Scott Hargrove enjoyed a perfect day in Round 3 of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda on the challenging 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit in downtown St. Petersburg.
The 18-year-old from Vancouver, B.C., Canada, qualified his No. 38 Analytic Systems/Race Energy/Metal Action/Skip Barber Racing/Bell Racing Van Diemen-Mazda, fielded by locally based team Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, on pole position, made an exemplary start and controlled the remainder of the 21-lap, 30-minute race.
“It may have looked easy but driving on the streets was not at all easy with the walls everywhere," said Hargrove. "It was a pretty big challenge. I can't thank the Cape Motorsports team enough. They gave me a great car. It was really close in qualifying and we got through Turn One, and I couldn't be happier with the result.”
Fellow front row qualifier and teammate Neil Alberico, who had won Race 2 at Sebring last week, once again hit misfortune in the opening race of the weekend – just as he did one week ago when he encountered a mechanical problem on the very first lap. This time he was involved with an incident at the first corner with teammate Jeroen Slaghekke and was eliminated immediately.
Several other cars were involved in various incidents on the opening lap which brought out the Pace Car while the debris could be cleared away. Hargrove took off in confident style at the restart on lap 3, edging clear with every lap to take the win a full 3.3 seconds ahead of his nearest challenger.
Wyatt Gooden (Afterburner Autosport), from Cleveland, Ohio, moved from third to second on the opening lap and held off a determined race-long challenge from Stefan Rzadzinski (JDC MotorSports), from Edmonton, Alb., Canada.
Brandon Newey, from Carmel, Ind., in a second Afterburner Autosport/BHA with Curb/Agajanian entry, held a fine fourth in the early stages but slipped back to seventh by the finish.
Former karting star Jesse Lazare, from Montreal, Que., Canada, passed Newey on lap 16 to secure fourth place for the Pabst Racing Services team ahead of fellow 15-year-old Florian Latorre (JAY Motorsports), from Libourne, France.
Henrik Furuseth (PRL Motorsports), 16, from Oslo, Norway, fell from eighth to 15th following the restart on Lap 3, whereupon the 2012 National Class champion once again displayed his potential by climbing all the way to sixth at the checkered flag, ahead of Newey.
Paralyzed racer Michael Johnson (JDC MotorSports), from Flint, Mich., overcame a mechanical problem in qualifying to rise from 27th on the grid to 14th ahead of National Class Presented by SCCA Formula Enterprises winner Scott Rettich (Alliance Autosport), from Camden, Ohio.
Also noteworthy today was Danilo Estrela (Belardi Auto Racing), who was involved in an early incident and lost several laps to the leaders. Unbowed, the Orlando, Fla.-based Brazilian posted the fastest lap of the race and will start seventh tomorrow where the grid will be set by an amalgam of second-fastest laps from this morning's lone qualifying session and each competitor's fastest lap from Race 1.
Hargrove, who also won last week's season-opening race at Sebring International Raceway, now holds a commanding 36-point lead in the championship, 90-54, over Gooden heading into tomorrow's Peninsula Pipeline Grand Prix of St. Petersburg at 9:30 am ET.
Felipe Donato of ArmsUp Motorsports earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award moving from 26th on the grid to 10th in the attrition-filled race. Additional awards included the PFC Award to the winning car owners of Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing and Alliance Autosport; the Staubli Award to Hargrove; and the National Class Masters Award Presented by Elite Engines/Comprent to Rettich.