Locals Eves and DeFabis share Carb Night Classic USF wins at IRP

Braden Eves and Tanner DeFabis shared the honors Saturday at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park after the traditional Carb Night Classic had been postponed from Friday night due to inclement weather. The USF Pro Championships Presented by Continental Tire’s one and only visit this season to an oval track duly lived up to expectations.

Local resident Eves continued the astonishing form of his Exclusive Autosport team at the 0.686-mile oval with a record-breaking victory from the pole in USF Pro 2000. He was chased home in the Freedom 90 by Pabst Racing’s Jace Denmark, from nearby Brownsburg, Ind., while Australian rookie Lochie Hughes moved to within a point of the USF Pro 2000 championship lead after finishing a close behind in third for Turn 3 Motorsport.

In USF2000, DeFabis, from nearby Avon, Ind., rose quickly from third on the grid to dominate the Freedom 75 race for Jay Howard Driver Development. Last year’s USF Juniors champion Nicolas Giaffone, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, finished second for DEForce Racing ahead of Jay Howard Driver Development’s Evagoras Papasavvas, from Loveland, Ohio.


It was apparent from the very first USF Pro 2000 test session on Wednesday afternoon that 2013 champion Matt Brabham’s qualifying lap record was in serious jeopardy. Ultimately, the top seven on the grid eclipsed both his one- and two-lap standard, led by locally based series veteran Eves, who snagged his first Continental Tire Pole Award of the season during qualifying on Thursday afternoon with a new outright track lap record of 19.4602s and a two-lap average of 126.565mph.

The pole represented a long overdue return to form for Eves, the 2019 USF2000 champion, who had endured a disappointing start to the season with only a pair of top-five finishes from the opening eight races.

Eves took off at the start like a scalded cat. He established a new race lap record on only the second lap and had extended his advantage to over five seconds by the time the caution flags waved for the first and only time after 47 laps due to an incident between Turns 3 and 4 involving Ethan Ho (Turn 3 Motorsport), from Los Angeles, Calif., and championship leader Nikita Johnson (VRD Racing), from Gulfport, Fla. The pair had been disputing sixth place at the time. Both were unhurt.

The restart would be crucial. Denmark, who had started second and remained as Eves’ closest challenger, was eager to grasp his opportunity after a huge deficit suddenly had been reduced to just a car’s length.

Denmark briefly nosed alongside his rival several times following the resumption, with 24 laps remaining, but Eves kept his cool. And his lead.

Hughes fell back a little from the two leaders at the restart, but it wasn’t long before he was back on their tail. Hughes’ teammate, Danny Dyszelski, from Belmont, N.C., also ran close behind in fourth.

Tthere was no stopping Eves, who held on to score his Exclusive Autosport team’s fifth win at the track since 2018. He also took home team owner Michael Duncalfe’s first PFC Award of the season.

“Oh man, well honestly I have to start off with the most important part of this which was how fantastic my car was,” Eves said. “The Corpay Exclusive Autosport crew just gave me the best car. This is their third time in a row now, winning here, and this place is very, very car dependent. You can’t carry the car here. It’s really a team effort so big thanks to my engineer John Hayes, my team owner Michael Duncalfe, co-owner Josh Cooley and the whole team. It was a super tiring race. The new Continental tire was pulling 2.8-g consistently for 90 laps, so it’s not easy on the body, but I managed to hold on and take the win, so I’m really proud of that.”

Indy NXT regular Bryce Aron, from Winnetka, Ill., finished a strong sixth on his USF Pro 2000 debut for TJ Speed Motorsports after taking the opportunity to gain his first experience on an oval.

Colombian Nicolas Baptiste rose from 17th on the grid to seventh to claim the Tilton Hard Charger Award for BN Racing.


Gavin Baker Photography

Local youngster DeFabis scores maiden USF2000 win

The first indication that the lone oval race of the USF2000 season might provide some new storylines came in testing on Wednesday, when Australian rookie Xavier Kokai posted the fastest times for VRD Racing. That trend continued on Thursday when fellow rookie Giaffone broke through after a difficult start to his campaign. The third-generation racer from Sao Paulo, Brazil, topped the charts in the final test session and then repeated the feat in qualifying for DEForce Racing to secure his first Continental Tire Pole Award. Giaffone’s two-lap average of 116.35mph finally eclipsed the record that had stood to Canadian Scott Hargrove since 2013.

A pair of local rookies, DC Autosport’s Ayrton Houk, from McCordsville, Ind., and DeFabis secured by far their best qualifying positions of the season in second and third.

Giaffone took off confidently in the lead at the start, chased initially by Houk and Australian Quinn Armstrong (DEForce Racing), who celebrated his 17th birthday on Friday and found a way past DeFabis for third place on the opening lap.

DeFabis, though, was quickly into his groove. He repassed Armstrong on the fifth lap, using the low line that had proven so effective in the earlier USAC Silver Crown race, and three laps later also moved past Houk for second. DeFabis immediately put the pressure on Giaffone, who was unable to fend off the irresistible force and was no match for the local driver as he moved through into the lead on lap 12.

From then on, DeFabis was untroubled. His commanding lead of almost four seconds was erased by the race’s only full-course caution after 46 laps, but he was equally dominant at the restart, pulling away convincingly before throttling back over the final few laps to score a well-deserved victory.

The cause of the caution, unfortunately, was Houk, who lost control at the exit of Turn 2 while running third and was collected by the fifth-place runner Max Taylor (VRD Racing), from Hoboken, N.J. Both drivers emerged unscathed.

Giaffone comfortably held onto second place in the closing stages, while Papasavvas rebounded from a difficult weekend on the Indianapolis road course to finish third. Papasavvas took the checkered flag narrowly ahead of compatriots Armstrong and Kokai, who traded places several times over the course of the final few laps.

“That was easily the hardest race I’ve ever had to do,” DeFabis said. “Going in, starting third, I just knew if I could get a good run on the leaders I would be able to pass them because I knew I was quick, we had the pace, and we definitely showed that today. I didn’t really have a great start, to be honest. I fell back to fourth but then I just climbed my way all the way back to first, and from there on out it was just keeping a nice pace and running a high line, and I started to pull away. And then the caution came out. It gave me a little break, which I needed, and then at the restart I was just trying to keep everyone at bay, so from there on out, just kept a solid pace and kept digging. Other than IMS, I don’t know of any better place to win. This is probably the second best for me, because I love the Speedway, but this is pretty much a hometown race; I only live three miles from the track, so it was awesome.”

Indianapolis native Elliot Cox completed the top six for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Development. Cox also claimed the Tilton Hard Charger Award having fought his way from 13th on the grid.

DeFabis’ tremendous maiden victory ensured a first PFC Award of the season for winning car owner Jay Howard.

The USF Pro Championships drivers will face an entirely different challenge when they convene next at the spectacular four-mile Road America venue in rural Elkhart Lake, Wis., where a tripleheader event for USF Pro 2000 and a pair of races for the USF2000 contingent will be held in support of the NTT IndyCar Series on the weekend of June 8-9.


Story originally appeared on Racer