By Tony DiZinno
Exclusive Autosport’s pair of Christian Brooks and Matt Round-Garrido started on the front row and finished 1-2 in the opening USF2000 race of the weekend at St. Petersburg. The teammates enjoyed a trouble-free race in their No. 44 and 92 Tatuus USF-17 cars, while a high number of the 26 cars that started ran into some kind of trouble and only 15 finished all 20 laps.
The win is the second in a row for the Californian Brooks in St. Pete, and he is the 17th pole sitter in 23 USF2000 races in St. Pete to stand on the top step of the podium.
It’s the second win in St. Pete for Exclusive Autosport. It’s the fifth USF2000 lifetime win for the Canadian team and their fourth on a street circuit.
The podiums by Brooks and Round-Garrido are the 13th and 14th overall for Exclusive Autosport and their sixth and seventh on street circuits. It’s Brooks’ fourth and Round-Garrido’s second career visit to the USF2000 podium.
“It feels great to be on the podium, thanks to all the lads at Exclusive Autosport,” said a happy Round-Garrido. “It was such a last-minute deal and with Barber not having gone so well, this is a nice bounce back. For the team to give us such fast cars, the only way we could repay them was by going one-two. Massive congratulations to Christian, who drove a great race. I put him under pressure the entire race and he hung on, great drive by him.”
Yuven Sundaramoorthy provided Pabst Racing another St. Pete podium for a team that’s won there before in his No. 22 car. Rookie Billy Frazer (No. 91) made it an impressive three Exclusive cars in the top four, while Kiko Porto (No. 12) completed the top five in his DEForce entry.
Sundaramoorthy is the ninth Pabst Racing driver to stand on the podium in St. Pete. The team now has 15 podiums at this event, the second-most of any team. The third-place finish by the veteran driver is the 105th podium for Pabst Racing, with 23 of them coming on street circuits.
Sundaramoorthy now has two podiums on the season and collected his first career fastest lap of the race during the 20-lap race.
“I made that a lot more difficult on myself than it needed to be, falling back on the restart when d’Orlando and Green came together,” said the 18-year-old. “I’m glad to hear that all the guys who crashed are okay, but that one happened right in front of me and was really scary. But in the end, I set fast lap so I know we were the quickest car out there; there were just too many yellows to catch the Exclusive guys.”
The fourth-place finish by Billy Frazer is the first and only top-five finish by a rookie driver in the four USF2000 races so far in 2021.
Porto will start this afternoon’s second race from pole, and a number of cars behind him face repair work to ensure their cars are good to go once the clock hits 5:20 p.m. ET.
The field of 26 cars rolled off under sunny skies shortly after NTT IndyCar Series practice with the pair of Exclusive Autosport Tatuus USF-17 cars of Brooks and Round-Garrido leading the USF2000 field to green.
While the field made it through Turns 1, 3 and 4 safely, safe for a single spin from Evan Stamer in the No. 3 Cape Motorsports entry, chaos erupted at Turns 6 and 7 on the run-up to Turn 8 to bring out the first full-course caution.
In a three-wide entry into the corner, Peter Vodanovich was on the inside in his No. 9 Jay Howard Driver Development car, and richocheted into Erik Evans (No. 29 Velocity Racing Development), who richocheted into Kent Vaccaro (No. 16 Miller Vinatieri Motorsports) and left Vaccaro’s car on its side, driver’s side up, against the catch-fencing. Trey Burke (No. 63 Joe Dooling Autosports) had nowhere to go except into the mess. Nolan Siegel (No. 10 DEForce Racing) was also listed out after starting from the back. Vodanovich’s teammate, Jackson Lee, somehow snaked through the inside of the wreckage in his similarly liveried No. 8 JHDD car.
Fortunately, the drivers made it out of their cars and the AMR Safety Team was dispatched to help clear the wreckage. Race Control put the race under a red flag with three laps complete. No penalties were assessed for the incident.
The first lap caution in Turn 7 involving five cars was the tenth caution on the opening lap of a USF2000 race in St. Pete.
The top five on the grid remained in that order, with the big mover on the start rookie Frazer up from eighth to sixth in his No. 91 Exclusive entry, passing Porto and Josh Pierson (No. 24 Pabst Racing). Prescott Campbell (No. 11 DEForce Racing) and Myles Rowe (No. 99 Force Indy) completed the top 10.
