Neil Alberico bounced back from his narrow defeat on Saturday at the hands of Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing teammate Scott Hargrove to add two more victories Sunday to his three wins at Sebring earlier in the week and clinch the Cooper Tires Winterfest Championship in the best possible manner.
Alberico, 20, from Los Gatos, Calif., led every inch of Sunday's pair of 21-lap races at the 2.034-mile Palm Beach International Speedway aboard the No. 2 Racelite Protection/Bondurant School of High Performance Driving/eFormulaCarNews.com/J & M Trophies Van Diemen-Mazda but never had any breathing room as 18-year-old Hargrove, from Vancouver, B.C., Canada, kept the pressure on throughout both 30-minute contests.
“Scott did a tremendous job all weekend. The first turn is not easy. He puts on a lot of pressure but fortunately for me, I didn't make too many mistakes," related Alberico. "I came out on top again and it feels great. To win five of six races feels pretty darn good. I look forward to the beginning of the [regular USF2000] season in a few weeks.”
Hargrove (No. 38 Analytic Systems/Race Energy/Metal Action/Skip Barber Racing/Bell Racing) made a couple of concerted attempts to wrest away Alberico's advantage following the first of two full-course cautions in Round 6, only for his advances to be rebuffed each time.
“I hope this championship represents how the rest of the year is going to go. Finishing on the podium in every race is just a fantastic result and I can't thank the Cape team enough," said Hargrove. "They gave me an awesome car. Neil just handles the pressure; it doesn't even bother him, so I'll have to find a way past him. It is a good start to the year.”
Dutchman Jeroen Slaghekke looked like he had overcome a week of misfortunes aboard a third Wayne Taylor with Cape Motorsports Van Diemen-Mazda, qualifying and running third in the opening stages, only to make a mistake and run wide in Turn Eight on the ninth lap. The resulting loss of momentum dropped him all the way to ninth, whereupon he picked up a black-flag penalty for impeding another car and fell to 13th.
Jesse Lazare, 15, from Dollard des Ormeaux, Quebec, drove an impressive race in Round 6 to finish a strong third for the Pabst Racing Services team. Lazare had shown his paces on Saturday, qualifying third for the opening race, but was eliminated from contention in a crash on the opening lap. He bounced back well this morning, rising from 13th to sixth, passing teammate Jason Wolfe on the final lap, then continued his progress in the final round.
He started eighth, made up one place on the opening lap, passed Canadian Garett Grist (No. 7 DaVinci Foods/Andretti Autosport), Frenchman Florian Latorre (No. 91 JAY Motorsports) and Englishman James Fletcher (No. 3 Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing) on lap 9, then took advantage of Slaghekke's error to move all the way to third, which he maintained to the finish.
Fletcher, who had finished on the podium in Round 5, placed fourth in the final race ahead of Grist and Stefan Rzadzinski (No. 93 Can Torque/Christenson Developments-JDC MotorSports). Latorre also made excellent progress, running as high as fourth before tangling with Fletcher at Turn 10 and falling all the way to 13th. He stormed back to seventh at the finish, passing Peter Portante (No. 11 Belardi Auto Racing) with three laps remaining.
The regular season for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda will commence at Sebring in support of the 61st Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring fueled by Fresh From Florida endurance racing classic, on March 14-15.