Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing maintained its strong form in Saturday's fourth round of the Cooper Tires Winterfest Championship at Palm Beach International Raceway by locking out the podium.
Scott Hargrove, from Vancouver, B.C., Canada, led all 20 laps after starting from pole position but remained under pressure for the entire distance from Neil Alberico, who had won all three opening rounds of the six-race mini-series earlier in the week at Sebring International Raceway. Englishman James Fletcher profited from a dramatic first-lap incident to climb from eighth to third, which he maintained until the finish.
“This is a phenomenal feeling. I just never looked back once I got up into the lead after the start. I knew Neil was right behind me and did my best to not look in the mirrors and kept trying to do as little mistakes as possible. I didn't want to push too hard and drop a wheel because I knew Neil would be right there; it was that close.”
Hargrove, in the No. 38 Analytic Systems/Race Energy/Metal Action/Skip Barber Racing/Bell Racing Van Diemen-Mazda, narrowly held off Alberico's No. 2 Racelite Protection/Bondurant School of High Performance Driving entry into the tight chicane at Turn 1. Behind, though, there was mayhem as Jeroen Slaghekke, who qualified seventh in a fourth Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor car, made a mistake under braking, veered off onto the grass on the left side of the track, then slewed back onto the racing line shortly after the first apex.
The Dutchman narrowly missed Hargrove and Alberico, but the two second row qualifiers, Jesse Lazare (No. 21 Pabst Racing Services) and Stefan Rzadzinski (No. 93 Can Torque/ Christenson Developments-JDC MotorSports), weren't so fortunate. Florian Latorre (No. 91 JAY Motorsports) also was left with nowhere to go.
Once the dust had settled and the Pace Car had been scrambled, Fletcher emerged in third place ahead of Felipe Donato (No. 51 ArmsUp Motorsports) and Austin Cindric (No. 77 Nightrain Clothing/Andretti Autosport), who had started 13th and 15th, respectively.
The race was restarted after five laps of full-course caution, whereupon Hargrove and Alberico checked out from their pursuers. Alberico set the fastest race lap, earning himself a championship point and the pole for tomorrow's Round 5, but was unable to find a way past Hargrove, who kept up a fast, consistent pace to take the checkered flag just over one second clear for his first-ever victory.
Garett Grist (No. 7 DaVinci Foods/Andretti Autosport) was the man on the move, passing teammate Cindric on Lap 7, then finding a way past Donato on lap 10. The Canadian teenager then piled the pressure on Fletcher before being obliged to settle for a fourth-place finish.
Donato held on for a worthy fifth ahead of a closing Matthew Di Leo (No. 56 Res Precast/MDL Racing) and Cindric, the youngest driver in the field at age 14 who was turning faster and faster laps as the race unfolded.
The final two rounds of Cooper Tires Winterfest competition at Palm Beach International Raceway will take place today.