By Steve Wittich
Who doesn’t love redemption stories? Look no further than Turn 3 Motorsport’s Christian Brooks to write the first comeback arc of the season at a track that almost brought his burgeoning open-wheel career to an end. A crash in practice at this same event last year ended Christian Brooks’ rookie USF Pro 2000 Presented By Cooper Tires rookie season before it began.
The 22-year-old Californian stepped back for the rest of the season and signed a last-minute deal to race the first USF Pro 2000 event with the Peter Dempsey-led Turn 3 Motorsport.
Brooks, a three-time “St. Pete” winner in USF2000, started from the pole, survived two restarts and led all 25 laps on the way to his first series victory in his fourth start.
Today’s win is the second straight for Turn 3 Motorsport on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn St. Petersburg street circuit.
Kiko Porto extended his series podium streak to three races going back to the final two races at the Portland International Raceway last year.
Pabst Racing rookie Myles Rowe drove a patient race, standing on the bottom step of the podium in his first USF Pro 2000 start.
The call to fire the Elite Engine prepared 2.0L engines for the first USF Pro 2000 Presented By Cooper Tires race of the season came at 11:25 am. The ambient temperature was 81F, and the track temperature was 106F
After a single pace lap, the front row of Brooks and Pizzi brought the field to the green flag on runway 7/25 of Albert Whitted Airport.
The first four or five rows were lined up nicely, but the rest of the field held back, making them quicker as they approached the green flag. Race control called off the start, and the field circulated for another lap before getting the green flag the second time by the starter’s stand.
Pole sitter Brooks was the first car to Turn 1, with Porto, who started behind him, moving into second.
Reigning USF2000 champion Michael d’Orlando, who started sixth, got bottled up in Turn 1, making contact with other drivers and stopping on track. The No. 1 continued but was one lap down.
As the field got to Turn 4, Jonathan Browne (Turn 3 Motorsport), Ricardo Escotto (Jay Howard Driver Development) and Jordan Missig (Pabst Racing) were involved in an incident in Turn 4, with the No. 19 of Missig stopping on track.
The running order after two laps, as the field circulated under yellow, was Brooks, Porto, Rowe, Pizzi, Jace Denmark (Pabst Racing), Jack William Miller (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports), Salvador de Alba (Exclusive Autosport), Joel Granfors (Exclusive Autosport), Lirim Zendeli (TJ Speed Motorsports), Nicholas Monteiro (NeoTech Motorsport), Bijoy Garg (DEForce Racing), Lindsay Brewer (Exclusive Autosport), Christian Weir (TJ Speed Motorsports), Jackson Lee (Turn 3 Motorsport), Browne, Escotto, d’Orlando, Missig, along with Reece Ushijima (Jay Howard Driver Development) and Yuven Sundaramoorthy (Exclusive Autosport) who were not shown on timing and scoring, but were on track with transponders that were not working.
The green flag returned to start the sixth lap, with Brooks getting to Turn 1 first again. Behind him, Denmark and Pizzi went side-by-side in Turn 4, with the TJ Speed Motorsports driver holding the spot.
Porto immediately began pressuring Brooks at the head of the field, but the Turn 3 Motorsport driver was getting a better drive off the final corner, making a move into Turn 1 tougher.
After ten laps, the top four – Brooks, Porto, Rowe and Pizzi- covered by only 1.8 seconds. Exclusive Autosport sophomore De Alba was the fastest car on the track, but lap times kept coming down.
Brooks’ lead over Porto when he got the crossed flags to signify the race’s halfway point was 0.6 seconds, with the top four within two seconds and the top nine within nine seconds of the leader.
With three laps remaining, rookie Montiero, who was running ninth, made contact with the concrete barrier coming to a stop in Turn 9 and bringing out the yellow flag.
The top ten under yellow were Brooks, Porto, Rowe, Pizzi, Ushijima, Denmark, Miller, De Alba, Sundaramoorthy, and Granfors.
The green flag returned for a two-lap shootout to decide the first USF Pro 2000 race of the season.
Porto couldn’t get close enough to make a move for the lead, and behind the lead pair, things remained steady until the final corner of the last lap when Miller spun, dropping from seventh to 14th.
Unofficial Discount Tire Grand Prix of St. Peterburg results
|1||3||Christian Brooks||Turn 3 Motorsport||25 LAPS|
|2||12||Kiko Porto||DEForce Racing||-0.6144|
|3||99||Myles Rowe||Pabst Racing||-0.9846|
|4||55||Francesco Pizzi||TJ Speed Motorsports||-3.8959|
|5||6||Reece Ushijima||Jay Howard Driver Development||-3.8969|
|6||20||Jace Denmark||Pabst Racing||-4.1181|
|7||91||Salvador De Alba||Exclusive Autosport||-5.7994|
|8||90||Yuven Sundaramoorthy||Exclusive Autosport||-5.8004|
|9||92||Joel Granfors||Exclusive Autosport||-6.9178|
|10||2||Jonathan Browne||Turn 3 Motorsport||-7.4413|
|11||47||Jackson Lee||Turn 3 Motorsport||-8.2313|
|12||7||Bijoy Garg||DEForce Racing||-10.3888|
|13||93||Lindsay Brewer||Exclusive Autosport||-11.0135|
|14||40||Jack William Miller||Miller Vinatieri Motorsports||-37.6407|
|15||4||Ricardo Escotto||Jay Howard Driver Development||– 1 Lap|
|16||10||Lirim Zendeli||TJ Speed Motorsports||– 1 Lap|
|17||32||Christian Weir||TJ Speed Motorsports||– 1 Lap|
|18||1||Michael d’Orlando||Turn 3 Motorsport||-2 Laps|
|19||81||Nicholas Monteiro||NeoTech Motorsport||-4 Laps|
|20||19||Jordan Missig||Pabst Racing||-23 Laps|