There was nothing to choose between Jack Aitken and Weiron Tan during today’s pair of Cooper Tires Winterfest races at NOLA Motorsport Park. The Englishman and the Malaysian scored one win apiece and are now tied on points as the Mazda Road to Indy pre-season mini-series competitors head to Barber Motorsports Park for three more races next Wednesday and Thursday.
Aitken started on pole for Team Pelfrey this morning, only to be outfumbled at the start when Andretti Autosport’s Tan made a clear jump as the green flag waved. Aitken tumbled down the order as several other cars got together on the Start/Finish straightaway, with Garett Grist (Juncos Racing) making stout contact with the pit wall and Daniel Burkett (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing) and Carlos Conde (M1 Autosport) also becoming involved.
After several laps behind the Mazda Pace Car, Tan left the field far behind as he stretched away on every lap to win by 6.9243 seconds over an inspired Canadian Nicolas Latifi, who started seventh, emerged in fourth after the early skirmish, then overtook the Juncos Racing pair of Jose Gutierrez and Will Owen at the restart. Owen remained glued to Latifi’s tail but had to settle for third ahead of a recovering Aitken. A mistake on the final lap saw Gutierrez slip from fifth to eighth behind last year’s USF2000 champion Florian Latorre (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing), Raoul Owens (JDC MotorSports) and Timothe Buret (Juncos Racing).
The starting order was reversed for Race Three, with Tan on pole and Aitken on the outside of the front row for the usual rolling start. The pair raced side-by-side to Turn One, where Aitken used every ounce of bravery – and every inch of the race track – to grasp the lead around the outside line. Despite intense pressure, Aitken maintained his narrow advantage throughout the 20-lap race, even gaining another bonus point for the fastest race lap just three laps from the end.
Grist held third place in his hastily rebuilt car for most of the race, only to lose out to Latifi in the closing stages after another fine charge from 10th on the grid. Grist finished fourth, while Gutierrez made a successful lunge to wrest fifth place away from Latorre with a couple of laps remaining.
Jack Aitken (#82 Team Pelfrey): “Coming into this weekend, I didn’t know how strong the field would be, so it’s great that we’re at the front. Through the practices, I was just trying to get up to speed as quickly as possible, since I’m new to the car and new to the track, but it didn’t take that long. We were able to snatch the pole from Weiron for the first race, then it was him and I on the front row in every race. In the first race, he was on new tires and was hounding me all through the race, so it was a really tough race. In the second race, there was a big mess at the start and we lost a lot of positions. It was so chaotic, I never really did get sorted out. On the restart, I got two positions and got up to fourth, which wasn’t too bad. The third race was almost a replay of the first race, with Weiron getting close a couple of times. I managed to hold on for the win to take two out of three and we’re looking forward to more at Barber next week.”