Team’s trio of drivers enjoy exciting competition within top-10 at Lucas Oil Raceway
INDIANAPOLIS, IN – As one of the leaders of the Mazda Road to Indy paddock, Belardi Auto Racing has three strong drivers under their USF2000 tent, and this trio was an exciting part of the top-10 battle this past Saturday evening at Lucas Oil Raceway during the annual ‘Night Before The 500’ event. Dutch pilot Jeroen Slaghekke posted his best result since joining the team, as he ran in the lead pack all race long, coming up with an impressive fourth-place finish. Frenchman Nico Jamin and Canadian Daniel Burkett were part of the most exciting race of the night, as the fight for the final positions in the top-10 were thrilling. The racecraft shown in this five-car dogfight was impressive, and at the checker, Jamin would come home in tenth and Burkett in 12th.
Slaghekke led the way for the Belardi USF2000 squad, having posted very competitive times during pre-event testing. The 22-year-old joined the team for the first time in Indianapolis for the Grand Prix road course weekend, and he’s gelled well with the crew. Slaghekke timed in third during the single-car qualifying format for the event, which used the total time of two flying laps. He laid down a time of 21.925 seconds to get started, and went quicker on the second lap with a 21.892 for a combined time of 43.817 to sit just three-tenths off the polesitter. The entire Belardi team qualified in the top-10, with Burkett in eighth and Jamin in tenth, less than two tenths off in terms of outright pace.
When the race went green, a lead pack of five cars formed instantly with Slaghekke right in the middle of the action. The 75-lap race went caution-free, putting the onus of the proper set-up as there would be no chance for the field to bunch back up with a yellow flag period. Slaghekke’s car was strong all night, allowing him to challenge for a podium position throughout the race, although in the end, he would cross the line with a solid fourth-place result.
“After a tough start to the season, it’s good for my morale to finally get a decent result in the books,” Slaghekke confirmed. “I've only just joined the team, but I am already feeling very comfortable and starting to work really well with my engineer. They provided me with a very good car this weekend and I'm happy to have put it to use in qualifying. We lacked some pace in practice and it was great to be on the pace when it counted. We were very strong in the race, particularly at the start and towards the end. I tried a move to take P2 in the opening laps, but it backfired when the door was slammed and I lost momentum, which cost me a position. After a while, I started to pick up some pace again as the track came towards me and picked off Latorre for fourth. At that point, I was catching the top-three but unfortunately they were already too far away to mount a serious challenge.”
Jamin and Burkett ran very closely together throughout the duration of the race, becoming embroiled in an entertaining battle with a group of drivers. The quality of their racecraft provides continued evidence of the driver development under the Belardi tent, as both drivers impressed with excellent finishes. The action was furious, and at times chaotic, as Jamin was able to work up to eighth by the checkered flag. Burkett gained considerable experience driving a loose racecar, and he maintained his focus to bring the car home in 12th.
"My race was probably the most difficult I've ever driven during my short career in cars,” admitted Burkett. “My car was extremely loose throughout the entire race, as even with the in-car adjustments, I couldn’t get it where I needed it to be. We missed the tuning window a little. Quite honestly, it was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences I've ever had. In the 75-lap race, I probably had about 40 moments where I thought I was going to hit the wall. The Belardi guys are working hard to develop our set-ups and I'm confident that by Toronto I will be back up at the front in proper form."
The Belardi Auto Racing squad’s next Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Presented by Mazda race will be on July 18-20 for the Honda Indy Toronto, running on the streets of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Ahead of that event, they will travel to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on June 4-5 for an official series test session to prepare for an event on August 1-3.