Maite Cáceres and Maddie Aust complete F4 US season at COTA
Uruguayan Maite Caceres and American racer Madison Aust completed their rookie season in single-seaters at the final round of the 2022 UF Formula 4 Championship at COTA; Caceres had one of her strongest weekends in the series with two top-15 finishes, while despite a difficult start for mechanical issues, Aust was able to make the most out of the situation and gain several places in Race 2.
The drivers of the 2022 US Formula 4 season tackled the final round of the season at the home of the US Grand Prix, the 5.513 km fast and technical Circuit of the Americas in Austin.
With an expanded grid of 26 cars for the season finale, the US-based F4 has significantly grown its competitive level throughout the year – with a pool of exciting drivers likely to move up the Road to Indy ladder.
Two female drivers entered the championship this year – the seventh in the history of the series: Maite Cáceres, from Uruguay, and American Madison Aust, both in their first year of single-seater racing.
Both part of the all-female W Series selections at the start of the season in Arizona, Aust and Cáceres graduated to Formula 4 in the same spec car they used at the selections and contested their rookie campaign – also adding a few rounds of the USF Juniors championship to their resumé to maximize track time on key racetracks, on the same machinery – the Ligier JS F4.
Ahead, Aust and Cáceres had in fact already raced at COTA at the end of September, at the season finale of the inaugural USF Juniors championship, before returning to the world famous racetrack last weekend. For Cáceres, the weekend would also bring a team change, as International Motorsport was not present in Texas: Maite therefore teamed up with Future Star Racing – the organization that had also supported Chloe Chambers in 2021.
In free practice, Aust had a troubled start of the weekend and was left at the bottom of the timesheets due to a mechanical issue that made her sixth triple-header more challenging than expected; Maite Cáceres, on the other hand, soon showed good pace and ran steadily in the midfield, ending the 45-minute practice in P16.
Her brilliant form was carried onto qualifying, when the Uruguayan was P14. Having jumped straight into qualifying, Maddie Aust was P21.
Jacob Loomis (Velocity Racing Development) scored his first pole position of the season with a lap of 2:15.228, ahead of championship leader Lochie Hughes. The latter, though, still preceded his main title rival, Bryson Morris, who lined up in third. Other contenders Noah Ping and Ryan Shehan were fourth and seventh respectively.
In the first race of the weekend, the championship fight was narrowed down to three, as Shehan couldn't do better than ninth; ahead, pole-sitter Loomis had a good getaway and kept the lead, while Noah Ping was making up ground on his championship rivals around him. Ping would quickly clear Morris, before he found a way past Hughes as well for second.
On the final lap, a mistake by his teammate Loomis allowed Ping to claim victory in Race 1 and kept his title chances alive. A post race penalty for Morris gave third place to Ethan Barker – and the top of the championship standings to Lochie Hughes.
Maite Cáceres had one of her strongest weekends to date and was back in the top-15 after the Road America round. After the difficult qualifying, Madison Aust was P23 in race 1.
In Race 2, Australian Lochie Hughes was able to fight back from sixth on the grid to take victory – in a very important result for the championship. On pass at a time, Hughes gained two positions at the start, charged through the field and eventually overtook Bryson Morris for the lead on lap 5.
From there, Hughes pulled away and swept the second race, ahead of Morris. However, another post-race penalty for Morris demoted the young Crosslink/Kiwi Motorsport driver to seventh, after being handed a 5 second time penalty for crossing the white line at pit exit.
Andre Castro took second place and Alexander Berg was P3.
The penalty effectively sealed Hughes' title, who entered the final race of the year with a 30-point advantage.
It all went wrong for Race 1 winner and Race 2 pole-sitter Noah Ping, who dropped down to P5 before being caught in a contact that left him stranded in the gravel.
From P16 on the grid, Maite Cáceres gained one spot and was once again P15, confirming her strong pace in the crowded COTA field.
Madison Aust was also on a mission and made up four positions in the race to finish P20 – her best result of the weekend.
The newly crowned F4 US Champion Lochie Hughes rounded out the season with another win in Race 3. From pole, the Australian took a lights-to-flag win – but had to work for it after a restart following an early full course yellow.
With rain showers throughout the morning, drivers in fact started the third and final race of the season on wet-weather tyres; an incident on the back straight brought out the caution.
Hughes survived the restart from the attacks of Loomis, as Andre Castro dropped from second to fifth – and was then able to recover to third.
Already out of the championship fight, Bryson Morris was forced to retire on lap 3.
Both Maite Cáceres and Maddie Aust gained a spot over the course of the third race; from P22, the Uruguayan completed her rookie season in P21, one place ahead of Madison Aust.
Cáceres had a solid weekend, battling mid-pack and scoring two top-15 finishes. Despite a P12 at Road America, at the season finale at COTA Maite arguably showed her best pace, rounding out her rookie season on a high.
"Having started this program eight months ago, seeing from where I started and where I finished with this being my third year in motorsport and the first one in open wheels and in the US driving in a competitive series" – summed up Maite, "[I’m] very happy with the progress I made!"
"Still, there is a lot to improve and I’m happy about that", she continued. "I’m very passionate about it and I’m really looking forward to next year's plans."
While her final 2022 round was off to a bumpy start, Maddie Aust was not discouraged and worked her way up the order all weekend, significantly improving in every session.
"We had some mechanical issues at COTA causing me to basically jump straight into qualifying", she told us. "With these circumstances in mind I feel that I was able to perform fairly well and take it as a learning experience."
In her first season in formula cars, Madison Aust had really strong weekends as well – namely the fourth round at New Jersey Motorsports Park, where she scored her first championship points with an impressive ninth place finish in race 3, after a 12th place in Race 2. Her previous best was a P13 at Mid Ohio, which was then topped again at VIRginia International Raceway, penultimate event of the season, when Aust was once again close to a top-ten and ultimately finished P11.
"My first season racing in the US F4 championship was amazing and full of learning opportunities" – Aust continued. "The additional races in USF Juniors only added to this."
Both drivers are currently evaluating their options for next year, as they will try to build on the momentum and experience gained in 2022 to progress in their single-seater career.
"The plans for next year are still being decided on, but I am looking forward to what next season brings and will continue to push!" – concluded Aust.