Exclusive Autosport sophomore pilot Christian Brooks celebrates his second Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship win of the day in St. Petersburg, Fla. Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography/Road to Indy

By Tony DiZinno / Steve Wittich

Late passes in the last race of the day were the story in Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship at the streets of St. Petersburg. But as in Race 1 earlier Saturday, the same driver and team emerged on top: Christian Brooks and Exclusive Autosport in the No. 44 Tatuus USF-17.

Brooks powered past polesitter Kiko Porto in his No. 12 DEForce Racing entry after the 20-lap race’s lone full-course caution, to score his second straight win of the day and third of his USF2000 career – all at St. Pete. That matches Spencer Pigot, who also won three times on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit .

Brooks won from the outside of the front row, the seventh time the USF2000 winner has come from that starting spot. It also means that the lowest that a race winner has started in 24 USF2000 in St. Pete is on the inside of the second row.

“This is the best weekend of my life. It’s unbelievable, after such a tough weekend at Barber, to be the points leader and a back-to-back winner,” enthused the 20-year-old Brooks. “I can’t thank everyone at Exclusive Autosport enough, the car was on rails the entire weekend. It was a great first race with my teammate Matt – when you have a guy like that behind you, you can’t make any mistakes, and to bring home a one-two finish was great. And in the second race, it was such a relief to get by Kiko. He’s such a fast driver and not an easy guy to pass, so I wasn’t sure I would be able to. But coming back from that yellow, that was the best restart I’ve ever done and I was able to take advantage of a little mistake he made. I was in the right place at the right time, and the car was amazing. It’s my third win at St. Pete and I think having experience here really helps my confidence. I know where to punch off on the restarts, the gap I need going into Turn One, how cold the tires are and how much I can push. The car was so good, I don’t think anyone had anything for us today.”

Michael Duncalfe’s squad nearly had its second double podium finish of the day, with second driver Matt Round-Garrido just off the podium in fourth in his No. 92 Exclusive car. Michael d’Orlando advanced from fourth to third on the final lap in his No. 4 car to bring Cape Motorsports onto the podium. Either way, Exclusive Autosport still went three-for-three in Road to Indy races Saturday at St. Petersburg with Brooks’ USF2000 sweep and Braden Eves scoring the Indy Pro 2000 Race 1 win.

After 11 cars were involved in incidents in Race 1 earlier today, it was inevitable that some might not be fully repaired in time for Race 2 this evening.

Those unable to make the call included Bijoy Garg (No. 6 Jay Howard Driver Development) and Kent Vaccaro (No. 16 Miller Vinatieri Motorsports) after separate incidents. Garg got hit by another car exiting Turn 10 and sustained heavy rear end damage; Vaccaro’s car was squeezed against the catch-fencing and concrete wall in an accordion effect accident prior to Turns 7 and 8.

The 24 remaining Tatuus USF-17 cars made it through Turns 1 through 3 cleanly, with the Exclusive cars of Brooks and Round-Garrido trying to attack Porto either side of the Brazilian. After the mess at Turns 4 through 8 in the first race, the field made it through smoothly from there.

Matthew Round-Garrido (No. 92 Exclusive Autosport car) puts pressure on pole-sitter Kiko Porto (No. 12 DEForce Racing car) early in the second USF2000 race in St. Petersburg, Fla. Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography/Road to Indy

Three top 10 position changes occurred on Lap 1: d’Orlando passed Josh Green (No. 33 Turn 3 Motorsport) for fourth, Myles Rowe (No. 99 Force Indy) passed Yuven Sundaramoorthy (No. 22 Pabst Racing) for sixth and Andre Castro (No. 19 Legacy Autosport) passed Thomas Nepveu (No. 2 Cape Motorsports) for ninth. Another big mover early was Ely Navarro (No. 1 DEForce Racing), the Lucas Oil Formula Car Series champion, up six spots from 22nd to 16th.

By Lap 7, Rowe and Sundaramoorthy were past Green for fifth and sixth. Green had a gaggle of cars behind him including Spike Kohlbecker (No. 5 Cape Motorsports), Castro, Nepveu, Jace Denmark (No. 23 Pabst Racing), Josh Pierson (No. 24 Pabst Racing) and Prescott Campbell (No. 11 DEForce Racing) and a blanket could cover all of them.

D’Orlando attempted to get past Round-Garrido into Turn 1 for third on Lap 9, but was unable to do so. That scrap brought Rowe forward as the Force Indy driver continued to progress, and then past d’Orlando for fourth by the end of the lap.

At Lap 10 of 20, the order was Porto with a 0.7651 second lead over Brooks, Round-Garrido third then Rowe, d’Orlando, Sundaramoorthy, Green, Kohlbecker, Nepveu and Castro in the top 10.

Rowe tried around the outside of Round-Garrido for third on Lap 11 at Turn 1, but was unable to get past. Things got worse moments after that. Rowe clipped the Turn 2 curb and fell back to earth, and then into Sundaramoorthy’s clutches. Contact then occurred between the two of them at the entry to Turn 4, right in front of Green who had a front row seat to the collision.

This shifted the running order under the first full-course caution of the race. Porto, Brooks and Round-Garrido remained in the top three with d’Orlando now fourth, Green fifth, then Kohlbecker, Nepveu, Castro, Pierson and Campbell in the top 10.

The race went back to green at the end of Lap 15 with five laps to go and the race’s complexion changed.