The red flag was lifted at 11:10 a.m. ET with the countdown clock running at just over 30 minutes remaining. The 20 drivers still running restarted in single file order, and it was barely green until another driver was flipped over at Turn 1, this time Michael d’Orlando (No. 4 Cape Motorsports) after contact with Josh Green (No. 33 Turn 3 Motorsport). D’Orlando escaped from his car unscathed. The Turn 3 Motorsport veteran was deemed to be responsible for the contact with his fellow New Yorker and long-time friend, and was assessed a post-race 30 second penalty for avoidable contact.
Behind Brooks and Round-Garrido, Sundaramoorthy and Frazer were up to third and fourth after that incident with Porto and Campbell fifth and sixth.
After another restart, another yellow flag flew, this time for points leader Campbell, who had suffered front wing damage earlier in the race, going off course on entry to Turn 14 rather quickly. He was sixth at time of incident.
At Lap 14 the order was Brooks, Round-Garrido and Frazer in an Exclusive 1-2-3 with Porto fourth, Sundaramoorthy fifth, Pierson, Rowe, Spike Kohlbecker (No. 5 Cape Motorsports), Bijoy Garg (No. 6 Jay Howard Driver Development) and Dylan Christie (No. 34 Turn 3 Motorsport) the top 10 runners.
Sundaramoorthy got past Frazer for third on Lap 15 before another full-course yellow, the fifth of the race, flew for more contact.
Another JHDD car had a heavy accident exiting Turn 10, this time Garg in the No. 6 car. Another Pabst Racing car, Jace Denmark in the No. 23 car, pitched Garg into the wall after attempting a move on the inside line. Denmark was penalized 30 seconds post race for avoidable contact after being deemed responsible for the contact. Michael Myers in his No. 42 family-run car had nowhere to go and contacted Garg on corner exit.
“We were having a great run inside the top 10 yesterday, before I ran into some problems, initially with my dash going out then getting taken out at T10 by someone who had absolutely no reason to be there,” said the USF2000 sophomore. “It’s frustrating because we were having a solid run and likely would have enjoyed a strong finish. That damage kept me out of the second race, unfortunately. We need to dust ourselves off and go again at the Indy GP.”
This contact put the race under a final full-course caution where it remained out to the checkered flag.
The four cautions and 11 caution laps set new high-water marks for those categories in USF2000 races at St. Pete. The previous highs were three and nine.
It was the first time that a Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship race in St. Pete has ended under a combined yellow and checkered flag.
Brooks’ win snaps a run of four consecutive first-time winners in USF2000, which began last October at St. Pete when Porto and Brooks won their maiden events. Sundaramoorthy and Campbell captured the wins at Barber to kick off the new season.
USF2000 GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG PRESENTED BY ANDERSEN RACEPARK (RACE 1) Unofficial Results
|1||44||Christian Brooks||Exclusive Autosport||20||LAP 20|
|2||92||Matt Round-Garrido||Exclusive Autosport||20||0.4036|
|3||22||Yuven Sundaramoorthy||Pabst Racing||20||1.6624|
|4||91||Billy Frazer||Exclusive Autosport||20||2.2325|
|5||12||Kiko Porto||DEForce Racing||20||2.7743|
|6||5||Spike Kohlbecker||Cape Motorsports||20||4.7464|
|7||24||Josh Pierson||Pabst Racing||20||5.3036|
|8||99||Myles Rowe||Force Indy||20||5.5850|
|9||34||Dylan Christie||Turn 3 Motorsport||20||6.3331|
|10||19||Andre Castro||Legacy Autosport||20||7.6981|
|11||23||Jace Denmark||Pabst Racing||20||8.0608|
|12||2||Thomas Nepveu||Cape Motorsports||20||9.5668|
|13||90||Grant Palmer||Exclusive Autosport||20||10.8038|
|14||1||Ely Navarro||DEForce Racing||20||11.2362|
|15||8||Jackson Lee||Jay Howard Driver Development||20||11.8010|
|16||11||Prescott Campbell||DEForce Racing||17||3 LAPS|
|17||42||Michael Myers||Michael Myers Racing||16||Contact|
|18||33||Josh Green||Turn 3 Motorsport||16||4 LAPS|
|19||6||Bijoy Garg||Jay Howard Driver Development||15||Contact|
|20||4||Michael d’Orlando||Cape Motorsports||4||Contact|
|21||9||Peter Vodanovich||Jay Howard Driver Development||—||Contact|
|22||29||Erik Evans||Velocity Racing Development||—||Contact|
|23||3||Evan Stamer||Cape Motorsports||—||Spin|
|24||63||Trey Burke||Joe Dooling Autosports||—||Contact|
|25||16||Kent Vaccaro||Miller Vinatieri Motorsports||—||Contact|
|26||10||Nolan Siegel||DEForce Racing||—||Contact|