Sonoma, Calif. - A dramatic first-lap incident between Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda front row qualifiers and title rivals Florian Latorre and RC Enerson ensured that the championship outcome will remain undecided until tomorrow's season finale. Frenchman Latorre extended his championship lead to a seemingly comfortable 31-point margin by virtue of qualifying on pole for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, but his advantage virtually evaporated at Turn Two on the opening lap when Enerson's move to the inside resulted in contact between the two with Latorre's car making stout contact against the barriers. With Latorre out of the race, Enerson took over the lead in the #7 Peninsula Pipeline/Patriot Bank/Tampa Bay Rays/Bell Helmets/Sparco Van Diemen-Mazda and held it for the remainder of the 15-lap contest.
Latorre still leads the points prior to tomorrow morning's second leg of the USF2000 Grand Prix of Sonoma, but by a much-reduced four-point margin, 279-275, over Enerson. Latorre's teammate, Jake Eidson, who finished third today, also remains solidly in the title picture on 269 points.
After three laps behind the pace car while Latorre's stricken car was removed from the scene, Enerson, from New Port Richey, Fla., continued to lead at the restart from Aaron Telitz (ArmsUp Motorsports) and Eidson. Dutchman Jeroen Slaghekke ran fourth for Belardi Auto Racing but soon fell back into the clutches of Brazilian Victor Franzoni (Afterburner Autosport) and Telitz's teammate, Peter Portante.
Portante, who qualified sixth, found his car transformed for the race. He passed Franzoni on Lap 7, then quickly closed on Slaghekke before taking over fourth place with a bold move at Turn One on Lap 9, which earned him the RePlay XD Move of the Race Award. Portante soon homed in on the three leaders to make it a four-car battle in the closing stages.
Enerson continued to hold a narrow advantage over Telitz until Lap 12 when a mistake under braking for the tight Turn Nine chicane enabled Enerson to make a break. Suddenly, instead of striving for the lead, Telitz found himself defending from Eidson and Portante.
While Enerson cruised home to his series-high fifth win of the season, albeit by just 0.6587 seconds, Telitz strengthened his lead for Rookie of the Year honors and snagged his fifth podium finish - to add to his lone victory at Lucas Oil Raceway in May - ahead of Eidson and Portante.
Slaghekke finished fifth ahead of Franzoni, who was chased throughout by the JAY Motorsports pair of Colton Herta [JAY Motorsports w/ Curb-Agajanian) and Henrik Furuseth.
Contingency award winners included the Tilton Hard Charger Award to Adrian Starrantino (JAY Motorsports w/Curb-Agajanian), who advanced four positions during the race from 14th on the grid to 10th, and Slaghekke, who took home the Staubli Award.
The PFC Award and customized Race Energy charger - the official battery of the ladder series - went to the winning team of Team E Racing.
The green flag for tomorrow's final round of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda will fly at 11:05 a.m..
RC Enerson, #7 Peninsula Pipeline/Patriot Bank/Tampa Bay Rays/Bell Helmets/Sparco (Team E Racing): "The race was great. We had some damage at the front so it was a little difficult to hang on to the car. It turned right a little bit better than it turned left. I was just trying to hold on and keep the gap behind me. At the start, we were both racing for the championship. I got alongside him [Florian Latorre] and got up on the curb trying to make sure I didn't run into him and he just kept turning down and there was nothing I could do to get out of it. It was just a racing incident."