- 28 July 2017
Wampum, PA - As the F2000 Championship Series title race tightens for its final six races, 80 minutes of Friday practice at Pittsburgh International Race Complex played host to multiple storylines as Tim Minor, a two-time F2000 Champion making his first start in three years, emerged fastest. Meanwhile, a number of quick part-time entrants combined with Minor and mixed with a deep field of Championship contenders, setting up an exciting double-header weekend at the recently repaved 19-turn road course.
Minor, the 2013 and 2014 F2000 Champion, ran a 1:41.100 in the second practice. Of note, the No. 88 driver has never won at Pittsburgh, and paced Friday practice over Robert Allaer, driving the No. 52 LTD Motorsports Van Diemen.
"This is a fun track, it's very cool. It's a cross between Mid-Ohio and VIR. There is some technical stuff but there are rolling hills too," said Allaer of the 2.8-mile track. "I don't know if I'm still part of the Championship talk or not; it will take quite a bit of luck. It's nice everyone is so competitive, it keeps everything interesting."
The biggest news on Friday centered on a loose oil fitting on Brandon Dixon's No. 5 Citation, the driver and car combination atop the points standings. That loose fitting led to car's engine dumping its oil during the 40-minute morning practice session. Dixon would bounce back to run the third quickest lap in the afternoon, but the team said they were considering an overnight engine change, with a spare two-liter four-cylinder Ford Zetec motor on loan from F1600 competitor Tom Schwietz.
Of note, Dixon's car is sporting a new livery this weekend including fresh white and black paint with yellow outlines marking a throwback to a F1600 Swift DB-6 he previously piloted.
Mid-Ohio victor John McCusker gathered together a fourth place practice effort with a best time of 1:42.124 after 19 laps.
"The track is nice, the new pavement is great. It's a lot less bumpy but a little slick. The racing is going to be good. You can tune the car easier now here, and run it lower, so I like it better," he said.
Fifth on the time sheets belonged to Tim Paul, coming off a double podium weekend at Mid-Ohio, and another driver in the Championship hunt.
"I've never been here before, ever, so I don't have a frame of reference," said Paul. "All I can say is it seems phenomenal so far. I've been going over stuff with Jim (Kearney, driver coach) and doing a lot of YouTube research on the new surface. For my first time here, I just want to stay in the hunt with some of the guys that are more experienced and then really attack at the next events at Summit Point and New Jersey Motorsports Park. We've been there and I'm comfortable there right out of the gate, which makes a big difference."
Nicolas Palacio, who won at VIR and led the points after rounds one and two of the 2017 F2000 season, was sixth fastest in afternoon free practice, but hasn't raced since April.
"I guess you just try to remember what you did well. I'm going to do the best I can," Palacio added. "My first time here was in 2015 with the re-opened back section. Back then there were no curbs, I like the changes. It's not as fast as it was as the new asphalt reduced grip. It's fast. I'm still working through a few corners."
The morning's top time went to Steve Jenks, who was sidelined later in the day and ran just three laps.
"I hope we can keep it going for the weekend. I'm not sure why I have been fast here, I don't think of it as a favorite track. There is something about it that must suit my driving style," Jenks noted. "The car has room to improve. We were on old tires in the first session and the handling was not perfect, so we'll keep tinkering with it as we move forward."
Rounds nine and ten of the 14-race F2000 Championship Series season follow on Saturday and Sunday with morning qualifying on both days from Pittsburgh. Full results are available on www.F2000Series.com.