ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Brazilian rookie Victor Franzoni started the regular season for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda in exactly the same way as he began the recent Cooper Tires Winterfest preseason mini-series – with a victory.
The 18-year-old from Sao Paulo started Afterburner Autosport’s No. 17 Vhero/Aflex/E-QUAL/Novac Sports Van Diemen-Mazda from the pole position but was made to work extremely hard for his victory in the Peninsula Pipeline Grand Prix of St. Petersburg by 16-year-old R.C. Enerson.
The margin between the two front-runners was a scant .0081 of a second in qualifying, which was held this morning on a dry track. Conditions, however, were completely different this afternoon. After a lengthy delay due to a severe storm warning, the 18 USF2000 cars were faced by an extremely wet 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit for the 15-lap race which began at 4:55 p.m.
The first three laps were run behind the Pace Car, after which the field was unleashed with Franzoni immediately coming under pressure from a fired-up Enerson, who claimed the inside line under heavy braking for turn one and emerged with the lead. Enerson showed precisely why he won the Winterfest championship by holding onto his advantage until lap 10, when Franzoni drew alongside under braking for Turn One and pulled off a breathtaking maneuver around the outside to take over the lead.
Once in front, Franzoni used the experience he had gained in European Formula Renault competition the last couple of years by edging clear to a well-deserved triumph. Enerson finished a fine second for Team E Racing.
“The race was just perfect. I won the first race at the [Cooper Tires] Winterfest and now to win here, this is a nice way to start the season and the championship chase,” said Franzoni. “The conditions were difficult. It was raining and then it stopped, but the track was still wet. It was difficult to brake on the line. It was difficult but in the end it was perfect. We will try to do it again tomorrow.”
The two leaders left everyone firmly in their wake during the early stages. Aaron Telitz (ArmsUp Motorsports) and Jake Eidson (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing) continued their battle from last year’s F1600 Championship Series for much of the race before both were overhauled by Frenchman – and fellow rookie – Nico Jamin (Belardi Auto Racing). Another veteran of Formula Renault, Jamin stormed from 10th on the grid to fifth inside the first three laps of green-flag racing, then swept past both Eidson and Telitz on lap eight to take over third place.
Jamin was given a glimmer of hope for the victory by a full-course caution after Will Owen (Pabst Racing) crashed on Lap 10, but he was unable to find a way past Enerson following the restart and had to be content with third.
Eidson finished fourth for the St. Petersburg-based Cape Motorsports team, followed by Canadian Daniel Burkett (Belardi Auto Racing) who found a way past rookie Adrian Starrantino (JAY Motorsports) on the last lap to equal his career-best finish. Frenchman Florian Latorre (Belardi Auto Racing), Norwegian Henrik Furuseth (JAY Motorsports), Dutchman Jeroen Slaghekke (Afterburner Autosport) and German Keyran Andres (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing) completed the top 10.