The Allied Building Products Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio is likely to be crucial to the outcome of this year's Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
Seven different winners have emerged from the first nine races of the 14-race season, including a pair of first-time winners two weeks ago on the streets of Toronto. The top three contenders are separated by just 22 points. With a total of 97 points available from the trio of races slated for this weekend in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series, consistency and speed will share equal importance.
Such has been the case so far for Florian Latorre. The 17-year-old Frenchman, who finished fourth in one of the three Mid-Ohio races during his rookie season in 2013, finally scored his first victory at Toronto, but it was his unbroken sequence of eight top-six finishes which enabled him to snatch the championship lead from early-season pacesetter RC Enerson.
Latorre's Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing teammate Jake Eidson, 19, from Littleton, Colo., also claimed a breakthrough victory in Canada and now lies just 15 points behind Latorre in the championship chase.
Regaining the Mojo
Without the benefit of a teammate, it's perhaps not surprising that Team E Racing's Enerson has struggled a little in the consistency stakes. He was lightning fast at the start of the season, building on his prior experience to score a second place followed by three straight wins to open up a commanding points lead, but the 17-year-old from New Port Richey, Fla., struggled both on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Lucas Oil Raceway oval.
Enerson rediscovered his form at Toronto, qualifying on pole and finishing a conservative third in Race One, and was leading Race Two until misfortune struck in the form of a broken drive-train. After finishing second, third and fourth in the three races at Mid-Ohio in 2013, Enerson will be looking to improve upon that this weekend and significantly reduce his current 22-point deficit.
Telitz and Franzoni lead the rookie chasers
No fewer than four rookie drivers have already tasted the fruits of victory this year. Aaron Telitz (ArmsUp Motorsports), from Birchwood, Wis., won in sensational style on the Lucas Oil Raceway oval in May and currently lies fourth in the overall points table, just a single digit ahead of Brazilian Victor Franzoni who won the opening round of the season at St. Petersburg, Fla., for Afterburner Autosport.
Adrian Starrantino (JAY Motorsports w/Curb-Agajanian), from Santa Paula, Calif., and Will Owen (Pabst Racing), from Castle Rock, Colo., are the season's other winners thus far.
Cindric Pulls double duty
Among a field full of talented and ambitious youngsters, watch out especially for Colton Herta and Austin Cindric.
Herta, the 14-year-old son of current Verizon IndyCar Series team owner Bryan Herta - an accomplished driver in his own right who clinched his Indy Lights championship at Mid-Ohio in memorable style, driving for the locally based Tasman Motorsports Group, in 1993 - was too young to contest the opening weekend of the season but already has two top-five finishes to his name for JAY Motorsports w/Curb-Agajanian.
Cindric also has strong local ties. His mom, Megan, is part of the Trueman family, which ran the Mid-Ohio circuit for many years. Father Tim is the president of Penske Racing. In addition to concentrating on his three USF2000 races this weekend - and seeking to build on his best finish thus far of second at Lucas Oil Raceway for Pabst Racing - the 15-year-old who was born in Columbus, Ohio, also will be contesting the Aug. 3 Pirelli World Challenge race aboard a GTS class Ford Mustang Boss 302S as part of a program aimed at raising funds and increasing awareness for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.