After taking two months off to regroup, Afterburner Autosport returned to the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda to compete at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. In a tripleheader of races over the weekend, the team scored a combined four top-10 finishes - and they did it with rookies.
American Jack Mitchell Jr. and British driver Sennan Fielding both made their series debut when they came to the challenging 2.25-mile circuit.
The drivers were given three test sessions on July 30, and for Mitchell, who raced at Mid-Ohio in the F1600 series, was mainly focused on getting used to the aerodynamic downforce generated by the USF2000 car that he did not have while driving in the wingless F1600 series. Fielding, on the other hand, was the team’s main focus during the test given that the Brit had never driven Mid-Ohio, or the USF2000 car. Yet, each lap Fielding completed, he improved and quickly began to turn in competitive times that matched the front runners.
“Our goal was to give Sennan and Jack the best possible learning experience we could, and to work with them throughout the weekend to improve their race cars as they came to grips with the track and the nuances of the USF2000-spec car,” Afterburner Autosport Team President Tim Walsh commented.
“When I look back, I couldn’t be happier with how they performed," he continued. "They picked up the pace all weekend and made wise on-track decisions, raced hard, and brought the cars home in one piece after every session. These are two great young drivers who have a big future in the Mazda Road to Indy.”
For the race Friday afternoon, Mitchell lined up on the inside of row five in ninth, while Fielding started right behind his teammate in the 11th starting spot. Fielding finished ninth holding off the 2014 F1600 Championship Series title winner Ayla Agren, who now drives for Team Pelfrey. Mitchell, in his series debut finished 12th.
The results were the same for Fielding and Mitchell (ninth and 12th) in the first of two races on Saturday. The final race of the tripleheader weekend resulted in the best finish for both drivers. Lined up by the fastest lap times of Race 2, Fielding finished seventh and Mitchell came across the line in ninth.
“Mid-Ohio was a very strong weekend for me and the Afterburner team," said Fielding. "We were at a slight disadvantage from the very beginning, and we knew it was going to be difficult."
“My debut weekend in USF2000 was a learning experience from start to finish," Mitchell commented. "Although the goal was to get the best results possible for Afterburner Autosport and my supporters, I held huge focus on personal improvement throughout the weekend. I enjoyed working with this Mazda engine and Cooper tire package, and I think we will be a strong force after some more track time."
The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda heads to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on September 12 for the season finale. Follow @VAVELIndyCar for complete coverage leading up to and during race weekend.
Eric Lawrence is a writer for the VAVEL USA Racing section. You can follow him on Twitter at @TheRic5150.