,” noted Campbell. “I qualified P2 for race one, P2 in race two, finished P2 in Race One, so I was really hungry to go one better and I finally got it done. I ran a clean race, no mistakes, and that was the difference. With the aero wash, it’s hard to pass here, so it takes a mistake to change position when you’re that close, but I’m gutted for Nolan.
“Huge thanks to the team, they gave us the best car this weekend as evidenced by my teammates’ performance as well – and thanks to my parents, they’re the ones who have gotten me here, and my sponsors as well.”
Myles Rowe also impressed on the debut both for himself and the Force Indy team, part of IndyCar’s Race for Equality & Change. Rowe, who started fourth, slipped as low as ninth before making some fine passes in the closing stages to finish hot on the heels of Brooks.
Rookie Jackson Lee took home the Tilton Hard Charger Award by virtue of climbing from 23rd on the grid, following a problem in qualifying, to 14th.