Hat-tricks, downpours and domination: Notes from the FR Americas paddock at Mid-Ohio

It was a historic Formula Regional Americas Championship round at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for TJ Speed Motorsports’ Raoul Hyman, who topped every session of the weekend to stamp his authority on the championship. Ahead of Round 4 in New Jersey, revisit the biggest stories from Round 3 at Mid-Ohio, collected by F1 Feeder Series from inside the paddock.

By Michael McClure

“Driving the car around here is like a dream. This is what drivers dream about, it’s what they want to have to compete with, and I know, having driven cars that are not as competitive, when you drive a car that’s at this level, everything just becomes a lot easier.”

Raoul Hyman’s words on the podium, spoken after his second of three victories in one weekend, would have struck fear into the hearts of his competitors. In his confidence, one saw a driver fully in tune with his car in a way that nobody else was.

The Sunday morning was sweet enough, but things would only get sweeter for him, and scarier for the rest of the field, as the weekend went along. That afternoon, Hyman weathered a wet Race 3 to win by an astounding 51 seconds, extending his lead in the championship to 58 points.

A second consecutive lockout

The run of form began in testing on Thursday, when Hyman led a TJ Speed 1-2-4 and 1-2-3 in the two sessions. On Friday, Hyman was nearly a second ahead of teammate Nick Persing in practice. TJ Speed and their three drivers said that they made almost no set-up changes throughout the weekend because they rolled off the truck with so much pace.

The results of practice and testing might not have mattered, but it was an indication of what was to come in Qualifying, when the team again took the top three spots. They held those positions in Race 1 to take their second podium lock-out in a row after doing so at Race 3 of the previous round in Road America.

Jason Alder led TJ Speed teammate Nick Persing for much of Race 1 | Credit: Gavin Baker Photography / FR Americas

While Hyman held station out front, teammates Jason Alder and Persing had a more challenging time of it. Persing was sitting fourth when a late-race yellow came out for the stricken car of series débutant Athreya Ramanan. That could have been troubling for Hyman, who had to defend from teammate Alder on the restart, but it was the latter who lost out from the caution period.

“I was a little bit bummed to see that,” Alder told F1 Feeder Series. “It bunched us back up and [Persing] ended up geting around me with one or two laps to go. It is what it is, but I can’t be too upset with the podium. It was a TJ Speed 1-2-3. You really can’t ask for too much more.”

Before Persing could overtake Alder for that season-best second place, he had to pass Crosslink Kiwi’s Dylan Tavella, who had until that point finished all but one race on the podium and sat second in the championship. But Tavella was slow at the restart, and Persing was out for blood. He barged through at Turn 2, allowing Ryan Yardley through as well.

“[Tavella] was quick in a straight line, and he was stuck behind Jason and it was almost like a DRS train,” Persing explained.

But he wasn’t going to pass up the chance to overtake his teammate. “He’s a good driver. He’s my teammate, so I wanted to be respectful, but at the same time, you’ve got to go for it.”

He’s my teammate, so I wanted to be respectful, but at the same time, you’ve got to go for it

Nick Persing on passing Jason Alder

Staying at the limit

There was just the one FR Americas race on Saturday morning, but Sunday was busier, with the day’s action in FR Americas beginning at 10:10 am and wrapping up eight hours later in much stormier weather.

Hyman took another commanding victory in the untelevised Race 2, lapping more than half a second faster than the others on average to take victory by 11 seconds over Future Star Racing’s Mac Clark.

Speaking to F1 Feeder Series, Hyman explained that his propensity for learning tracks quickly can make it difficult for him to retain an advantage as the weekend progresses. But the flowing nature of Mid-Ohio, which has a distinctly European flavour to its layout, suited his style.

“I get to the limit quickly, but then to stay at that limit, to finesse it, to get the little pieces and put them together so that you get the lap time out of the car, that’s quite difficult. The first day we were quick and I was happy with it, but the second day, I think that’s when things started to come together.

“With this being a very small track, there are a lot of corners here that lead onto the next corner, so if you go from Turn 4, every single one from Turn 4 until Turn 9 is linked, so if you get Turn 4 wrong, you’re going to then have to alter Turn 5 and then Turn 6, and it’s hard to get it back.”

Nick Persing | Credit: Gavin Baker Photography / FR Americas

Persing came home third, but he said after the race that he could have taken second place from Clark had the car not encountered a turbo issue that forced him to short shift at 5,000 RPM. “Honestly, that was one of the best drives I’ve done,” he said after the race.

Alder had an even more difficult race, falling back from his starting position of third as Persing and Tavella came through.

“The first couple laps were great. I felt like the car was great – we were on new tyres, I really came to grips with condition of the track and whatnot – but I just started to lose it. Me and the car just weren’t quite on the same page, and it seemed like no matter what I tried throughout the whole course of the run, we couldn’t quite figure it out.”

The wet-weather masterclass

About thirty minutes before Race 3 was to begin, the heavens opened for a quick but violent rain shower. As the paddock frantically gathered their equipment and cowered under their tents, Hyman and his team faced a tough choice: start on the wet tyres and risk losing grip and pace as the circuit dried out, or start on the dry tyres and risk crashing out even if their late-race performance would be substantially stronger.

