Andretti Autosport's Sage Karam of Nazareth, Pa. dominated Saturday's Round 1 of the USF2000 National Championship presented by Cooper Tires and powered by Mazda, leading all 20 laps on the St. Petersburg street circuit to record a 13.97-second victory over Patrick McKenna of Dublin, Ireland, who drives for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing.
Drivers from five different teams were represented in the top five and drivers from nine different countries comprised the top nine as the revitalized series staged its first race. The series, which is part of both the Indy Racing League's Road to Indy program and the MAZDASPEED Motorsports driver development program, will hold the second half of its first doubleheader of the year tomorrow at 8 a.m. as a preliminary race to the IZOD IndyCar Series headliner.
Terrick Mansur of Aruba took the final podium position for Liberty Motorsports, while Martin Scuncio of Concepcion, Chile finished fourth for Pabst Racing Services. Martin Sala of Bogota, Columbia rounded out the top five for JDC MotorSports.
The 13-car field consisted of 12 Championship-class cars and one National-class car, with J.R. Smart of Fitchburg, Wis. taking the National class honors for Pabst Racing Services.
Karam's only real scare came in Turn 1 on the first lap when he was almost tagged in the rear by Scuncio, who had started second but was taking evasive action himself as the drivers jockeyed for position. ZSport Midwest's Benjamin Searcy of Tuscaloosa, Ala. ended up suffering the most as he wasn't able to continue, bringing out the first of two full-course cautions from laps two to three.
The restart on lap four went fairly smoothly but then Liberty Motorsports' Matthew Powers of Danville, Calif. brought out the second and final yellow on laps five and six when he flat-spotted a tire and it deflated.
The rest of the 20-lap race went non-stop, with Karam extending his lead throughout. He also set the fastest lap of the race with a 1:13.507, earning his second "Cooper Tires, Don't Give Up a Thing Award" since the pole and the starting grid for tomorrow's race was established by each driver's fastest race laps from Round 1. Although that was an automatic track record for fastest race lap, it didn't beat his own 1:13.384 automatic track record he set in winning the pole for Round 1 during qualifications Saturday morning. That has to please his car owner, Michael Andretti
"I'm 15, so this is the first time I've driven any kind of car on the street," Karam said. "Being in a street-course race gave me a whole new mindset. Hopefully tomorrow we'll put on a better race for the fans.
"We still have some stuff we want to change on the car, but I'm really thrilled to come away with the win. We're going to try to set the car up for later in the race tomorrow."
McKenna started third and took second briefly on lap one before he settled into third behind Karam and Sala. He made several attempts to pass Sala and then got the job done in Turn 1 working lap 10.
Mansur, who was running fourth after a great start from his original seventh starting position, came with him, which dropped Sala to fourth and sealed Mansur's podium position for his followers on Aruba.com. It also was a great result for his first race back after a two-year break while he was getting a degree from Full Sail University in Winter Park, Fla. to become a software developer.
Scuncio got around Sala on lap 11. The top five positions remained the same after that until the checkered waved.
Raphael Abbate of Sao Paulo, Brazil came from last to finish sixth. Josh Fielding of Chesterfield, England; Mikhail Goikhberg of St. Petersburg, Russia; Anthony Furfari of Woodbridge, Ontario and Ardie Greenamyer of Louisville, Ky. completed the balance of the top 10. Smart, Powers and Searcy rounded out the provisional finishing order.