Hughes, Garcia and McNeilly Fastest at USF Pro Championships’ Spring Training
 February 26, 2024| 
  • Series News
McNeilly2
AVONDALE, La. – Preparations for a brand-new season of the USF Pro Championships Presented by Continental Tire open-wheel racing development ladder intensified today as the traditional two-day Spring Training test kicked off at NOLA Motorsports Park. An impressive total of 68 young drivers from around the world representing all three levels of the ladder – USF Pro 2000, USF2000 and USF Juniors – took to the 2.74-mile, 13-turn road course just a few miles from downtown New Orleans, La., for a pair of 45-minute sessions held in gloriously warm, sunny conditions.

Australian rookie Lochie Hughes was fastest in the most senior series, USF Pro 2000, marking an impressive debut with Turn 3 Motorsport, while Max Garcia (Pabst Racing), from Coconut Grove, Fla., emerged as top dog in USF2000 and Englishman Liam McNeilly (Jay Howard Driver Development) set the pace among a bumper field of 28 USF Juniors.

Three more sessions tomorrow for each series will conclude activities and lead directly into the opening two races of the season for both USF Pro 2000 and USF2000 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., in support of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES on March 8-10. The USF Juniors competitors will reconvene at NOLA Motorsports Park, along with the USF Pro 2000 and USF2000 contingents, on April 5-7 for the start of their 16-race season.

Hughes, from Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, jumped to the top of the tree in USF Pro 2000 in the closing minutes of the second session late this afternoon with a time of 1:31.1751, an average speed of 108.209 mph.

“The day went pretty well,” said Hughes, who is stepping up to USF Pro 2000 after finishing third in last year’s USF2000 title-chase. “I haven’t driven here in the Pro car before. This is actually where I had my first ever race when I moved to the States in F4. I love the track. Everything went really well and it was a quick lap there at the end. I don’t think I actually maximized it. I think there was still a little left in it, but I can’t thank Turn 3 enough. They gave me an awesome car and I have been loving it so far.”

Fellow rookie Nico Christodoulou, from Vaughan, Ont., Canada, ended the day second fastest for VRD Racing, despite the fact he is intending to race this year in USF2000. Mexico’s Ricardo Escotto (BN Racing), Californian Christian Brooks (Pabst Racing) and rookie Tyke Durst (Turn 3 Motorsport), from Charlotte. N.C., completed the top five.

In USF2000, Garcia played second fiddle to fellow series veteran Evagoras Papasavvas (Jay Howard Driver Development), from Loveland, Ohio, in the opening session before leaping to the top later in the afternoon with a best lap at 1:35.6631, an average speed of 103.112 mph.

“We started off in the morning with all of the media training which was really fun,” recounted Garcia. “It was great to hear from Kevin Lee and James Hinchcliffe – really, really smart people and glad to hear from them. We came into today wanting to experiment. Obviously, we will be racing here. As a team, we have never been here before this test. It’s a big transition for us, but it was really good learning all that stuff today. We are leaving a little bit in our pockets and not showing all we have. We need to save some for race weekend. I think it looks good going into St. Pete and being P1.”

VRD Racing’s Max Taylor jumped to second fastest on 1:36.1028, followed by Joey Brienza (Exclusive Autosport), from Golden, Colo., and another pair of Pabst Racing Tatuus USF-22s in the hands of top rookie Hudson Schwartz, from Arlington, Va., and Sam Corry, from Cornelius, N.C.

Sebastian Wheldon led the way for VRD Racing in the opening session this morning for USF Juniors with a time of 1:40.1554. Last year’s Skip Barber Formula Race Series champion remained toward the top of the charts later in the day before being obliged to settle for second position behind McNeilly’s 1:39.3432, an average speed of 99.292 mph.

“Today went really well,” said McNeilly, 17, from Brentwood, Essex, England, who finished third in last year’s GB4 Championship in the United Kingdom. “I came to grips with the track quite quickly. We went through everything we needed to do as a team, and managed to top the times in the afternoon session. I am really happy with the debut here. We’ll run again with guns loaded tomorrow looking to do the same thing. My goal coming in was to get to grips with the track and the team and how the team operates. It’s a lot different than the UK, so just understanding that aspect.”

Leandro Juncos, son of NTT INDYCAR SERIES team owner Ricardo Juncos, ended the day third fastest for DEForce Racing, while Jack Jeffers (Exclusive Autosport), from San Antonio, Texas, flew the flag for Exclusive Autosport to ensure four different teams were represented in the top four positions. Jeffers, who finished third in the 2023 USF Juniors Championship and won the recent YACademy Winter Series title, was fastest among the returning drivers. Timothy Carel (Jay Howard Driver Development), from Pacific Palisades, Calif., completed the top five.

Live timing for all sessions tomorrow can be accessed via the dedicated USF Pro Championships Presented by Continental Tire app or the series’ respective websites, usfpro2000.com, usf2000.com and usfjuniors.com. 
  • 24-04-10-jhdd1
     4.10.24| 
    • Team News
  • Ingratta
     4.9.24| 
    • Team News
  • USF Juniors Sunday photo2
     4.8.24| 
    • Series News
  • Wheldon_Race1
     4.6.24| 
    • Series News
  • McNeilly Banner
     4.2.24| 
    • Series News