#22 Simon Sikes, Pabst Racing, Group6Gear, – Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography

By Steve Wittich

For the second straight USF2000 Championship Presented By Cooper Tires race Pabst Racing’s Simon Sikes will start from the pole after surviving a last-second flyer by his new teammate Max Garcia.

Sikes’ lap of 125.594 seconds was set before a lengthy red flag, surviving late qualifying flyers by drivers that could get their fresh Cooper Tires up to temperature.

Max Garcia, a 14-year-old Pabst Racing rookie from Coconut Grove, Fla., will start behind his teammate.

Lochie Hughes (Jay Howard Driver Development), who is leading the championship after two races, will start behind Sikes on the inside of the front row, with fellow rookie Elliot Cox (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Development) starting on the outside of the second row.

When the green flag flew from the starter’s stand on the front straight of the 3.74-mile, 17-turn Sebring International Raceway road course at 12:25 pm, the humidity was thick, and the ambient temperature was already 86F.

Early in qualifying, the quartet of Jay Howard Driver Development drivers was running together on track, but that group was split up when the Planiform sponsored No. 9 of Canadian rookie Louka St-Jean went for a wild ride at the exit of Turn 1 after dropping his right side tires into the sandy soil at corner exit.

After seven minutes of action, the red flag came out with the Speed IntelliComm/Pizza Inn/Towns Law Firm sponsored No. 95 stopped against the tires in the middle of Sunset Bend. The Texan got out of the car under his own power, making the trip to the care center to get checked out.

The top five under the red, with most drivers completing only a pair of laps completed, was Sikes with a lap at 125.594 seconds, followed by Hughes, Garcia, Papasavvas and Chase Gardner (Exclusive Autosport), who would lose that lap after causing the red flag.

The car was put on the hook with damage to the right front suspension and returned to the Exclusive Autosport tent in the paddock.

The green flag returned with only three minutes remaining on the clock, forcing the drivers to push hard to improve their best lap time.

Sikes could not improve on his best lap, but his just-turned-14-year-old teammate Garcia came the closest, finishing only two-hundredths of a second behind the veteran.

Elliot Cox (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Development), who had to miss the first five minutes of qualifying after blowing through the checkered flag of practice, only turned two laps. Still, his second was fourth best, an impressive performance under pressure.

Also improving on their last laps were Sam Corry (Velocity Racing Development), Jorge Garciarce (DEForce Racing), Danny Dyszelski (Velocity Racing Development) and Ethan Ho (DC Autosport).

Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix Of Sebring unofficial qualifying results

122Simon SikesPabst Racing2:05.594——
224Max GarciaPabst Racing2:05.6190.025
38Lochie HughesJay Howard Driver Development2:05.7530.159
467Elliot CoxSarah Fisher Hartman Racing Dev2:06.0240.430
56Evagoras PapasavvasJay Howard Driver Development2:06.1960.602
614Sam CorryVRD Racing2:06.9161.322
790Jacob DouglasExclusive Autosport2:07.0381.444
810Jorge GarciarceDEForce Racing2:07.0681.474
91Mac ClarkDEForce Racing2:07.0981.504
1018Danny DyszelskiVRD Racing2:07.5211.927
1119Gordon ScullyVRD Racing2:07.5962.002
127Al MoreyJay Howard Driver Development2:07.6322.038
1395Chase GardnerExclusive Autosport2:07.6822.088
1468Ethan HoDC Autosport2:07.6902.096
1597Zack PingVRD Racing2:08.5212.927
1693Avery TownsExclusive Autosport2:08.7563.162
1712Maxwell JamiesonDEForce Racing2:08.8163.222
1817Nikita JohnsonVRD Racing2:12.4816.887
199Louka St-JeanJay Howard Driver DevelopmentNo Time

The first of two USF2000 12-lap races will get the green flag at 5:30 pm.