Third-generation racer Matthew Brabham produced an impressive performance to score a clear victory in this afternoon's Allied Building Products Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Round 3 of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.
Brabham, 19, who was born in Boca Raton, Fla., and raised in Surfers Paradise, Australia, had set the pace throughout practice with the No. 83 Team Andretti Autosport entry but qualified only eighth after the gear shift lever broke off in his hand midway through the 30-minute qualifying session. Undeterred, Brabham, who won last year's Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, earning a MAZDASPEED scholarship to graduate to Pro Mazda this season, was on the move almost as soon as the green flag waved. He leapt to sixth at the start, only for his progress to be delayed almost immediately by a full-course caution following a first-corner incident which eliminated Colombian Juan Piedrahita (JDC MotorSports).
Brabham pounced again at the restart, passing Team Pelfrey teammates Spencer Pigot and Petri Suvanto as well as local driver Nick Andries (JDC MotorSports), from Pinellas Park, Fla., on consecutive laps to move into third by lap 6. Brabham then tracked down the two leaders, Diego Ferreira (Juncos Racing) and his own Andretti Autosport teammate Shelby Blackstock, who had qualified on the pole in his No. 28 Team Starstruck car but was struggling from the start with excessive oversteer.
Brabham overtook Blackstock cleanly under braking for Turn 1 on lap 10, then repeated the maneuver on Ferreira to take the lead two laps later. Brabham continued to turn a series of consistently fast laps to take a dominant victory, finishing almost 10 seconds clear of Ferreira, who just held onto the second position ahead of Blackstock.
“It was a bit hairy going into the first corner," admitted Brabham. "I had to dodge a few cars as they were all piling up on each other, but I was able to get through. I knew I had a fast car but it is tough to tell where you are at, but after the first couple of laps, I was moving up through the field and knew it was good. It was a great race and everyone drove very well. I'm speechless. It was just such a great race.”
Andries, who had started 10th, held fourth place for the majority of the race until being passed by Pigot (No. 81 Doug Mockett & Company/Gap Guard/Parathyroid.com/California Scents/OMP/Team Pelfrey) on lap 18.
Andries maintained fifth until the end, despite the best efforts of Zack Meyer (No. 66 Damis Partners III/Red line Oil/JDC MotorSports) and Scott Anderson (No. 44 Neuropathy Testing Center/Laser Nail Centers/Ottercares/Sparco/Bell/Juncos Racing).
Suvanto (No. 82 GetGapGuard.com/Team Pelfrey) finished eighth after serving a drive-through penalty for blocking in the opening stages.
The second leg of the Allied Building Products Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will take place tomorrow afternoon, aheead of thee IZOD IndyCaar Series race.