Porto lost the lead on exit of Turn 1, Brooks making an opportunistic move on the inside to take the lead. Round-Garrido tried to follow his Exclusive teammate in dethroning the DEForce driver up front.

Brooks streaked away by more than a second at the end of Lap 16 with Porto having to defend against Round-Garrido, d’Orlando and Green.

Porto tried to claw back the deficit and gained half a second in the next two laps, and by the white flag he was within 0.4785 of a second heading into Turn 1. D’Orlando seized his opportunity into Turn 1 on Round-Garrido, passing him on the inside for third place and the last podium position.

Brooks held off Porto by just 0.3581 of a second to complete the Saturday sweep for both himself in USF2000 and Exclusive Autosport across the three races in USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 held on the streets of St. Petersburg. D’Orlando rebounded from flipping in Race 1 to be on the podium hours later.

Porto’s second-place finish is the Brazilian’s fifth career USF2000 podium. He led the first 15-laps, the third time the DEForce Racing sophomore led a USF2000 event.

“It was so windy out there so we really had to make some adjustments during the race,” said the 2020 USF2000 winner in St. Pete. “When the yellow came out, I tried to cool down my tires but I didn’t get them warm enough as we came back to green. When I got on the power on the restart, the car didn’t have good front traction and I had just enough understeer under braking that Christian got by. I’m not too disappointed but I know we can do more. We’re second in the championship now and we’ll keep pushing at all the rest of the races.”

Michael d’Orlando’s recovery drive to third place in Race #2 after being on his lid to end race #1 only a few hours before was the 23rd podium in St. Pete for Cape Motorsports. d’Orlando joins names like Oliver Askew, Matthew Brabham, Jake Eidson, Braden Eves, Kyle Kirkwood, Nico Jamin, Spencer Pigot, and Aaron Telitz as podium visitors in St. Pete for Cape Motorsports. d’Orlando now has six career USF2000 podiums and 20 top-ten finishes.

“It was such an emotional roller coaster,” explained the veteran d’Orlando after the second race of the day. “In the first race, I was running third with Josh Green behind me and he went for the inside move and we collided, causing me to flip. So to finish third in the second race after finishing the first race on my head is pretty good! It was a hard battle with Matt, with all his experience he’s a tough guy to pass. You never know who’s going to come out on top. He made some good moves and was pushing hard in the corners but on the last lap, I went inside and was able to make it work.”

Round-Garrido and Green completed the top five, ahead of Kohlbecker and Nepveu for Cape, Castro, Campbell and Pierson in the top 10. Campbell gained seven spots from his starting position (16th to ninth) with Billy Frazer (No. 91 Exclusive Autosport) advancing six (18th to 12th) in this 20-lap race.

Young Canadian driver Thomas Nepveu (Cape Motorsports) finished seventh, the 16-year-old’s best finish of the season.

“The second race was better, even though I got a bad start and had to defend a bit,” said the pilot from Montreal, Quebec, Canada. “I lost a position but was able to get the position back. The lap times were so close, it was hard to get away from anyone. I had good speed after the restart but I was right behind Spike, so I wanted to make sure we both brought the cars home and have a good run for Cape. We got some good experience, and it’s so much fun here. It feels like a big race, with the fans in the stands.”

Thomas Nepveu on the Cromwell/Karting Excellence/Home Hardware sponsored No. Cape Motorsports machine holds off Legacy Autosport’s Andre Castro in the Metalloid sponsored No. 19. Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography/Road to Indy

USF2000 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by Andersen Interior Contracting Race 2 Unofficial Results

P No Name Team Laps Diff
1 44 Christian Brooks Exclusive Autosport 20 LAP 20
2 12 Kiko Porto DEForce Racing 20 0.3581
3 4 Michael d’Orlando Cape Motorsports 20 2.5135
4 92 Matt Round-Garrido Exclusive Autosport 20 2.9966
5 33 Josh Green Turn 3 Motorsport 20 4.0870
6 5 Spike Kohlbecker Cape Motorsports 20 4.2496
7 2 Thomas Nepveu Cape Motorsports 20 4.6163
8 19 Andre Castro Legacy Autosport 20 5.0511
9 11 Prescott Campbell DEForce Racing 20 5.2364
10 24 Josh Pierson Pabst Racing 20 5.4009
11 23 Jace Denmark Pabst Racing 20 6.0847
12 91 Billy Frazer Exclusive Autosport 20 6.4652
13 34 Dylan Christie Turn 3 Motorsport 20 7.1935
14 29 Erik Evans Velocity Racing Development 20 8.3108
15 9 Peter Vodanovich Jay Howard Driver Development 20 8.6916
16 1 Ely Navarro DEForce Racing 20 9.3226
17 90 Grant Palmer Exclusive Autosport 20 10.1396
18 8 Jackson Lee Jay Howard Driver Development 20 11.5075
19 63 Trey Burke Joe Dooling Autosports 20 12.1199
20 3 Evan Stamer Cape Motorsports 20 15.8636
21 10 Nolan Siegel DEForce Racing 20 16.3165
22 42 Michael Myers Michael Myers Racing 19 In Pit
23 99 Myles Rowe Force Indy 11 Contact
24 22 Yuven Sundaramoorthy Pabst Racing 11 Contact
25 6 Bijoy Garg Jay Howard Driver Development DNS
26 16 Kent Vaccaro Miller Vinatieri Motorsports DNS