New Orleans, La. – Victor Franzoni might be small in stature at just 5' 3" but he certainly stood tall in this afternoon’s opening round of the six-race Cooper Tires Winterfest for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, taking a hard-fought victory for Afterburner Autosport at NOLA Motorsports Park. Norway’s Henrik Furuseth finished second for JAY Motorsports, while polesitter RC Enerson, from New Port Ritchey, Fla., completed the podium for Team E Racing.
The 18-year-old Franzoni, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, who has raced Formula Renault cars in Europe the past two years, started third in the 17-car field but vaulted into the lead shortly after a mid-race restart and remained out in front when the race was concluded under a second full-course caution.
Enerson posted the fastest lap in qualifying at 1:35.270, an average speed of 103.915 mph on the 2.75-mile road course, and jumped into the lead in confident style at the start. Danilo Estrela, making his debut with defending series champion team Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, made a move to the outside at Turn One but succeeded only in losing a couple of positions to Furuseth, who jumped from sixth on the grid to second, and Franzoni. Estrela settled into fourth ahead of Clarke Toppe (JDC MotorSports), who was showing vastly improved form over last year.
The yellow flags were flying even before the first lap had been completed, however, when Aaron Telitz (ArmsUp Motorsports) spun at the exit of Turn One after being clipped inadvertently by Toppe. A close-following Scott Andrews (JDC MotorSports) also was caught up in the melee. Telitz was able to continue at the back of the field, but the unfortunate Australian was out on the spot.
The restart on Lap 6 saw Furuseth make an impressive move around the outside of Enerson to take the lead in Turn One. Moments later, Franzoni took advantage of Enerson’s lost momentum to snatch second place.
A slight mistake by Furuseth on the series of fast, sweeping corners on the back section of the race track on Lap 8 gave Franzoni the opportunity to make a move for the lead. He took it decisively. Next time around, the caution flags waved again after Telitz’s car, which had been damaged in the first-lap incident, suffered a suspension failure, pitching into the gravel at Turn 14.
Franzoni thus took the checkered flag ahead of Furuseth, Enerson, Estrela and Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing teammate Jake Eidson, who had moved up nicely from 10th on the grid. Frenchman Nico Jamin finished sixth in his debut with Belardi Auto Racing, followed by teammate Michael Epps, from England, and Toppe, who had lost several positions at the restart. Florian Latorre (Belardi Auto Racing) and Will Owen (Pabst Racing) completed the top 10.
The USF2000 contenders will have two more races tomorrow. Race 2 will start at 11:45 am ET and Race 3 at 4:15 pm ET. Live timing and scoring will be available at www.livetiming.net.
Victor Franzoni, #17 E-qual/Vhero/Novac Sports (Afterburner Autosport):
“I’m really, really happy. It’s been three years since I won my last race (in Formula Future in Brazil), so it feels great to win again. I’m still learning the car but it feels really good. I think we made a good start to the season, so let’s see if we can keep it going.”