By Steve Wittich
Last year, at this same race track, Christian Brooks rookie USF Pro 2000 Presented By Cooper Tires season ended before it started after a hard crash in practice meant he missed the event and didn’t race at all in 2022.
The Californian topped qualifying in his return to racing and this track, setting a lap of 70.0549 seconds in the OFTV-sponsored No. 3 from the Turn 3 Motorsport stable.
Despite a forgettable visit to “St. Pete” last year, Brooks has had substantial success on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn St. Petersburg street circuit, grabbing a pair of poles and a trio of trips to victory lane across two USF2000 visits.
It’s the second year in a row that a Turn 3 Motorsport driver has won the season-opening pole in St. Peterburg, with Josh Green taking that honor last year.
The top five drivers – from five different teams – were within one-tenth of a second, and the top 16 were within one second, portending what should be an epic USF Pro 2000 season.
Within 0.01 seconds of Brooks was newcomer Francesco Pizzi (TJ Speed Motorsports), Kiko Porto (DEForce Racing), Myles Rowe (Pabst Racing) and Reece Ushijima (Jay Howard Driver Development).
When USF Pro 2000 Presented By Cooper Tires, got the green flag at 1:18 pm, the ambient temperature was 82F, and the track temperature was 115F.
With quick breaks and slightly shortened sessions, the day’s events were close to being back on schedule. Accordingly, five minutes were removed from what was originally a half-hour session.
The 20 cars and drivers quickly got to work their fresh sets of Cooper Tires up to the optimal temperature.
After only two minutes, with drivers only completing one lap at speed, USF Pro Championships newcomer and Formula 2 veteran Lirim Zendeli (TJ Speed Motorsports) made fairly significant contact with the concrete barriers in Turn, with the No. 10 coming to rest closer to Turn 10.
The session went green again with 16 minutes remaining.
Porto, who led the lone practice session, quickly went to the timing screens, holding the provisional pole after all the drivers had turned five laps and the clock hit the halfway point of qualifying.
Turn 3 Motorsport was quick in the middle portion of the session, with rookies Christian Brooks first and Michael d’Orlando next, holding the provisional pole and veteran teammate Jonathan Browne fourth on the timing screen.
Rowe, who led spring training and was a USF2000 winner on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn St. Petersburg street circuit last year, grabbed the provisional pole on his tenth qualifying lap.
Rowe and Brooks traded the top spot three times over the next two laps and were separated by less than one-tenth of a second.
Porto and Pizzi entered the conversation late, placing themselves between Brooks and Rowe with three minutes remaining.
Nobody could go quicker in their last few circuits, giving Brooks the pole.
Exclusive Autosport newcomer Joel Granfors could not complete qualifying laps after an incident on his out lap.
USF Pro 2000 Presented By Cooper Tires qualifying results
|RANK||CAR NO.||DRIVER||TEAM||BEST LAP||DIFF.|
|1||3||Christian Brooks||Turn 3 Motorsport||1:10.0549||——|
|2||55||Francesco Pizzi||TJ Speed Motorsports||1:10.0668||0.0119|
|3||12||Kiko Porto||DEForce Racing||1:10.1362||0.0813|
|4||99||Myles Rowe||Pabst Racing||1:10.1529||0.0980|
|5||6||Reece Ushijima||Jay Howard Driver Development||1:10.1567||0.1018|
|6||1||Michael d’Orlando||Turn 3 Motorsport||1:10.2251||0.1702|
|7||2||Jonathan Browne||Turn 3 Motorsport||1:10.3299||0.2750|
|8||20||Jace Denmark||Pabst Racing||1:10.3799||0.3250|
|9||91||Salvador De Alba||Exclusive Autosport||1:10.5272||0.4723|
|10||90||Yuven Sundaramoorthy||Exclusive Autosport||1:10.5586||0.5037|
|11||19||Jordan Missig||Pabst Racing||1:10.6123||0.5574|
|12||40||Jack William Miller||Miller Vinatieri Motorsports||1:10.6230||0.5681|
|13||32||Christian Weir||TJ Speed Motorsports||1:10.6529||0.5980|
|14||4||Ricardo Escotto||Jay Howard Driver Development||1:10.9664||0.9115|
|15||7||Bijoy Garg||DEForce Racing||1:11.0546||0.9997|
|16||93||Lindsay Brewer||Exclusive Autosport||1:11.1470||1.0921|
|17||81||Nicholas Monteiro||NeoTech Motorsport||1:11.4368||1.3819|
|18||47||Jackson Lee||Turn 3 Motorsport||1:11.8718||1.8169|
|19||10||Lirim Zendeli||TJ Speed Motorsports||6:05.3741||295.3192|
|20||92||Joel Granfors||Exclusive Autosport||No Time||—|
The 25-lap Discount Tire Grand Prix of St. Peterburg will get the green flag at 11:15 am on Saturday.