Spencer Pigot claimed a hard-fought victory in this afternoon's opening round of the six-race Cooper Tires USF2000 Winterfest Championship at Sebring International Raceway. The 18-year-old from Orlando, Fla., headed a Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing sweep of the podium with teammates Matthew Brabham and Trent Hindman finishing second and third, respectively.
Pigot, last year's runner-up finisher in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, used his experience to excellent effect by qualifying on the pole in his No. 2 Team Pelfrey/E-merging Technologies/Parathyroid.com/California Scents/Mazda/Cooper Tires Van Diemen-Mazda. His time of 2:26.698, set in streaming wet conditions after a short, sharp rain shower, was almost two seconds faster than teammate Brabham, in the No. 83 DTE Group/Ace Kangan Institute/Repco/Aviation Components/Australia Wide car, but that advantage disappeared in a hurry as soon as the green flag waved on a by-now dry racetrack.
“It was a really good race. I started from the pole and was pressured pretty hard by my teammate Matt [Brabham] throughout the whole race. It was a bit of an interrupted race with the long yellow, but it was a great day for my first race with the Capes and the team. I have to thank Mazda, Team Pelfrey and all my sponsors,” Pigot said.
Brabham, 17, the son of former sports car champion Geoff Brabham, made an excellent first-ever rolling start to challenge Pigot around the outside at Turn 1 on the opening lap, and continued to run alongside his teammate all the way to the left-handed Turn 3 before being obliged to tuck in behind.
“The race was fun. It was my first race in the U.S. and it was a bit daunting,” Brabham said. “I am used to the long safety car periods in Formula Ford in Australia so that wasn't really too much of a new experience. The rolling start was definitely new. I am used to standing starts. It wasn't too bad for my first one but there is definitely room for improvement there. Unfortunately, the battery started to go at the end so I really couldn't challenge Spencer [Pigot] on the last lap. We showed lots of speed so I am really pleased with how things went in my first race.”
The race went yellow at the end of the first lap after last year's National Class champion Luca Forgeois crashed his No. 9 Gearup/Splashlight/Café Noir/Belardi Auto Racing car heavily on the exit of Turn 17. Forgeois was examined at the infield care center and transported to Highland Regional Medical Center in Sebring for a precautionary x-ray of his back, which was negative, and he has been released.
Pigot continued to lead at the restart, but Brabham maintained his pressure on the leader until an electrical problem caused him to drop back a little over the course of the final lap and a half. Pigot won by 2.96sec from Brabham, who had enough of a margin over the remainder of the 20-car field to retain second place at the checkered flag.
Hindman, 16, from Wayside, N.J., emerged in third place after a torrid battle with Neil Alberico (Kartel Motorsports/Bondurant School/RaceLite Protection/Red Line Oil/JDC Motor Sports) and Thomas McGregor (Dairy Queen/Exclusive Management/Andretti Autosport).
After a wild three-abreast moment on the entry to Turn 1 on lap 9, Alberico and McGregor, unfortunately, tangled together at Turn 10, allowing Hindman a clear run to the finish in third. Hindman, driving the No. 3 Premier Woodcraft/Zydro+/DFL Construction/RaceLite Protection/Skip Barber Racing School/Sparco car, also set the race's fastest lap on the final tour to secure pole position for tomorrow's second of three races.
“For sure the start was extremely difficult with some water patches on the track,” Hindman said. “I am just happy I made it through although I lost a lot of positions being on the outside. We came up on the yellow and I am happy to hear that Luca [Forgeois] is OK. I made a couple of mistakes on the restart trying to go too hard on cold tires. I came back to finish third and I am really happy with a Cape 1-2-3. We are all happy and looking forward to the next race.”
Last year's Skip Barber National Series champion Scott Anderson, 22, from Fort Collins. Colo., finished fourth in his USF2000 debut aboard Belardi Auto Racing's No. 14 Mazda/Neuropathy Testing Center/Laser Nail Centers Van Diemen-Mazda.
Another Skip Barber Racing school graduate, Shelby Blackstock, 21, from Nashville, Tenn., son of country music legend Reba McEntire, also was impressive rising from 14th on the grid to a strong fifth in his Starstruck/Andretti Autosport entry.
Veteran J.R. Smart, from Madison, Wis., took the National Class honors in Pabst Racing Services' No. 6 Smart Motors, Inc. Van Diemen.
The green flag for Race Two tomorrow will fly at 1:20 pm ET with Race 3 starting at 4:20 p.m. Both races are scheduled to run 12 laps. The Cooper Tires Winterfest Championship will continue with three more races at Palm Beach International Raceway this coming weekend.