Florida-born, third-generation racer Matthew Brabham put down a marker by besting a huge, 36-car field and winning this afternoon's opening round of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda at Sebring International Raceway.
Brabham, who recently celebrated his 18th birthday, took the lead at the first corner and never looked back. The race was punctuated by a pair of incidents, one of which caused the race to finish under full-course caution after only nine of the scheduled 12 laps had been completed, but that didn't concern Brabham who never put a foot wrong.
“It is really fantastic to get my first win in the first race of the series. I can't explain the feeling. My plan was just to stay out front and my plan went through. It was a pretty easy race out in front except for the yellow flags bunching us up. It was a bit disappointing to finish under yellow but I'll take any win as it comes. I am just really pleased with how everything went and would like to thank the guys at Cape Motorsports.”
His win aboard the No. 83 The DTE Group Van Diemen-Mazda ensured continued success for the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing team, which had won last year's USF2000 crown with Finland's Petri Suvanto, who will step up the Mazda Road to Indy Ladder this year by competing in the Star Mazda Championship, and the recent Cooper Tires Winterfest Championship with last year's championship runner-up Spencer Pigot.
The race began in dramatic fashion when 15-year-old Luigi Biangardi, from Chicago, Ill., who had impressed massively by planting his ArmsUp Motorsports' entry on the pole, tangled with third row qualifier Trent Hindman from Wayside, N.J., in Turn 1. Brabham, who qualified second, had already moved into the lead, but the incident in his wake immediately resulted in a full-course caution.
At the restart with three laps in the books, Brabham once again took off into the lead, chased by Australian-born Roman Lagudi, from Las Vegas, Nev., in the Belardi Auto Racing entry, and Thomas McGregor, from Saskatoon, Canada, in the No. 7 Dairy Queen/Exclusive Management/Andretti Autosport car.
Pigot, from Orlando, Fla., jumped from sixth to fourth soon after the restart, and next time around managed to catch and pass McGregor for third in Turn 7.
With Brabham secure in the lead, Pigot began to chase down Lagudi for second but was prevented from making a challenge by another full-course caution which brought the race to a premature conclusion.
Mark Eaton, from Melbourne, Fla., ensured a clean sweep for local drivers by claiming National Class honors in the Robinson Motor Sports' Formula Enterprises Van Diemen-Mazda. Reigning FE SCCA National Champion Scott Rettich (Alliance Autosport), from Camden, Ohio, finished second in the class, narrowly ahead of inaugural Mazda Road to Indy Scouting Combine winner Bobby Kelley (ArmsUp Motorsports), from Riverside, Calif., and 15-year-old Norwegian Henrik Furuseth (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing), who posted the class' fastest lap of the race.
Brabham will start on pole for Round 2 at Sebring tomorrow by virtue of setting the fastest race lap today.