By Steve Wittich
The second Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship race of the weekend bore plenty of similarities to Friday’s first race. Same winner? Check, Braden Eves won for the second straight day. A daring but measured drive from the back of the field? Check, on Friday it was Darren Keane and today it was Manuel Sulaiman. Multiple cautions? Check, both races were interrupted by numerous yellow flag periods. Crazy drama? Check, but instead of first lap drama, it was last lap, last corner incident that had the crowd oohing.
The first 24 laps of the St. Petersburg Grand Prix Presented by Andersen Interior Contracting race were led by pole sitter and Cape Motorsports veteran Keane along with Jay Howard Driver Development rookie Rasmussen.
However, Keane spun in Turn 13 while in the lead, taking Rasmussen out of the race with him.
Eves was able to slip inside of the stricken pair and cross the finish line first for his second straight win to start the 2019 USF2000 season.
“Back in my karting days, I would literally go from third to first in the last corner, so it was crazy,” said Eves after the unexpected win. “I didn’t expect that, but it was lucky for me. I was in the right position at the right time. The competition level is so high here that you go into each weekend with an open mind. You could never expect to take both wins on the weekend. I wanted good points, and that was the main goal, so you can’t ask for better than two wins.”
For the second straight race USF2000 $200k Scholarship Shootout winner Hunter McElrea, who was making his first two rolling starts, lost positions when the green flag came out. On Friday, the Pabst Racing rookie was able to recover to third and on Saturday, the 19-year-old went one better, to finish second. A solid weekend for the Los Angeles born, Australian raised New Zealander, who was making his first race starts in a formula car with wings and downforce.
Rounding out the podium was BN Racing’s Zach Holden who was a late addition to the field. The less experienced 18-year-old came out on top in an entertaining battle with USF2000 veterans Alexandre Baron (Legacy Autosport) and Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing).
“That last turn was insane; I don’t think anybody saw that coming, said the Greenfield, Indiana native. “I was a last-minute entry and was really hoping just to finish, so to walk out of this weekend with a podium after not being in the car for six months feels really great. To have the pace we had all weekend and have the race we had gives us plenty of momentum and confidence going into my home race in Indianapolis.”
Just before the all-Cape Motorsports front row reached the “go zone” the starter waved the yellow flag, waving off the start because of the No. 41 Miller Vinatieri Motorsports machine of Eduardo Barrichello was stopped on track with a mechanical issue.
Keane got a great jump on Eves when the race finally got started to begin Lap 3, allowing Rasmussen and Kaminsky to slide past the Race #1 winner and into the second and third spots.
Rasmussen got better exit off Turn 3 and went to the outside of Keane headed to Turn 4. The Cape Motorsports veteran and Jay Howard Driver Development rookie went side-by-side through the tight 90-degree right hander which gave Rasmussen the inside line to Turn 5. Keane was forced to back out and the Danish driver was able to go to the point.
The running order after the first green flag lap was: Rasmussen, Keane, Kaminsky, Eves, Baron, Holden, McElrea, Cameron Shields (Newman Wachs Racing), Manuel Cabrera (Exclusive Autosport), Bruna Tomaselli (Pabst Racing), Jose Sierra (Legacy Autosport), Anthony Famularo (BN Racing), Manuel Sulaiman (DEForce Racing), Jack William Miller (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports), Reece Gold (Cape Motorsports), Yuven Sundaramoorthy (Pabst Racing), Christian Bogle (Jay Howard Driver Development), Nolan Siegel (Newman Wachs Racing), and Matthew Round-Garrido (Jay Howard Driver Development).
Two laps later, Keane was able to the better drive off Turn 14 and make a clean textbook pass of Rasmussen to go back to the lead.
At the end of the next lap, Kaminsky went into Turn 13 too hot, opening up the inside for Eves to get by him for the final spot on the podium.
Behind the battle for the podium, Holden, Baron, McElrea, and Sheilds were putting on a show, exchanging spots in the Top 5.
