people in the motorsports industry were waiting for; the inaugural Formula Lites Series race weekend. With big commercial partners behind the series such as Honda HPD & Pirelli, along with beautiful modern state-of-the-art cars built by Crawford Composites, many were anxious to see it officially happen.
Group-A Racing was one of those anxious after starting to plan a program to run in the series a little over a year ago. The team had two young drivers with 17 year old Chinese driver Jackie Ding and 21 year old Mexican Jose Armida, who raced with Group-A in F2000 during the 2013 season.
Thursday offered all the teams and drivers a test day to start to learn the Thompson Speedway layout and the series spec FL-15 car. Lead engineer, Angelo Zarra, had a long list of things to test on the setups to start learning about the car. Each session offered them more time to try more things and give the drivers more time to tune their driving style for this new car. Both the team & drivers improved every session, setting its fastest times of the day during the last session despite tires being old and the track being much hotter.
“So far I can’t really have any complaints.” Said team manager Jonathan Scarallo. “Both drivers have kept the cars on track; we learned a tremendous amount about the FL-15 cars and they have run flawlessly right out of the Crawford factory.”
Friday offered everybody two more practice sessions and then qualifying for race one on Saturday. Sadly, during the opening minutes of practice that morning Jackie Ding made an error causing an off and a crash. The damage consisted of both left side corners along with the front wing & nose. The team got on it immediately, thrashing to put the car back together and managed to get it all fixed in just 3 hours time so that he could make qualifying.
Jackie then returned the favor to the team putting in a last lap flyer placing him third on the grid. Jose did the same thing as well placing him fifth, but only a few tenths behind second.
Lead engineer Angelo Zarra continued to make more changes to the cars going into the race, which paid off in particular for Jose Armida. He immediately set his fastest lap of the weekend and jumped into fourth position, all over his Group-A Racing team mate for third. The two drivers battled all race long with Jackie managing to hold off his teammate for third & Jose finishing fourth.
Race two saw both Group-A Racing cars starting on the front row. Unfortunately, Jackie got hit in the back on the start, bending his right rear toe arm, essentially ending his race. Jose fought all race long, now being the defender instead of the attacker, holding off race one winner, Nick Neri, for second.
“While we always go to the race track to win, I am very happy with everything from this weekend” said Jonathan Scarallo. “The drivers improved every session, Angelo made a lot of great adjustments to the cars making them quicker all through out the weekend and the cars ran great right out of the box. It has been great to be here after so much work going into making this happen, and it’s been fantastic having so much support from Honda, Pirelli & the media outlets that have been covering the event. Now it’s time to see how we can move one step up the podium at NJMP in just 2 weeks!”
Jackie Ding, #86 Huawei Honor, EVE Energy, Zone District: “To me, this was a great beginning to a new chapter, said Jackie Ding. The #86 FL15 was fantastic” said 17 year old Jackie Ding. “Everyone at Group-A was completely supportive, and starting the new season with a podium finish felt awesome. However, I can’t get complacent, since I am still the performance-limiting piece of the puzzle. I still lack the physical strength and experience to continuously push the car to the limit, so I must work hard to become better. Overall, I must thank Group-A Racing, for providing me with such a great team, as well as Huawei Honor, Eve Engergy and Zone District for their support. I will strive to become better as the season continues.”
Jose Armida, #7 MSR Houston: “This was a great start for me. The team, Jackie and I worked hard all weekend and we achieved solid results. It was definitely a good way to start and I am looking forward to improving more at New Jersey in a few weeks” said Mexican Jose Armida.