Newcomer Baron wins Round 11 and joined on podium in California by Gooden
MINNEAPOLIS, MIN. – The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda has new name on its win list following a superb performance by Afterburner Autosport this past weekend (September 7-8) at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The Minnesota-based team scored its inaugural series win in Round 11, with star French newcomer Alex Baron taking the victory and being joined on the podium by fellow rookie standout Wyatt Gooden. The team added another podium finish and top-six result in race two, placing Afterburner Autosport third in the team championship fight entering the season-finale in Texas.
Making the lone series trip to the west coast, the entire Afterburner Autosport crew was excited about the opportunity to race at the renowned Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca road course in northern California and rebound from what was trying previous event in Ohio. Given virtually the entire field had never raced at the 2.238-mile undulating track, and the fact the talented squad had series podium finisher Gooden being joined by European up-and-comer Baron - making his series debut following an impressive test with the team - confidence was high prior to rolling on-course.
As planned, the opening three test runs on Friday were utilized getting acclimated to the track and developing the car setups for qualifying and the races. Gooden and Baron steadily built speed throughout the day, ending the third session P3 and P5 respectively.
Baron though was just getting started, as come the sole practice session he moved to the top of the speedcharts in his No. 18 13th Avenue/Afterburner Autosport entry.
The 2012 European F4 Auto Sport Academy champion further indicated his pace come qualifying, capturing the pole position for his inaugural USF2000 race. It was, however, not just a one-man show under the team awning, as Godden was among those challenging for top honors in the timed run as well, ultimately posting the fourth best lap in the No. 17 PerfectPedal.com/Afterburner Autosport racing steed.
After a short break it was time to go racing in California, with the start proving to be the decisive moment of the affair. Baron, conducting his first-ever junior formula car rolling start, got away cleanly, with Gooden among those giving chase. Entering the turn one hairpin, Baron came under attack from the championship points leader ultimately resulting in light contact. Fortunately, Baron was able to not only continue, but maintain his P1 position while Gooden slotted into third place. While a subsequent safety-car period bunched the field back together, both Afterburner Autosport racers enjoyed good restarts, withstanding pressure from behind to finish first and third, giving the Minnesota-based team its inaugural series win and two drivers on the podium.
"I want to say thanks to my team for doing an incredible job," stated Baron. "In the race I managed to keep Neil [Alberico] behind me from the start. He tried to close the gap on me, but I was able to stay out front and not make any mistakes. My thoughts on tomorrow are to improve the car, as nothing is ever perfect, and hopefully get another win."
"Today was an awesome day," said Gooden. "Garett [Grist] was putting pressure on me for awhile. My car really didn’t come in until halfway through the race or so, and then it started to get a little bit better and I was feeling more confident. I made some adjustments and was able to keep Garett behind me, which was awesome because he is in front of me in the points in P3, so we still have a legitimate shot at the Rookie of the Year title. I am mostly happy for my team because we have struggled the last five or six races, and to come through and get both guys on the podium, I am just unbelievably happy for my team."
Using each driver's fast lap from race one or his qualifying lap to set the grid for Round 12, Baron again secured the pole, while Gooden lined-up in fifth.
Following a lengthy delay due to fog, race two of the twin bill again featured Baron getting a good launch at the waving of the green flag, and Gooden once more part of the chasing pack right behind. Baron's run out front, however, came an end on lap two, when a quick on-off dropped him to fourth. Never one to give up attacking, the French rookie looked to regain positions for the remainder of the shortened race, ultimately securing a place on the podium via a bold last lap pass at the famed Corkscrew turn.
"I was able to get by Neil [Alberico] on the last lap for third," added Baron. 'I am pretty happy with the weekend – a win, two poles, and another podium today. I want to thank the team for their great job. I also want to say that I will be coming back to compete at Houston, and I am looking forward to that."
Gooden meanwhile was engaged in a heated multi-car dice for position from start-to-finish. In the end, the Ohio driver executed a late race pass to come home in sixth.
Afterburner Autosport concludes its Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda campaign on October 5-6, when Rounds 13-14 are contested on the streets of Houston, Texas, around Reliant Park. The Minnesota squad enters the doubleheader third in the team championship, while Gooden sits fourth in the driver points.
Additional information on Afterburner Autosport is available from the team’s website @ www.AfterburnerAutosport.com. For direct contact, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 630-251-1709.
Keep up to date via Twitter @ ABautosport1 and Facebook page @ Afterburner Autosport.
Keep up to date with Alex Baron via Twitter @ AlexBaronPro and Facebook @ Alex Baron.
Learn more about Wyatt Gooden at WyattGooden.com and keep up to date via Twitter @ WyattGooden and Facebook @ Wyatt Gooden Racing.
### About Afterburner Autosport:
Afterburner Autosport was formed in 2010 with the sole purpose of leading the way in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda competition. Under the guidance of two-time SCCA Formula Continental National Champion Brian Tomasi and fellow F2000 racer and engineer Tim Walsh, the team has over 20 years of experience in open-wheel competition. The Minnesota, Min.-based squad, having captured two podium finishes in its inaugural pro racing season in 2011, made its USF2000 Championship debut in 2012, fielding multiple cars in the top Championship class. The squad returns to the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy program with an expanded multi-car effort in 2013.