Maite Cáceres & Maddie Aust complete USF Juniors season at COTA
Maite Cáceres and Madison Aust completed their partial campaigns in USF Juniors, as the inaugural season of the championship came to a close at COTA. Both drivers had their best weekend in the series, and with a solid race 2, both topped their personal best results just outside the top-ten.
The inaugural season of the USF Juniors championship - the latest addition to the Road to Indy ladder - came to a closure last weekend at the home of the US Grand Prix, Circuit of the Americas, with 19 young talents, 4 championship contenders and 2 female racers on the field.
Maite Cáceres and Maddie Aust were in fact back on the grid of USF Juniors for the season finale, after both made previous appearances in the championship; having initially made their debut in single seaters in this year's F4 US Championship, Aust joined Crosslink Kiwi Motorsports at the Mid-Ohio round, while Cáceres followed her team International Motorsport at the following event in Road America, in a quest to maximise points for the teams' championship.
With the F4 US and USF Juniors both using the same F4 spec-car (the Ligier JS chassis, with HPD engine), Aust and Cáceres' decision of combining schedules made perfect sense in order to gain experience in their rookie seasons.
Also entering the series in the two opening weekends was W Series Academy driver Bianca Bustamante, was scored a 10th place at Ozarks International Raceway.
Ahead of the final round - another triple header - Mac Clark, 18, led the standings, having been unbeatable in the opening two race meeting. But since then, the young Canadian was challenged by VRD teammates Sam Corry, Alessandro De Tullio and Nikita Johnson, who significantly got closer in the points' standings and were ready to put on a battle for the grand finale.
And it would be Johnson to score victory in the first of the races at Austin, as championship leader Clark hit trouble in qualifying and, having brought out the red flag due to a fuel pump issue, saw his lap time deleted and thus had to start from the back.
While Nikita Johnson was never challanged and, having taken the lead on the first lap, he scored a confident victory, Mac Clark navigated through the field and, thanks to a couple of neutralizations, he was able to charge back and finish second.
The was more drama for pole sitter and championship contender Sam Corry, who made a mistake on the first lap at Turn 12 and dropped at the back of the field, as the Safety car was deployed.
Having started from P17 and P18, Maddie Aust and Maite Cáceres had a good battle in the first part of the race; Cáceres completed a great move at Turn 1o on lap 4, but would ultimately drop down due to a mechanical failure, with her car turning off.
Madison Aust then had a solid second half of the race and gained a few positions, finishing P14.
Thanks to another Safety Car, Corry was able to rejoin the pack and also had a brilliant recovery, battling with Bryson Morris for third across the line but ending fourth.
Corry would keep his title chances alive in Race 2, as he managed to take his third win of the season ahead of Bryson Morris, but he needed another win to claim the title in the final race.
With his first pole position, Johnson led the pack but was soon passed by De Tullio, who had a great getaway from third.
A first lap red flag was deployed after the accident that that took Ethan Ho, Titus Sherlock and Quinn Armstrong out of the race; at the restart, impressive series rookie Bryson Morris completed a bold pass around the outside of Turn 1.
Corry, always in the leading pack, was able to snatch first place after a series of position changes among the front runners with two laps to go, as Johnson also recovered to second.
A last lap collision between De Tullio and Shehan saw the former flipping at the last corner, with the race ending with Corry, Morris, Clark stepping on the podium after Johnson, initially second, was handed a penalty for an earlier contact.
Maite Cáceres and Madison Aust had their best race of the weekend and, with very consistent pace, they kept climbing the order and had great clean battles.
Uruguayan Cáceres, 11th across the finish line, equalled her best finish in the series, just about missing out on her first top ten.
It was a great race also for Aust, who finished P12 and topped her best result.
The final 15-lap race turned out to be a lights to flag victory for Johnson, but it wasn't ultimately enough to strip Mac Clark of his championship. The Canadian had no easy reace, though: having dropped to the tail end of the field on lap 1, he charged back, passing most of his competitors and eventually finishing third.
The recovery drive therefore gained Clark the inaugural USF Juniors championship, 24 points clear of Sam Corry - who was second in the final contest of the season.
It was a slightly disappointing end of the weekend for the two women of the series, after a very strong run in Race 2: Madison Aust had contact with Bailey Cruse and was out on lap 9 - while having some good battles. Maite Cáceres struggled again with the same technical issues that had hampered her first race and, despite she was able to gain a few spots in the race, she couldn't ultimately finish higher than P15.
Nevertheless, her first race weekend at Circuit of the Americas was a positive one and the Uruguayan completed her partial campaign with 45 points across two race meetings.
"A rollercoaster weekend, I was up to the task", Cáceres told us. "Despite the mechanical failures, I am happy with my progress."
"There was a good comeback in race 2 and constant times that allowed me to move up positions", she continued. "It was amazing to race on such an iconic circuit and now focus on the next one".
"It was great getting to race in another weekend of USF Juniors before the season ended." – added Maddie Aust. "However I am also looking forward to continue pushing in the USF4 series at the next race in Virginia. As always I will continue to put in the work and absorb as much as possible!"
Both drivers will in fact return to the F4 US Championship to round out their racing season.