Ava Dobson makes USF Juniors debut battling for the top-10 at Road America
At her first season in single-seaters, 15-year-old Ava Dobson made her debut in the USF Juniors championship, battling for the top-10 in all three races at Road America and recording the fifth fastest time in Race 3, as the Jay Howard Driver Development racer showed very promising speed.
15-year-old racer Ava Dobson completed a successful debut weekend in the USF Juniors championship, continuing her rookie season in formula racing after her first experiences in F4 US. At Road America, Dobson joined Jay Howard Driver Development for her first outing in the Road to Indy series, showcasing great speed and battling for the top ten in each of the three races.
Having announced her debut in single seaters in March, Dobson had to wait until June in order to make her first start in the F4 US Championship: once turned 15 as per FIA regulations, the young American driver had a positive first weekend at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course, despite weather conditions posing some challenges.
Qualifying was cancelled and Dobson was forced to start from the back of the field. With steady pace, though, she moved up the order in wet conditions finishing 24th in a strong field. In the remaining races 2 and 3, Dobson significantly improved her lap times in perfect weather, crucially gaining experience and battling other competitors just outside the top-20.
"I want to express gratitude towards Jay Howard Driver Development, Spencer Pigot for filling in for Jay Howard, and all the crew members for their coaching and support. Their guidance and assistance have surely contributed to my growth as a driver." - Dobson told us after her F4 debut, as she also thanked her sponsors Colorado State University Animal Cancer Center.
Building on that experience, Dobson headed to New Jersey Motorsports Park at the end of July for the following round of the F4 US series. The experience gained from her first race weekend as well as a good testing programme proved valuable and Ava made more important steps forward: a stand.out 14th place finish in race 1 highlighted her pace improvement, as well as racecraft. Despite a DNF in race 2, Dobson bounced back in race 3, where she collected another top-20 with a P17 to round out a highly positive weekend in New Jersey.
As she awaits the return of the series after the summer break, Dobson's progression in single seaters continued with her debut in USF Juniors, as Jay Howard Driver Development expanded its operation to the Road to Indy, providing a pathway for its young talents from karting to the doorsteps of the IndyCar series.
Ava Dobson would therefore tackle the 4.048-mile Road America circuit, one of the most iconic racing venues in North America, for the fifth round of the 2023 campaign.
At the wheel of the #5 machine, Dobson got up to speed quickly in the halo-equipped Tatuus JR-23 - which utilizes the same base chassis for the USF Pro cars, but differs from the Ligier F4 car she previously raced in the F4 US Championship.
Following a test leading up to the Road America weekend, Dobson soon familiarized with the car and the track, building speed over the practice session - where she finished tenth fastest, showing promising pace for the races.
An unfortunate qualifying on Saturday, though, put the Jay Howard Driver Development racer in P14, forcing her to make up positions in the three races.
Quinn Armstrong (DEForce Racing) secured pole position, 0.072 ahead of Max Taylor (VRD Racing) in a very close field.
At lights out, a four-wide moment at turn one resulted in contact for Giaffone and Ingratta, who had shared the second row of the grid - but both could continue after a trip into the run-off. Armstrong held the lead after an action packed first lap, followed by Taylor and Hudson Schwartz. Ava Dobson gained two positions and survived the hectic first lap; she would drop to P13 behind the recovering Nicolas Giaffone, but then closed in on Erick Shotten after the latter made a mistake and went off at Canada corner.
Lucas Fecury and Carson Etter made contact on lap 4 while battling for ninth place, triggering the first caution. Dobson was therefore able to snatch tenth place and had a good restart two laps later when the green flag waved again. Taylor and Armstrong fought for the lead, in a five-car battle that resulted in Jeffers and Brienza climbing the order once Taylor went off.
Dobson was in the mix and took avoiding action to move up in a highly impressive seventh place. Ava followed Golan closely, but also had to defend from Schotten, Potter and Lockhart. On the final lap, Dobson was on a mission to defend her top ten at series debut - and she did in fact cross the finish line in tenth place.
Unfortunately, a post-race penalty for avoidable contact dropped her to P12. Nevertheless,
Ava made a remarkable debut, holding her own in a strong field and seizing opportunities in an action-packed first contest of the weekend.
On Sunday, Ayden Ingratta lined up in pole position thanks to his second-fastest lap in qualifying; he preceded Taylor, Jeffers and Armstrong on the grid of Race 2.
Once again from P14, Ava Dobson had another strong and clean start, gaining one position.
Max Taylor made his way up into the lead after a three-car battle with Jeffers and Ingratta, who fell to third. Jeffers, though, made it into the lead at Turn 1 on the second lap, as positions changed by the second among the top five. Dobson swapped places with Giovanni Cabrera, but was then able to climb up to eleventh after Schotten made a mistake on lap 2. After a first lap spin at Canada corner, Hudson Potter dropped to the tail end of the field.
Jimmie Lockhart made a pass stick for the lead one lap later, while Ingratta spun out from third place - followed by another mistake at turn 3 by Max Taylor, which eventually brought out the caution. Despite losing one place to Schotten, Ava Dobson was back in the top ten during the neutralization.
At the green flag, Armstrong and Giaffone fired into the lead after a slow restart from Taylor; Dobson lost tenth to Brady Golan - then dropped to P13 on the penultimate lap.
Jeffers and Lockhart checked out at the front, with the latter taking the lead just ahead of the final lap. Jeffers fought back at turn 4, but this allowed the return of Giaffone, who got up into second.
Dobson battled Ethan Barker after the latter made a mistake, then Ava overtook Lucas Fecury to claim P12 at the chequered flag. The JHDD driver thus completed another positive race on the doorsteps of the top ten, improving her lap times by almost 8 tenths of a second from the first race, also improving from her qualifying benchmark.
Under cloudy skies, the third race of the weekend got underway on Sunday afternoon with Nicolas Giaffone leading the pack. Everyone made it through the first few corners unscathed and Max Taylor took the lead from third on the grid, as Giaffone and Armstrong battled for second and third with Ingratta.
From P14, Ava Dobson again had a good start and gained a position over the first lap, then chased and overtook Lucas Fecury on lap 2. A contact put Giovanni Cabrera out of the race and triggered the safety car soon after, following an accident with Carson Etter at turn 4.
The race went back to green on lap 5 and Giaffone moved up into first place, as the whole field battled for positions; Ava Dobson lost a position to Fecury, but a mistake for Golan allowed her to keep 12th. She continued to follow Fecury closely, matching most of the front runners' pace.
Meanwhile, Giaffone and Taylor pulled away and Ingratta led a 7-car train for the final podium position. Ingratta went deep at turn 4 with two laps to go and fell to fourth, but an accident at the Kink for Carson Etter brought out the full course yellow just as the leaders were crossing the finish line for the penultimate lap. Side by side, Nicolas Giaffone and Max Taylor were separated by thousands of a second at the time of the caution, but the win went to Taylor, with Jeffers securing third.
Ava Dobson had also managed to overtake Fecury once again and, with Ingratta dropping down the order, the 15-year-old driver bagged a highly encouraging P11 - her best finish to date - in her first weekend in the series. Particularly promising was Ava's pace in race 3, as she recorded the fifth fastest time of the race while battling in the pack.
"Had good pace and lots of good racing all weekend", she commented. "Even though we didn’t qualify well, every race we just moved up and raced hard. Top 5 pace in the last race and looking forward to VIR in two months!"