ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Anthony Martin began his bid to follow Matthew Brabham as only the second driver to claim back-to-back Mazda Scholarships in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires with a flag-to-flag victory in the Hi-Tide Kids on Track Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The 22-year-old from Kalgoorlie, Australia, driving for St. Petersburg-based Cape Motorsports, remained under pressure virtually throughout the 25-lap, 30-minute race from Brazilian Victor Franzoni (Juncos Racing) before taking the checkered flag to earn victory by just 0.5084 second.
Californian TJ Fischer finished third for Team Pelfrey.
After Martin snagged the pole position yesterday from Franzoni by a scant 0.0120 second, the two USF2000 protagonists from last year continued to be separated by next to nothing. The pair traded fastest laps several times during the early stages before Martin settled into a consistently fast pace and began to edge clear. The gap between them ebbed and flowed as they worked past some slower cars but Franzoni was never quite close enough to mount a serious challenge.
Team Pelfrey’s pair of TJ Fischer and Pro Mazda debutant Carlos Cunha, from Brazil, also remained close together in their battle for third, some distance behind the two leaders. Los Angeles-based Russian Nikita Lastochkin, in a third Team Pelfrey car, completed the top five after a race-long battle with teenager Phillippe Denes, from Carmel, Calif., who made a solid debut after clinching a late deal to join World Speed Motorsports.
USF2000 graduate Max Hanratty, from Milwaukee, Wis., also showed well in his first-ever Pro Mazda race, holding sixth place in the early stages for ArmsUp Motorsports before losing out to Sting Ray Robb (World Speed Motorsports), from Payette, Idaho, just before the half-distance mark.
Kevin Davis, from Alvin, Ill., claimed National Class honors with an 11th-place overall finish in his self-run car, followed by Brendan Puderbach (FatBoy Racing!).
Martin also claimed the Staubli Award, while the PFC Award went to the winning team, Cape Motorsports. Another debutant, Matt Machiko, from Pittsburgh, Pa., claimed the Quarter Master Hard Charger Award after making up three positions during the race to finish ninth for FatBoy Racing!.
Qualifying for tomorrow’s second race took place earlier this morning with Martin again securing pole by a narrow margin over Franzoni. The green flag for the Allied Building Products Grand of St. Petersburg is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. EDT on Sunday.
Live timing and live streaming will be available on the series website, promazda.com, as well as on indycar.com and the Road To Indy TV App.
Anthony Martin (#8 Mazda/Burgess BLA-Cape Motorsports): “I’m so happy to be on the podium in St. Pete – I’ve raced here for three years and this is my first podium here. It’s great to put the Soul Red car on top. It was a crazy race. I actually hit the wall at the exit of Turn Three – a lot of people have hit that wall this weekend and now I get to join that club. I also hit at Turn Eight late in the race and took off all the Cooper Tire signs, so sorry for that! It may have looked easy but I was certainly challenged in the car. I try to look forward as much as I can and not worry about what’s going on behind me and I was able to do that today but Victor was right there. The Cape Motorsports guys gave me a great car but we’ll look at the data and see where we can improve for tomorrow.”
Victor Franzoni (#23 Juncos Racing): “I am happy with the result, but I could be happier. It’s been a crazy week. I was supposed to race in USF2000 but Juncos Racing gave me the opportunity to move up and I really appreciate that. I ran half a season in 2015 and tested with Juncos late last year so to finish second is very good. It’s difficult to pass here but our lap times were so close that I stayed right with Anthony early in the race. It was giving me bad air and I started to get loose, so I had to back off a bit. It’s the first race of the season, so it doesn’t make sense to try something crazy. Anthony was really fast so I am happy with second.”