05.08.11 (via USF2000.com) – In addition to returning from a six-week layoff to conduct test sessions at two entirely different venues this past week, competitors in the hotly contested Cooper Tires Presents the USF2000 National Championship Powered by Mazda enjoyed another opportunity to broaden their experience on Friday by attending the inaugural Mazda Road to Indy Oval Clinic hosted by the series at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Series points leader Petri Suvanto, from Nurmo, Finland, was unofficially fastest in both test sessions, firstly at the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Wednesday and Thursday, and yesterday at the .686-mile Lucas Oil Raceway in Clermont, Ind., aboard the #3 Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing Van Diemen-Mazda.
“It was a busy week but a really good week,” said 18-year-old Suvanto, who is quickly establishing himself as the latest in a long line of talented Flying Finns. “It was great to get back in the car again, and being able to sit down and talk to people like Dan Wheldon, Al Unser Jr., Johnny Unser and Steve Knapp at the Oval Clinic was a really good motivational experience. I learned so much. It’s amazing what everybody involved in the Mazda Road to Indy program is doing to make all these sorts of things possible.”
The Oval Clinic led by Gerardo Bonilla – a Skip Barber National and IMSA Lites champion and noted driving coach – covered all aspects of the intricacies of oval racing with the panel of experts presenting topics ranging from the basics of oval racing, physical training, testing, event practice, qualifying, racing, spotters and safety. In addition to racing footage to illustrate key points, drivers participated in pace car rides around the Speedway with Wheldon and Unser Jr.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with our first Oval Clinic,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions, the series promoter. “Our drivers were presented with an unparalleled wealth of information, and I can’t thank our instructors enough for not only taking the time to share their knowledge but for their enthusiasm for this program. I was equally pleased to see drivers like Stefan Wilson and Tristan Vautier attend, drivers who have previous oval experience and want to hone their skills. For our USF2000 field, this was a great segue into our oval test as many of our drivers prepare for their oval racing debuts this month.”
Suvanto was one driver who put his new-found knowledge to excellent use Saturday as he quickly came to grips with the entirely different characteristics of oval driving. He completed more than 330 laps during the day, in between rain showers, and posted a series of laps faster than last year’s pole position to establish himself as an early favorite for honors at the next USF2000 race which will form part of the traditional “Night Before the 500″ at Lucas Oil Raceway on Saturday, May 28 – one day before the centennial Indianapolis 500.
Andretti Autosport teammates Zach Veach and Spencer Pigot also showed well, claiming the second and third unofficial quickest times respectively at both circuits.
“The tests were really good,” said Pigot, 17, from Windermere, Fla., who currently lies just two points adrift of Suvanto in the championship standings after four races. “I had never driven these cars on these tracks before. I’ve never driven on an oval so it was a great experience for me to not only learn the car at these tracks but just to get some experience on an oval, and obviously we learned a lot of valuable information for the upcoming races.”
Veach, from Stockdale, Ohio, is one of four different race winners to date this season. The 16-year-old echoed his teammate’s comments on the value of the recent tests.
“It was a good learning experience for me and all the other drivers to get on the tracks we’re going to be racing at in the near future,” added Veach, who lies third in the championship standings. “It was definitely beneficial for the team as well because we got to try some different setups. We had some time off after St. Pete so it was really nice to get back in the car. I’m looking forward to the Night before the 500. It’s going to be a fun race. We’ve got a lot of good drivers and really close times.”