Kent Boyer’s words were loud and clear. Yet, calm and reassuring.
“You’re going to get one more lap now,” Boyer said. “Make it count!”
Boyer, an engineer at ArmsUp Motorsports, was speaking to team driver Luigi Biangardi over the team radio during USF2000 qualifying at Sebring International Raceway.
Biangardi could feel the pressure building even before Boyer spoke. He knew the session — which had been marred by traffic and red-flag incidents — was nearing its end. He needed a good lap. Immediately.
With his hands tightly gripping the steering wheel and his eyes darting through each corner, straining to look ahead as far as possible, Biangardi pushed the No. 15 car to its limits while trying to avoid traffic at the most strategic places on the bumpy Florida road course.
It was all a blur. Then the checkered flag waved. He did it.
Heeding Boyer’s words, Biangardi put down a flyer good enough for pole position. His lap of 2:03.917 topped the field and edged Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing driver Matthew Brabham’s time by just 0.122 seconds. Mission accomplished. Still, the race was yet to come.
“Qualifying for Race 1 was very difficult due to the tremendous amount of traffic,” described Biangaridi. “When the team radioed in and said I had one more lap in the session, I knew that I had to use everything I had learned throughout the week to put a fast lap together . Luckily, that last lap effort ended up being fairly clean with very little traffic. I was really focusing on pushing the car to its limits in each of the 17 turns, harder than I ever had before.”
While the season-opening week started on a high note, it didn’t last. On lap nine of Round One, contact with another competitor ended Biangardi’s day and his shot at a race win.
“Before I knew it, I was completely in the air while in a spiral,” he said. “Luckily, the car stayed right-side up without flipping over and causing an injury or further damage.”
The crew was able to repair the Van Diemen racecar for Round Two, but Biangardi had his work cut out. He knew where he was going to start the week’s second race; 35th out of 36 cars. Regardless, he gazed up a the starting line-up sheet and tried to work out a plan of attack. His weekend wasn’t over. Not by a long shot.
“Coming into Race 2, I knew that I had a fair amount of slower cars from the National class in front of me,” Biangardi recalled. “I needed to get around as many as possible at the start so I could catch the leaders. I told myself that I could not let the previous incident in Turn 1 allow me to be conservative at the start of Race 2. I had to be aggressive, yet cautious, in order to be where I wanted by the end of the race.”
His plan worked. The 15-year-old Chicago native methodically worked his way through the field right from the start. By lap six, he was up to ninth. To put that in perspective, he had passed 26 cars in six laps. Then the caution flag waved. At first, it seemed like a great opportunity. The flag bunched the field up. But the drivers were only given one more lap of green-flag racing (actually just a half-lap) before the yellow flag re-emerged. The race would finish under caution ending Biangardi’s charge.
While the end result wasn’t exactly what the talented youngster was hoping for, it was enough to impress onlookers and his team. Biangardi returns to action this weekend, March 24-25, when the USF2000 National Championship takes to the streets of St. Petersburg. Like his career, the season is just getting started and the future looks bright.
“Ultimately, my goal this season is to end up with a championship win, which will help me progress through the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system,” Biangardi said. “To do this, I need to go out on the track each session and push the car to its limits in order to find the speed and setup necessary to accomplish my goal.”