Veach Earns Driver Title for USF2000′s Cooper Tires Winterfest Thursday at Homestead

HOMESTEAD, Fla., Jan. 14 – With a victory and two second-place finishes Wednesday and Thursday on Homestead-Miami Speedway’s 2.25-mile road course, Andretti Autosport’s Zach Veach of Stockdale, Ohio captured the $10,000 drivers’ title in the inaugural Cooper Tires Winterfest. With the strong showing the 16-year-old driver, author and entrepreneur also served notice that he’ll be a primary contender for the drivers’ title in the 12-race “Cooper Tires Presents the USF2000 National Championship Powered by Mazda” later this year.

Photo credit: John Hendrick

Veach, who drives the No. 7 Team Zakosi Data Backup Van Diemen Mazda, finished the Cooper Tires Winterfest with 119 points to the 113 earned by his teammate, runner-up Spencer Pigot of Windemere, Fla., and together they earned the mini-series’ team championship for the series’ defending team titlist, Andretti Autosport. Pigot, who also represents the MAZDASPEED Motorsports driver development program, won two of the three races at Homestead and finished third in the other one.

The five-race mini-series opened with two races at Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Fla. on Jan. 3-4 that were won by JDC MotorSports’ Vinicius Perdigão of Bahia, Brazil and Veach.

Matthew DiLeo of Innisfil, Ontario, who drives for Brian Stewart Racing, finished third in the Winterfest driver standings in the Championship class. Perdigão, who topped the standings after the first two rounds of the series at Sebring, finished fourth overall while Trent Hindman of Wayside, N.J. rounded out the top five driving for Arms Up Motorsports.

Pabst Racing Services’ J.R. Smart of Fitchburg, Wis., took the National class honors.

The Homestead schedule featured one race on Wednesday afternoon and two races on Thursday afternoon. All three were 20-lappers.

Pigot started from the pole in Wednesday’s race, led every lap and had a 7.836-second margin of victory over Veach in the incident-free race.

The race saw a good, tight start in which Veach learned it isn’t always better to start second rather than third. As the field pinched into the apex in Turn 1 on the first lap, Veach was caught out by Perdigão, who stayed tight to Pigot’s gearbox and followed the leader through Turn 1 to move into second. For the next two laps Veach used the draft effectively to pull up alongside Perdigão heading into Turn 1, but he didn’t have quite enough to complete the re-pass. The next few laps saw Veach drop back a bit, putting him into a battle with the charging Hindman, and the order stayed that way for a few more laps.

On lap 11 Veach finally was able to complete the draft pass of Perdigão into Turn 1. Hindman was in the mix as well at that point, and a battle ensued between Hindman and Perdigão for third. On lap 15 Hindman completed a nice pass on Perdigão on the frontstraight, and with the second-, third- and fourth-place cars still running in close formation, Pigot’s lead had actually diminished due to the draft. Pigot showed great speed, however, turning his fastest lap near the end of the race and pulling away in open air to seal the deal, earning the Cooper Tires pole, the victory and setting the most laps led and fastest race lap marks in the process.

Veach came home in second followed by Hindman, Perdigão and DiLeo. Smart, the lone National class entrant, again drove a very solid race, posting lap times very close to the cars in the Championship class and earning another class victory in the process.

The first race on Thursday turned out to be an interesting affair too. Veach won from the pole but he had to deal with a serious challenge from Pigot in the early laps.

Veach won the pole with a time of 1:19.276, but the top four drivers were less than 0.2 of a second apart overall, and outside front-row starter Perdigão had nipped the third-place starter, Hindman, by a mere .004 of a second on the last lap of qualifying.

At the drop of the green flag Pigot, who started fourth, got around Hindman, and all the other drivers held their starting positions. Second-place starter Perdigão was close behind Veach, but the charging Pigot drafted by Perdigão on the second lap. Pigot was on a tear and he quickly closed up on the leader, Veach, but although he tried a pass it didn’t stick and he faded back over the next several laps.

On lap 7 Perdigão got around Pigot on the frontstretch. Pigot fell back one additional lap to Hindman on lap 11. Hindman, whose car was working better with every lap, closed up on Perdigão and tried to get around him for several laps, and he was finally able to move into second on the 19th lap with a nice pass. In the process Hindman set the fastest race lap. Achieving that distinction with a Zetec-powered car is further proof that engine builder Steve Knapp of Elite Engines has indeed achieved the parity required by the series officials at the start of the program.

