Alberico Bounces Back For Winterfest Title

Neil Alberico claimed the USF2000 Winterfest championship with a victory Sunday at Palm Beach Int'l Raceway in Florida.
Neil Alberico claimed the USF2000 Winterfest championship with a victory Sunday at Palm Beach Int’l Raceway in Florida.

JUPITER, Fla. – Neil Alberico bounced back from his narrow defeat yesterday at the hands of Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing teammate Scott Hargrove to add two more victories today to his three wins at Sebring earlier in the week and clinch the Cooper Tires Winterfest Championship in the best possible manner.

Alberico, 20, from Los Gatos, Calif., led every inch of today’s pair of 21-lap races at the 2.034-mile Palm Beach International Speedway aboard the No. 2 Racelite Protection/Bondurant School of High Performance Driving/ & M Trophies Van Diemen-Mazda but never had any breathing room as 18-year-old Hargrove, from Vancouver, B.C., Canada, kept the pressure on throughout both 30-minute contests.

Hargrove made a couple of concerted attempts to wrest away Alberico’s advantage following the first of two full-course cautions in Round 6, only for his advances to be rebuffed each time.

Dutchman Jeroen Slaghekke, from The Hague, looked like he had overcome a week of misfortunes aboard a third Wayne Taylor with Cape Motorsports Van Diemen-Mazda, qualifying and running third in the opening stages, only to make a mistake and run wide in Turn Eight on the ninth lap. The resulting loss of momentum dropped him all the way to ninth, whereupon he picked up a black-flag penalty for impeding another car and fell to 13th.

Jesse Lazare, 15, from Dollard des Ormeaux, Que., Canada, drove an impressive race in Round 6 to finish a strong third for the Pabst Racing Services team. Lazare had shown his paces on Saturday, qualifying third for the opening race, but was eliminated from contention in a crash on the opening lap. He bounced back well this morning, rising from 13th to sixth, passing teammate Jason Wolfe on the final lap, then continued his progress in the final round.

He started eighth, made up one place on the opening lap, passed Canadian Garett Grist, Frenchman Florian Latorre and Englishman James Fletcher on lap nine, then took advantage of Slaghekke’s error to move all the way to third, which he maintained to the finish.

Fletcher, who had finished on the podium in Round 5, placed fourth in the final race ahead of Grist and Stefan Rzadzinski.

Latorre also made excellent progress, running as high as fourth before tangling with Fletcher at Turn 10 and falling all the way to 13th. He stormed back to seventh at the finish, passing Peter Portante with three laps remaining.

Alberico claimed the Cooper Tires Winterfest title by a margin of 186 points to the 157 of Hargrove and 107 of Fletcher. Grist (102), Rzadzinski (87) and Lazare (84) rounded out the top six.

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