The second full-course caution (first for an incident) came out on Lap 12 when rookie Bogle had an incident in Turn 9.
Keane was holding onto just under a full second lead over Rasmussen when the caution flags flew. Eves, Holden, McElrea, Kaminsky, Baron, Shields, Sierra and Cabrera made up the remainder of the top ten.
Rasmussen was able to get by Keane in the later portion of the lap, but he pushed wide final 180 degree pair of corners and allowed Keane to move back into the lead as they cross the stripe with nine laps to remaining. Once again, the pair went side by side through a corner, this time, Turn 1 before Keane moved to the point.
Holden was able to briefly get by Eves for the final spot of the podium by going to the inside of Turn 10, but that compromised the next two corners, allowing Eves and McElrea to get by.
Just behind that battle, Cabrera and Miller were in a struggle for tenth when the left front of Miller’s No. 40 made contact with the right rear of the Exclusive Autosport No. 90, sending him spinning, knocking him out of the race and bringing out another full course caution.
Miller, a second-generation driver was issued a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact.
Australian Shields who was running a solid eighth was forced to pit road for repairs to the No. 73, ending a sure top ten run.
The top 10 when the green flag came back out with five laps remaining were Keane, Rasmussen, Eves, McElrea, Holden, Baron, Kaminsky, Sierra, and Sulaiman.
It was the first time that race #1 podium finisher Sulaiman had cracked the top ten after being forced to start last after making contact with the concrete barriers on his out-lap in qualifying only a few hours earlier. The 18-year-old was able to gain four more spots over the final five laps to finish a splendid come back drive in sixth.
The battles in the top ten over the final five circuits was hard fought, but mainly drama free until the penultimate corner mistake by Keane ended his and Rasmussen’s days in 14th and 15th place finishes.
There were a few notable recovery drives in the 25 lap “feature” race.
Jay Howard Driver Development rookie Round-Garrido was in 20th spot after the first lap and drove through the field to finish ninth.
Famularo, who is coached by former Indy car champion Juan Montoya, grabbed the second top ten of his debut Road To Indy event moving from his 16th starting spot to tenth.
Pabst Racing rookie Sundaramoorthy dropped back 16th early in the race but drove a smart race to bring his Pabst Racing No. 21 home in 11th.
St. Petersburg Grand Prix Presented by Andersen Interior Contracting Race #2 Results
|1||8||Braden Eves||Cape Motorsports||25 laps|
|2||22||Hunter McElrea||Pabst Racing||-0.6338|
|3||27||Zach Holden||BN Racing||-1.2618|
|4||14||Alex Baron||Legacy Autosport||-2.0381|
|5||23||Colin Kaminsky||Pabst Racing||-3.9729|
|6||12||Manuel Sulaiman||DEForce Racing||-4.5949|
|7||24||Bruna Tomaselli||Pabst Racing||-6.2738|
|8||3||Reece Gold||Cape Motorsports||-7.2399|
|9||5||Matt Round-Garrido||Jay Howard Driver Development||-7.7176|
|10||28||Anthony Famularo||BN Racing||-10.7625|
|11||21||Yuven Sundaramoorthy||Pabst Racing||-16.304|
|12||36||Nolan Siegel||Newman Wachs Racing||-18.2939|
|13||77||Jose Sierra||Legacy Autosport||-34.9574|
|14||2||Darren Keane||Cape Motorsports||– 1 LAP|
|15||6||Christian Rasmussen||Jay Howard Driver Development||– 1 LAP|
|16||73||Cameron Shields||Newman Wachs Racing||– 1 LAP|
|17||40||Jack William Miller||Miller Vinatieri Motorsports||– 2 LAPS|
|18||90||Manuel Cabrera||Exclusive Autosport||– 9 LAPS|
|19||7||Christian Bogle||Jay Howard Driver Development||– 15 LAPS|
|20||69||Nate Aranda||Team E JAY Racing||DNS|
|21||41||Eduardo Barrichello||Miller Vinatieri Motorsports||DNS|