It was a two-for-two Saturday for Pabst Racing, with sophomore driver Yufeng Luo charging to his first victory in Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda action. Lacking the calamitous action in Turn 1, this race was filled with hard racing and several dramatic moments.
Jordan Lloyd again started from the pole position alongside Parker Thompson, and it was a significantly cleaner run through Turn 1. James Munro and Anthony Martin did make slight contact, though, resulting in the first full course yellow of the race. Munro would lose a lap making repairs, while Martin came in for a nose change but stayed on the lead lap. Lloyd held the lead at the front from Thompson, while Luke Gabin jumped from seventh to third. Luo fell back to fourth from third, but it was only a temporary delay to his day.
When green flag racing resumed, Lloyd built a comfortable lead as Garth Rickards moved into fifth to put all three Pabst Racing machines in the top five. With ten minutes remaining, though, another full course caution neutralized the action as Charles Finelli stalled in the runoff.
In the final green running of the day, the lead finally changed hands. Thompson got a good run on the front straight, diving down the inside of Lloyd in Turn 1. As the two battled, Luo had already passed Gabin and was upon the lead duo. Luo pounced, first picking off Lloyd and then sliding by Thompson, just making slight contact with the Canadian as he took the lead. Lloyd joined Luo in passing Thompson, as did Team Pelfrey’s Jordan Cane who had also gotten by Gabin.
Lloyd stuck with Luo, but a final yellow for Dakota Dickerson’s tire wall contact in Turn 7 ended any hopes of a weekend sweep for the Australian. Instead, it was Luo flipping the order from Race 1, giving Pabst Racing yet another 1-2 finish while Team Pelfrey put another driver on the podium. Cane’s run was particularly impressive given he started this race in tenth and failed to finish the first race after being involved in the second incident of that race.
Rickards just missed out on putting all three Pabst drivers in the top five, finish just behind Gabin in sixth, while Nikita Lastochkin, Robert Megennis, TJ Fischer, and Martin completed the top ten. In a brief side note, if you’re noticing Zach Claman De Melo in the results, he was entered this weekend in USF2000 just to give him extra seat time in advance of his Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires debut. The extra seat time he had in the first two practice sessions was invaluable to the Canadian youngster, thanks to the support of ArmsUp Motorsports who provided him with their third car in practice.
“The restart happened and I almost forget but I think Jordan and Parker went into Turn 1 side-by-side,” Luo recalled. “Because of the bad exit they got I was right on Jordan’s tail going into Turn 4. Going through, Parker just messed up on the exit of Turn 8 and then I had the inside into Turn 10 and made it work. I checked my mirrors and noticed I was pretty clear. Thankfully, Jordan didn’t get past me. I’m very happy I was able to bring Pabst the win.”
“I went a little bit too late getting on the power [on the last restart], picked up a little bit of wheelspin and just lost it going down the straight,” Lloyd lamented. “It’s racing and these things happen. I’m definitely happy bagging a bunch of points for the championship.”
That’s a wrap for the USF2000 field here at St. Petersburg, and for the second year in the row the story is all Pabst Racing. Cape Motorsports, the defending series champions, were once again quiet in the first round of weekend, but expect the most dominant team over the past five years to rebound when the series takes to the track next month at Barber Motorsports Park. There it will be up to Lloyd and Luo to defend Pabst’s early season advantage and become true championship contenders.
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