They went for the conservative option and began all three cars on wets as Hyman led the pack away. Team principal Tim Neff said it was ‘luck of the draw’ that the strategy worked out, but there was little luck involved in Hyman’s Race 3 victory – which was, at 51 seconds, terrifying. Early in the race, he was multiple seconds faster than everyone else behind him, but while he made it look easy, he said the race was ‘tough’.

As drivers around him scuttled off the racetrack towards the end, he kept it on the racing surface and reaped the almost unfathomable rewards. It was the first time in his car racing career that he’d won every race in a weekend.

Hyman explained to F1 Feeder Series that the approaching crossover point made him want to push even more.

“The ground in the paddock was quite wet, but then I got to the pre-grid and it was quite dry. We’d already committed to going to wet tyres because my rationale is if it’s 50–50, we’d rather go wet tyres and if there’s a caution, we can pit and then go back to slicks,” Hyman explained. “We get there and we couldn’t change the tyres, and I thought, ‘Ok, we’re gonna be in trouble now’, so that’s why I pushed so hard for the whole race.

“I knew that once the slick tyres went faster, usually they’ll be faster by like six to eight seconds, so when I was told you’ve got an 18-second lead with 10 laps to go, I thought that’s like three laps away if someone wants to start pushing on slicks and start catching me up.”

Clark was the one who began to close on him in the second half of the race, but it was never at the rate that Hyman predicted. The Future Star driver dropped from second to tenth in the early laps as he struggled with the wet circuit and a shifting issue, but he climbed through the field and set the fastest lap to be in third behind Tavella with just two laps to go. Then, as the rain pelted the middle section of the circuit in the final two laps, Clark spun and fell back to sixth, gifting the podium place to Crosslink Kiwi’s Cooper Becklin.

“It was a team decision, honestly,” Clark told F1 Feeder Series after the race. “We still had the car up on stands and we were debating between slicks and wets, and honestly, we just rolled to the grid on slicks and hoped for the best. And it almost worked!

“I think for sure we would have been P3. We had an intermittent shifting issue the entire race, so like the entire first lap I was stuck in fifth gear. It was nuts. So off the line we weren’t that bad, but then between getting stuck in random gears and waiting for the track to dry, we just lost too much time.”

Mac Clark took a podium in Race 2, but a late downpour stopped him from taking another in Race 3 | Credit: Gavin Baker Photography / FR Americas

Struggling in the rain

It’s no secret in the paddock that Hyman has been the man for the competition to beat this year, and Neff appreciates that it’s a tough ask for Persing and Alder to topple the South African–born British racer. That’s why he calibrates his assessment of the team according to their form rather than Hyman’s.

“What I like with them is how I’ve seen them improve from NOLA to Road America and then to this event. People expect Raoul to win, but the real reflection of the team is how those two do. Honestly, I think they’re coming along better than I would have expected and hoped.”

People expect Raoul to win, but the real reflection of the team is how those two do. Honestly, I think they’re coming along better than I would have expected and hoped.

TJ Speed team principal Tim Neff on drivers Nick Persing and Jason Alder

That third race was a difficult one, results-wise, for the other TJ Speed cars, but it was an opportunity to learn. Alder hoped for a wet race to mix up the grid and build on his scant experience racing in the rain, but he spun twice during the race to fall down to ninth. Mistakes from a few other drivers helped him back to fifth, and Alder conceded that he was lucky to survive the race with his car intact.

“It didn’t even feel like a race, to be honest with you. It was like, ‘Okay, I need to figure out how to drive the racecar without going off the racetrack’, you know what I mean? So it took a couple laps to get up to speed. I think we had two 360s on track the whole time, and we got it pointed straight, so we didn’t lose too much time.

“It was definitely a big learning experience. By the end, I think we got it figured out pretty well. We were moving a little bit and then we just got really fortunate those last couple of laps to capitalise on some spins of some other drivers.”

One of those who made a late error was Persing, who spun out of fifth at Turn 9. The entire Doran-Kroll Competition squad of Ramanan, Marco Kacic and Alex Kirby also fell victim to the downpour; all three cars, running slick tyres, spun at Turn 4 on the final lap.

Kacic was the only one of the three who took the flag, but he spun off at the same corner in the cooldown lap as he struggled for grip on the notoriously slick Mid-Ohio surface.

“I did have a spin, but I managed to spin right around and keep going, barely losing any time at all. But then after the chequered flag, I couldn’t even bring it back, it was raining so hard. On those slick tyres, I was doing maybe 40, 50 kilometres per hour on the way back in first gear, and even like that, I couldn’t keep it on the track. It really just shows you how slippery it got.”

Kacic has had to suspend his campaign because of budget issues, and Clark will also miss this weekend’s round at New Jersey Motorsports Park to compete in the Road America round of USF Juniors, where he leads the championship. Much has changed since FR Americas, then F3 Americas, last visited New Jersey back in 2018, and all but Tavella have never raced there. It’s the start of the second half, the series’ great equaliser, and perhaps the drivers’ biggest challenge yet: adapt to a new track as Hyman does, or watch their championship hopes fade into a memory of old.

Can anyone stop Raoul Hyman? | Credit: Gavin Baker Photography / FR Americas

Header photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography / FR Americas

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