Good things come to those who wait and for Alex Baron, returning to victory lane in the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires was well worth it in Sunday’s second Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda race of the weekend in St. Petersburg.
Baron started from pole and led all 25 laps in his No. 19 Swan-RJB Motorsports Tatuus USF-17 Mazda for his third career USF2000 win, and first since 2013 when he ran two race weekends at the tail end of the year with Afterburner Autosport. He also won his most recent Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires start, but that was back in 2014 at Toronto with Belardi Auto Racing.
The field of 25 cars might have been anxious to race, having waited all day for their first on-track activity as the last on-track session of the St. Petersburg weekend. But fortunately, all 25 cars made it through the first lap without incident.
Baron led away from Fraga, Kohl, and Caroline, with race one winner Kirkwood the big loser as he fell from third on the grid down to fifth.
On Lap 4, Caroline passed Kohl for third place at Turn 4 on the inside, and into the final podium position.
Caroline closed to within three-tenths of Fraga for second on Lap 7 and started plotting his move to overtake him. On Lap 9, Caroline and Fraga completed an over-under exchange of spot, with Caroline out-braking himself into Turn 1 to allow Fraga back through. This allowed Baron’s lead to grow to 3.4037 seconds.
Kohl, meanwhile, had to defend against a hard-charging Kirkwood for fourth.
By Lap 13 the order was Baron, with a 4.9997 second lead over Fraga, with Caroline third, Kohl fourth and Kirkwood fifth. Rasmus Lindh, Kaylen Frederick, Julian Van der Watt, Jose Sierra and Calvin Ming completed the top 10.
Kirkwood lost the back-end of his car exiting Turn 10 on Lap 15 and clanked the wall, when running fifth, and fell into the clutches of Frederick, Lindh, Van der Watt and Sierra.
There was a bit of consternation between Van der Watt and Sierra for the position a couple laps later, and Frederick fell behind them from sixth down to ninth.
Lindh’s rear wing collapsed on Lap 19 while running sixth, and it shot the Pabst Racing driver around backwards into the concrete barrier where the car sustained rear end and right rear corner damage.
On the restart with five laps remaining, Caroline ran wide from third place at Turn 1 and lost two positions. This allowed Kohl to jump into third and Kirkwood to move into fourth. Caroline regained one of those spots to make it back to fourth.
Two more incidents occurred before the end of the race, both at Turn 8. DEForce Racing’s Colin Kaminsky had what appeared to be a heavy accident with rear wing damage on his No. 27 car at the runoff point for the corner, while Manuel Cabrera’s No. 90 Exclusive Autosport car lost the back end on corner exit.
Baron held on for his first win in USF2000 since 2013, when he won two races in the final two weekends of the year at Laguna Seca Raceway and at the Reliant Park street course in Houston.
The win is the first in USF2000 for the fledgling Swan-RJB Motorsports team, led by the pairing of Mirl Swan and Ryan Barth. The team has Baron’s similarly named but not similarly spelled colleague Alex Barron – the 1997 Atlantic champion and past IndyCar race winner – as its driver coach.
The French Baron, however, was the only one of the two on-site this weekend. He told TSO Ladder post-race that he only met Barron more than a week ago and Barron was unable to attend this weekend with a prior commitment.
Unofficially, Kirkwood still leads the points over Sierra (48-41), with a bevy of drivers (Baron, Fraga, Kohl, Ming, and Keane) all in the 30-points or more range.
|1||19||Alex Baron||Swan-RJB Motorsports||25|
|2||91||Igor Fraga||Exclusive Autosport||25||2.0072|
|3||22||Lucas Kohl||Pabst Racing||25||5.4112|
|4||28||Jamie Caroline||BN Racing||25||5.8753|
|5||8||Kyle Kirkwood||Cape Motorsports||25||6.4352|
|6||12||Jose Sierra||DEForce Racing||25||6.7089|
|7||10||Zach Holden||DEForce Racing||25||10.3995|
|8||21||Calvin Ming||Pabst Racing||25||12.3825|
|9||24||Kaylen Frederick||Pabst Racing||25||13.2106|
|10||11||Kory Enders||DEForce Racing||25||13.8957|
|11||80||Julian Van der Watt||Team Pelfrey||25||14.5395|
|12||36||Darren Keane||Newman Wachs Racing||25||15.2984|
|13||30||Keith Donegan||ArmsUp Motorsports||25||17.8019|
|14||82||Bruna Tomaselli||Team Pelfrey||25||18.6553|
|15||81||Kyle Dupell||Team Pelfrey||25||19.3876|
|16||5||Mathias Soler-Obel||Sol.O Racing||25||20.3106|
|17||31||Sabre Cook||Team Benik||25||20.7347|
|18||37||David Osborne||Newman Wachs Racing||25||22.0867|
|19||38||Oscar DeLuzuriaga||Newman Wachs Racing||25||22.9271|
|20||93||Jayson Clunie||Exclusive Autosport||25||23.7519|
|21||90||Manuel Cabrera||Exclusive Autosport||23||23.5011|
|22||27||Colin Kaminsky||DEForce Racing||22||7.7823|
|23||51||Michael d’Orlando||Team Benik||22||18.3366|
|24||23||Rasmus Lindh||Pabst Racing||18||15.3895|
|25||29||Russell McDonough||BN Racing||7||1 LAPS|