It took Pabst Racing w/Force Indy rookie Myles Rowe only two races to win his first USF Pro 2000 Presented By Cooper Tires race, putting on a start and restart overtaking clinic in an impressive fifth-to-first drive.
The 22-year-old Pace Univeristy graduate has now won seven times in USF Pro Championships Presented By Cooper Tires action.
The victory, combined with the bonus point for leading the most laps and his third-place finish on Saturday, gives Rowe the USF Pro 2000 points lead after two of 18 rounds.
The pilot of the Penske Entertainment No. 99 joins Hunter McElrea as winners in St. Petersburg, Fla., for Pabst Racing, who now have five all-time USF Pro 2000 wins.
“It was a blast, honestly, exclaimed a beaming Rowe. “My opponents made it really hard for me. Coming from fifth, I had to get around Lirim, who didn’t make it easy at all that first couple of laps. Then I had to get by Jace, who always makes it hard on me, which is great. And then Francesco, who made it very difficult and pushed me all the way down to the inside in the marbles, but somehow I got it done. I capitalized on a little error from Kiko and, luckily, ran away with it.
“Pabst just gave me an amazing car to keep the lead and stretch it out a bit. Credit to Bob (Perona), my driver coach, and all my sponsors – Penske Entertainment, Force Indy, Pabst Racing, Sparco, Bell, and SimCraft. Without them, it wouldn’t be possible, so I am just super blessed. I am really thankful for my family being here, so they got to see it, and I am looking forward to going home and enjoying it with them.”
For the second race to start the season and the fourth consecutive USF Pro 2000 race going back to last season, Brazilian Kiko Porto drove an intelligent race to rack up another podium with a second-place finish. It’s the 19th time the 19-year-old DEForce Racing driver has visited the podium during his stellar USF Pro Championships career. He heads to the next round, only three points behind Rowe in second place in the battle for the $664,500 scholarship.
“It was a good race,” said Porto. “I passed Pizzi at the first corner and then started to open a gap. I saw the guys fighting in the back, and in two to three laps, I opened up a really considerable gap, and the full-course yellow came out. I managed half a lap, and another yellow came out, and I felt like the car was suffering a bit for grip.
“When the restart came out, I saw Myles had more grip than me. I tried to defend as much as possible, but the grip level was different. He passed me and opened up a huge gap. I understand the limits of the car and just tried to manage until the end of the race. Two second places and we still have a long way to go in the season, so I am happy with this.”
Jace Denmark joined his Pabst Racing teammate Rowe on the podium, finishing the 25-lap race where he started in third place.
“It was a tough race, really hot,” said Denmark, the pilot of the Metal Works Custom Fabrication sponsored No. 20. “The track conditions were a lot different (from Saturday), so grip offline was close to none. It was like sand. That was difficult for passing. I tried to go around the outside of Pizzi in Turn One on one of the restarts and just couldn’t make it stick because there was no rubber out there. On the third restart, I finally got around him and started to hunt down Kiko. The top three of us were so fast we pretty much got spread out. I missed the fast lap by like five-thousandths or something, and maybe I should have held my breath on the straightaway or something. It was a good race for me – started third and finished third; that’s all I can ask for. We need to work on the pace of the car out of the gate but really positive overall.”
Rounding out the top five were TJ Speed Motorsports newcomers Lirim Zendeli and pole-sitter Francesco Pizzi.
“Just missed out on the podium with P4,” Zendeli, the pilot of the Vexavit/Ajdini Spedition sponsored No. 10, posted on Instagram. “Apologies to the team for the mistake in Quali after a very promising FP & a big shoutout to them; they’ve done an amazing job throughout the whole weekend! Important we recovered some points at the end. We’ll go for that top spot at Sebring! Can’t wait.”
Rowe and Denmark’s Pabst Racing teammate Jordan Missig recovered nicely after being knocked out of Saturday’s race. The pilot of the Racing For Mental Health/AMV Ventures sponsored No. 19 won the Tilton Hard Charger Award, finishing seventh after starting 14th.
Despite being his first race event on a street circuit, Exclusive Autosport rookie Joel Granfors set the quickest lap, earning that bonus point on the way to an eighth-place finish.
“It’s been mixed emotions this weekend,” said Granfors, the pilot of the Corpay Cross-Border sponsored No. 92. “Missing qualifying clearly hurt, especially for me as a rookie over here. I need all the laps I can get. For the same reason, though, I was really pleased to see the time we set in Race 2. It proves the pace we have, even here on a street track with a session missed, and it makes me confident for the coming races.”
The call to fire the engines to begin the final race of the weekend in St. Petersburg, Fla., came after a chaotic NTT INDYCAR SERIES race.
Originally slated to get the green flag at 3 pm, the length of the 100-lap INDYCAR race meant the call to fire engines finally came 72 minutes behind schedule at 4:12 pm.
The front row of first-time pole-winner, TJ Speed Motorsports rookie Francesco Pizzi and Porto led the ten rows of drivers onto the front straight, with both drivers punching off simultaneously.
Porto used a power move braking deeper than Pizzi and powering around the outside in Turn 1 to take the lead.
