It was probably one of the tightest finishes the Cooper Tires Winterfest has ever seen, as Jack Aitken walked away from NOLA victorious winning the crown by only a single point.
Locked head-to-head with Weiron Tan, the title battle went down to the very last double-points race with a fastest lap point giving the London based driver proving to be the difference.
The final race started very much in Aitken’s favour, an 11 point lead was enough if he finished first – but with Tan making a rocket getaway and the Formula Renault regular only being able to fight his way up to second, it was going to be a very tough fight.
With Tan surviving safety cars that could have threatened his lead, Aitken had to rely on getting the bonus points and Tan initially set the fastest lap before Aitken started an almighty battle with Juncos Racing’s Jose Gutierrez to get the fastest lap and on lap 10 of 17 the 18-year-old struck the decisive blow.
He said: “I did the final (regular-season) round at Sonoma last year and since we had such a good experience, we decided to come over again. I was really surprised by the pace of the front runners, it was really impressive. The car is difficult to drive, it’s really a challenge, so we came back for Winterfest. I didn’t know where we’d stack up but I knew it would be quite tough and that’s the reason I’m here.
“It’s really the perfect preparation for my (European) season in Renaults, being pushed so hard by Weiron and the other guys. The whole experience has been really good. The quality is so good in this field, I’m tempted to come back for some more this summer!”
Losing out 167-166 would be annoying for anyone, but thankfully Tan is looking ahead to the regular Pro Mazda season: “Jack did well, he kept the pressure on me. I was trying to find the time, but since he had the fastest lap time, that gave him the championship. It’s disappointing. We got the victory but we lost the war, so it’s good and bad.
“But this is a good start for us, since the real championship starts now. But looking back on the penalty [from NOLA], I have regrets for doing that – if it had been a fair fight, I think we could have won. I learned from that, it’s a big mistake and it cost me the one point I needed. It’s all about learning and that’s why we’re doing this. We’re all here to learn, to grow up, and it’s all part of learning how not to make the same mistakes next time. But after these race weekends, we know we have good pace going into the full season. I think we should be pretty confident. We have to keep working hard and I have to stop making stupid mistakes!”
The regular Pro Mazda season starts on the streets of St Petersburg at the end of March.