AUSTIN, Texsa – Matthew Brabham was disappointed to finish third in yesterday’s opening round of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires at the Circuit of The Americas, especially after setting the pace consistently during pre-season testing.
Last year’s winner of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda more than made amends in this afternoon’s Round 2, run over 12 laps on the 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course, sweeping from third to first at the drop of the green flag and never being seriously challenged.
Brabham, from Manalapan, Fla., found the perfect way to celebrate his 19th birthday earlier in the week by stretching out a huge lead once the race was finally underway after a melee at the exit of Turn One caused the first couple of laps to be run behind the Pace Car.
The No. 83 Team Andretti Autosport driver stretched out an advantage of almost eight seconds by Lap 7, and even though that was negated by another full-course caution after Colombian Juan Piedrahita had an incident at Turn 15 in the No. 9 Petrosur/Sisolec/GFK Motors/Red Line Oil entry run by JDC MotorSports, Brabham kept his wits about him and eased clear again over the final three laps to take the checkered flag 4.771 seconds clear of his nearest challenger.
“It feels awesome to get the win. I can’t describe the feeling,” Brabham said. “Finishing third yesterday just made me a little bit more hungry for today. We managed to get the speed that we had all through testing back in this race and it definitely helped. The car was really, really good. I knew straight away, and that gave me a lot more confidence to get everything right. I was lucky in the first corner that all was well. I don’t know what happened on the outside, but we managed to slip through and get out in front.”
An unfortunate incident at the first corner on the opening lap accounted for yesterday’s second-place finisher Spencer Pigot, retiring on the spot with extensive damage to his No. 81 Doug Mockett & Company/Gap Guard/Parathyroid.com/California Scents/OMP-Team Pelfrey car. His teammate Petri Suvanto also was involved in the incident, but was able to continue at the back of the pack. More on him shortly.
Brabham’s teammate, Shelby Blackstock was in second place after the melee had been cleared up, despite having started in eighth, and the Nashville, Tenn., native maintained that place until soon after the final restart, when yesterday’s winner, Diego Ferreira, found a way past and was able to secure his runner-up placing – and the championship lead – in the closing stages.
Blackstock, whose mother, country singing star Reba McIntyre, was in attendance – having watched Shelby also run among the top five in the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge race earlier in the day – held on for a fine third, just ahead of Scott Anderson, from Fort Collins, Colo., and, incredibly, Suvanto, who restarted last and drove a magnificent race through the pack to displace Kyle Kaiser from fifth place on Lap 11.
Jeff Garibotti, from Chicago, Ill., once again claimed Expert Class honors (for drivers over 30 years of age), finishing 12th in his Garibotti Racing entry.