Behind the leaders, the action was frantic, with much of the field going three wide through the opening right-hander before getting single file for the problematic Turn 2 and 3.
Porto began to pull away while Pizzi had to defend against another outside move. This time it was inside second-row starter Denmark that tried to take advantage of the Italian rookie, who hung tough and held the spot.
The running order after the first lap was Porto, Pizzi, Denmark, Rowe, Zendeli, Christian Brooks (Turn 3 Motorsport), Joel Granfors (Exclusive Autosport), Reece Ushijima (Jay Howard Driver Development), Salvador de Alba (Exclusive Autosport), Michael d’Orlando (Turn 3 Motorsport), Jordan Missig (Pabst Racing), Jack William Miller (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports), Jonathan Browne (Turn 3 Motorsport), Christian Weir (TJ Speed Motorsports), Yuven Sundaramoorthy (Exclusive Autosport), Jackson Lee (Turn 3 Motorsport), Ricardo Escotto (Jay Howard Driver Development), Nicholas Monteiro (NeoTech Motorsport), Bijoy Garg (DEForce Racing), and Lindsay Brewer (Exclusive Autosport).
The biggest mover on the first of 25 laps was Missig, who gained three spots from his 14th starting position.
Unfortunately, the field could only complete 16 corners before the yellow flag flew from the timing stand. The No. 90 of Sundaramoorthy, who started from the 15th spot, stopped in Turn 3. The American-born Indian driver started back in the pack due to a non-functioning transponder in Saturday’s race despite having more pace than many drivers in front of him.
Just before the caution lights came on, Rowe made a textbook pass on the inside of teammate Denmark in Turn 4.
The AMR INDYCAR Safety Team quickly got the car on the hook, and the green flag returned to start Lap 6.
The top six were single file as they got through Turn 1, but behind them, Ushijima, who was running eighth, had contact, losing the rear wing and folding up the right rear suspension. The No 6 stopped between Turn 3 and Turn 4, bringing out the yellow flag for the second time.
Rowe, who started fifth, gained spots on the start and restart to move to second place.
The top ten when the green flag came out to start Lap 10 were: Porto, Rowe, Pizzi, Denmark, Zendeli, Brooks, Granfors, Missig, Miller and De Alba.
Porto quickly moved to the inside to defend against Rowe into Turn 1. Later in that lap, the No. 99 made a daring move in Turn 8 to grab the lead.
Denmark (one spot to third), Zendelli (one spot to fourth), Missig (one spot to seventh) and De Alba (one spot to ninth) were the other drivers that moved forward on the restart.
Rowe’s lead over Porto when the field was given the halfway crossed flags was a comfortable 1.5 seconds. Denmark, Zendelli, Pizzi, Brooks, Missig, De Alba, Granfors and Miller rounded out the top ten.
As the track cooled down, lap times kept dropping, with Rowe building a 2.1-second lead with seven laps remaining.
With six laps remaining, Escotto found the tire barriers in Turn 4, but he kept the engine running and extricating himself, keeping the green flag flying.
Porto wasn’t going quietly, keeping within two seconds of Rowe while holding a similar advantage to Denmark.
Behind the front group, De Alba, who was running sixth, had an issue, dropping to 15th with left rear suspension damage.
Rowe continued to grow his lead over Porto, crossing the line three seconds ahead of Porto for his first USF Pro 2000 Presented By Cooper Tires win.
Andersen Interior Contracting Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Results
|1||99||Myles Rowe||Pabst Racing||25 LAPS|
|2||12||Kiko Porto||DEForce Racing||-3.0467|
|3||20||Jace Denmark||Pabst Racing||-3.7924|
|4||10||Lirim Zendeli||TJ Speed Motorsports||-8.8022|
|5||55||Francesco Pizzi||TJ Speed Motorsports||-9.2744|
|6||3||Christian Brooks||Turn 3 Motorsport||-9.99|
|7||19||Jordan Missig||Pabst Racing||-11.5199|
|8||92||Joel Granfors||Exclusive Autosport||-11.7264|
|9||40||Jack William Miller||Miller Vinatieri Motorsports||-19.1529|
|10||32||Christian Weir||TJ Speed Motorsports||-19.5208|
|11||1||Michael d’Orlando||Turn 3 Motorsport||-19.8489|
|12||2||Jonathan Browne||Turn 3 Motorsport||-29.9106|
|13||81||Nicholas Monteiro||NeoTech Motorsport||-30.4394|
|14||7||Bijoy Garg||DEForce Racing||-30.9297|
|15||47||Jackson Lee||Turn 3 Motorsport||-37.2662|
|16||93||Lindsay Brewer||Exclusive Autosport||-1 LAP|
|17||91||Salvador De Alba||Exclusive Autosport||-4 LAPS|
|18||4||Ricardo Escotto||Jay Howard Driver Development||-5 LAPS|
|19||6||Reece Ushijima||Jay Howard Driver Development||-20 LAPS|
|20||90||Yuven Sundaramoorthy||Exclusive Autosport||-23 LAPS|
The series is back in action at Sebring International Raceway on March 24-25.