After the race Perdigão was assessed a 30-second penalty for blocking, which dropped him back to fifth in the final rundown and elevated Pigot to a podium finish (third), and DiLeo, in the Brian Stewart entry, to fourth. Smart again drove flawlessly to a National class victory in his Pabst Racing Services-prepared Van Diemen.

The victory gave Veach the points lead, but the top five drivers all had a chance to win the title going into Thursday’s nightcap.

The starting grid for that race was determined from each driver’s fastest race lap on Wednesday, so Pigot earned the Cooper Tires pole. All the cars were tightly packed going into Turn 1 on the first lap. Veach, driving very aggressively, got around the second-place starter, Hindman, as did Perdigão, which dropped Hindman to fourth.

Veach was all over Pigot at that point, as the two Andretti drivers seemed intent on dueling and putting on a great show. In the process Veach dropped two wheels off course at Turn 2 in an attempted pass, moving him back to fourth, with Hindman getting by Perdigão in the mix.

After two laps it was Pigot, Hindman, Perdigão, Veach and DiLeo in the Championship class, and Smart in the National class.

Going into Turn 1 on the start of the third lap Perdigão and Hindman had heavy contact as Perdigão attempted a move on Hindman for third. A full-course yellow came out and both cars retired with damage, although both drivers were unharmed and got out of their cars immediately.

The remainder of the race saw the order unchanged. Pigot posted his second victory with a margin of 1.289 seconds over Veach, with DiLeo third and Smart fourth.

“Although we saw a very small field for this first Cooper Tires Winterfest, the racing was very tight and entertaining, and the series provided great training for drivers getting ready for the 2011 season,” said Dan Andersen, the series’ promoter. “We expect to see many more cars in the regular season championship, and we plan to do the Winterfest again in early 2012 to give the teams and drivers the opportunity to get acquainted, test and see how the series operates.”

The season opener is a doubleheader March 17-18 at Sebring. The rest of the schedule and much more information is available on the series’ Web site at USF2000.com.

About Mazda:

On any given weekend there are more Mazdas on the road courses of America than any other brand of vehicle. MX-5 Miata, RX-8, MAZDA3, MAZDA6, RX-7 and other vintage Mazda models are all popular race cars because every Mazda has the soul of a sports car. In fact, the largest road-racing class in the world is Spec Miata. With more than 2,500 first- and second-generation Miatas tearing up America’s racetracks, it the most-raced production car in the world. Mazda’s involvement in motorsports extends to its relationship with one of the world’s premier road courses, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Salinas, Calif., and the Skip Barber Schools for driving and racing.

With over 40 years of experience in North America, Mazda North American Operations is headquartered in Irvine, Calif. It oversees the sales, marketing, parts business and customer service of Mazda vehicles in the United States, Canada and Mexico through nearly 900 dealers. Operations in Canada are managed by Mazda Canada, Inc., located in Ontario. Operations in Mexico are managed by Mazda Motor de Mexico in Mexico City.

For more information see MazdaUSA.com.

About Cooper Tire & Rubber Company:

Cooper Tire & Rubber Company is a global company that specializes in the design, manufacture, marketing and sales of passenger car and light truck tires and subsidiaries that specialize in medium truck, motorcycle and racing tires. With headquarters in Findlay, Ohio, Cooper Tire has manufacturing, sales, distribution, technical and design facilities within its family of companies located in 10 countries around the world.

For more information visit Cooper Tire’s Web site at coopertire.com.

About the Cooper Tires Presents the USF2000 National Championship Powered by Mazda:

Many top drivers in the IZOD IndyCar Series and endurance sports car racing honed their skills in F2000, and the Cooper Tires Presents the USF2000 National Championship Powered by Mazda is an important training ground for rising stars.

The series, which debuted in 2010, is the revival of the very popular USF2000 series of 1990 through 2006. Sanctioned by the Indy Racing League, it is the first step on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system, preceding Star Mazda and Firestone Indy Lights.

It is also part of the prestigious MAZDASPEED Motorsports driver development program. The top driver in the series Championship class earns a scholarship package from Mazda valued at $350,000 to help him or her advance to Star Mazda the following season.

USF2000 races are contested on road courses, street courses and ovals in order to give the series’ drivers experience on all the different types of tracks they will face as they proceed up the ladder.

For more information visit USF2000.com.

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