SEBRING, Fla. — Sophomore USF2000 driver Neil Alberico dominated Tuesday’s opening round of the Cooper Tires Winterfest Championship at Sebring Int’l Raceway.
Alberico, 20, from Los Gatos, Calif., qualified Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing’s No. 2 Racelite Protection/Bondurant School of High Performance Driving Van Diemen-Mazda on pole position, made a clean start and was never seriously challenged.
Alberico held a lead of 1.3 seconds over teammate Scott Hargrove, from Vancouver, B.C., Canada at the end of the opening lap around the 3.74-mile track and continued to stretch his lead with every lap, establishing a new USF2000 lap record of 2:03.074 — more than 0.8 seconds faster than his qualifying time — on lap nine as he sped to a convincing first-ever professional victory.
“We knew going in and starting from the pole that we wanted to get out front and be consistent and turn some good lap times,” said Alberico. “The Cape guys – Dominic, Nicholas, Will and all the mechanics – they all make it easy for me to do my job. It was a good day today and, hopefully, we can duplicate it tomorrow.”
Hargrove was similarly untroubled in second place aboard the No. 38 Analytic Systems/Race Energy/Metal Action/Skip Barber Racing/Bell Racing Van Diemen.
Third place fell to USF2000 rookie Danilo Estrela, from Goiania, Brazil, driving the No. 11 entry for Belardi Auto Racing. A standout in the Skip Barber Racing series for the past two seasons, Estrela qualified fifth, made up two positions on the opening lap and held off a determined mid-race challenge from fellow USF2000 rookie Stefan Rzadzinski to ensure his podium appearance.
Rzadzinski lost a position on the opening lap, but recovered to place Estrela under pressure in the middle stages of the 12-lap race before making an error in turn 17. Rzadzinski lost a position to impressive 15-year-old Floridian R.C. Enerson, but regained it on the last lap to finish fourth in the No. 93 Can Torque/Christenson Developments Van Diemen entered by JDC MotorSports.
Enerson had to be content with fifth in the No. 10 Team E/Patriot Bank/ZSports Midwest Van Diemen, marking a solid debut in the Championship class after earning four wins in National Class competition in 2012.