Rough and tumble weekend for DC Autosport at COTA
 August 29, 2023| 
  • Team News
DCA COTA 2023 Recap

Connor Roberts and Carson Etter each earn top 10 finishes in the season finale

AUSTIN, Texas – The USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires season finale saw plenty of excitement and drama, through three races punctuated by wild on track action. The pair of DC Autosport drivers battled through it all, each bringing home a top 10 finish.

Connor Roberts (LaGrange, GA) made his series debut, joining full season driver Carson Etter (Villa Park, Calif.). Both were in the thick of the action all weekend, but bad luck meant a few points left on the table.

“With neither Carson nor Connor having driven the USF Juniors car around COTA before I knew they would have some work to do,” said team principal Don Conner. “They both made good progress in the test sessions, and I think we would have been looking at top 10 finishes throughout the weekend for both if it were not for some unfortunate incidents involving other cars."

Roberts, 19, grew up watching his father Keith compete in SCCA events, determined to become a race car driver himself. The younger Roberts won one of the SCCA’s most successful road racing series, the South Atlantic Road Racing Championship, in 2021 and 2022 in the SRF3 class, and is a business management major at Lagrange College.

The Roberts bought a USF-17 and implemented the series conversion kit to bring it up to current JR-23 specs. With their own transporter, mechanics and data engineer, they had everything they needed – except the knowledge necessary to successfully navigate a new series. Enter the DCA team.

“We knew we wanted to run with the series but didn’t have the opportunity,” said Keith Roberts. “We spoke with (series development director) Rob Howden and he suggested we talk to Don, since they were planning to run just the one car. They let us be part of the team but also let us work on the car ourselves. It worked out great.”

As the saying goes – everything’s bigger in Texas and over the race weekend, that was particularly true about the temperature gauges. Ambient temps eclipsed the 100-degree mark all weekend, with track temps nearing 150 degrees. Both drivers came to terms with both the heat and COTA’s tricky 20-turn, 3.427-mile layout, designed for Formula One’s US Grand Prix, through two test sessions on Friday and the official practice session at the end of the day.

Saturday morning qualifying saw both drivers quick right out of the box, as Etter put himself P12 on the race one starting grid – less than a second behind the pole sitter – with Roberts in 14th. Both drivers impressed, with the voice of the USF Pro Championships, Rob Howden, terming Etter “the most improved driver of the season” as Roberts paced less than two-tenths of a second behind his teammate in Roberts’ first series qualifying session.

The field made it safely through turn one in race one, with Etter and Roberts tucking into the single-file draft, gauging the drivers around them. Both took advantage of drivers having issues ahead, moving up a position on lap three. But on lap four, the car ahead of Etter slowed significantly going into turn 9 and he was unable to avoid, sending both cars off track with Etter coming back on in P16. Meanwhile, Roberts continued to make steady progress forward and by lap six, had moved into ninth position.

But the incident only heightened Etter’s determination, as the 19-year-old Boise State student began to battle his way back through the field. He had almost reached his teammate on the final lap, but Dane Scott spun going into turn 19 and Roberts was unable to avoid as Scott came back across the track. “He overdrove the entry to try to keep me behind him and spun. I was so close to him that I couldn’t avoid the contact. It was a racing incident,” said Roberts.

At the checkered flag, Etter had recovered to P9, with Roberts settling for P16. But post-race, Etter was assessed a 30-second penalty for avoidable contact, which put him 15th in the official results.

Chaos ensued before Sunday morning’s race two even took the green, as Roberts was hit leaving pit lane, which damaged the left wishbone. At the green flag, Etter took the outside in turn one and made a move into P11, but the race went yellow when several cars came together. With numerous passes happening under the yellow flag, race control red flagged the race and brought the field to pit lane to re-order the field. The DCA team was able to repair Roberts’ suspension and was able to make repairs under the red, albeit at the back of the field. “It was just a series of unfortunate events,” said Roberts. “Someone ahead stalled and everyone ahead checked up. I almost hit Carson, then Scott catapulted over my left rear. We got lucky with the red, with time to repair it.”

As the race returned to green, Etter began his charge. On lap 10, he made a pass for eighth position, then found himself battling with Nicolas Giaffone, who had secured the championship title at the green flag, and Brady Golan. Etter acquitted himself well, taking the checkered flag in eighth position, with Roberts 15th. “I should have had Nicolas on the last lap, but I made a mistake. I could have sent it in turn 15 but I’d have run the risk of hitting him, and he deserved to see the checkers to win his championship. But it was a fun battle!” said Etter.

In the afternoon’s finale, ambient temperatures approached an incredible 110 degrees, with track temps between 140 and 150. At the green, Etter moved to the outside but got pinwheeled when two cars inside him came together as Roberts slid to the inside and avoided the melee. As the caution flag flew, Roberts had made it past his teammate into 9th position, with Etter P11.

Both drivers battled hard to get into the top 10, going back and forth in a pack of six cars. On lap six, two cars came together between turns 11 and 12, slowing the action for several laps while workers removed the cars, with Roberts 10th and Etter right behind. The green flew once again with three laps remaining, as Roberts, Etter, Bianca Bustamante and Erick Schotten all battled for position, until Etter and Bustamante came together. “Bianca blocked Carson going into the braking zone in turn 11 and he ran into the back of her and spun. I was able to get past Carson but not Bianca,” said Roberts. At the checkered flag, Roberts had secured his first series top 10 finish, with Etter recovering to finish 13th.


CARSON ETTER – Priority Workforce

Race 1: Start – 12th / Finish – 15th

Race 2: Start – 12th / Finish – 8th

Race 3: Start – 12th / Finish – 13th

“My first time at COTA! It was all about trying to set yourself up – after every straight, there’s a slow corner, so if you give yourself a good run and manage the distance to the car ahead, you can set up passes. But the heat was brutal, that was tough. Especially Sunday, the tires were sliding all over the place. It was a decent weekend – and I enjoyed working with Connor. He was a great teammate; he knows how to handle himself well. We learned a lot from each other.

“There are a lot of positive takeaways from the season. We got hit with the bad luck still at COTA and at Road America, but I learned a lot. We know we have the speed to compete up front, we just need to get qualifying down. We’re really excited about 2024!”

CONNOR ROBERTS – Cellars/Red Brick BBQ

Race 1: Start – 14th / Finish – 16th

Race 2: Start – 13th / Finish – 15th

Race 3: Start – 13th / Finish – 10th

“It was such a worthwhile experience to help decide my future going forward. The level of competition here is really high – the top guys were fast right away in that first test session. Especially given how young some of them are, it was really eye opening, to see how dialed in they are. It was great to work with Carson as well. We were each quick in different corners, so it was beneficial for both of us to compare data. But I’m happy with the pace we picked up through the weekend, and happy with my racecraft – especially in race one. Also happy we didn’t let the bad situations we found ourselves in get us down. I just went out and did the best job I could.”


Photo credit: Gavin Baker / USF Pro Championships

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