ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Robert Megennis and Oliver Askew shared the limelight Saturday as the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda kicked off in style on the Streets of St. Petersburg.
The doubleheader served as the debut races for the new Mazda-powered Tatuus USF-17 chassis.
Last year’s top rookie, Megennis, secured his first win Saturday morning despite a late charge from Askew, who was making his USF2000 debut after winning both a Team USA Scholarship and the inaugural Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout in 2016. Dutch teenager Rinus VeeKay finished third for Pabst Racing.
In race two Saturday afternoon, Askew pounced on a mistake by polesitter Parker Thompson to claim the victory, followed by VeeKay and the recovering Thompson.
Megennis, who turned 17 last week, qualified on pole Friday for race one and quickly established a clear advantage over the chasing pack, led by Calvin Ming and Dakota Dickerson, who had managed to find a way past Askew at the start.
Askew redressed the balance on lap seven, then passed Ming for second place on lap 13 before setting his sights on the race leader. Askew posted the fastest lap of the race as he negated a three-second deficit within a half-dozen laps, but Megennis held his ground to claim a hard-earned victory. VeeKay also closed in during the late stages before the three leaders crossed the finish line in nose-to-tail formation.
“The season couldn’t have started any better for us with a pole position and a win. It was pretty intense, especially when Rinus and Oliver were right there: It got me worried but I held them off,” said Megennis. “I drove hard but didn’t take any huge risks. When you’re out in front, you have to keep doing what you’ve been doing and maintain your pace, which was the plan until Oliver started going so fast. Then it becomes a matter of knowing how hard you can push yourself and how hard you can push the drivers around you. Oliver is a pretty smart driver so I knew I had to defend and make my car as wide as I could. But I can’t say enough about the Tatuus USF-17. It’s comfortable to drive; it’s consistent throughout the sessions; you can push it harder. It’s fun and exciting to drive, so I’m really looking forward to the rest of the season.”
Thompson, who had snared the pole for race two during a separate 20-minute qualifying session Saturday morning, maintained his advantage at the green flag, chased by Askew, VeeKay and Megennis, who snuck past Dickerson at the start.
Following a full-course caution after five laps when Castro crashed heavily in turn two, Thompson left his braking for turn one at the restart a fraction too late while under intense pressure from Askew.
Askew ducked neatly to the inside and moved gratefully into the lead as the Canadian slid wide and lost three positions. Askew also snatched the fastest lap of the race as he sped to a 1.2056-second victory over VeeKay.
“I knew this would be possible but I didn’t know it would happen this soon,” Askew said. “I came into this weekend looking for points, so I’m really speechless right now. It hasn’t sunk in. I’ve been preparing for this since the Shootout; my whole focus is to win the championship. I’m so thankful to everyone at Mazda for choosing me. I feel very honored and hope I can follow guys like Spencer Pigot through the program.”
Megennis also took advantage of Thompson’s miscue to move up to third, only to make a mistake on his own on lap 18. Thompson thereby moved up one position to complete the podium, narrowly ahead of Exclusive Autosport teammate Luke Gabin.
Race One: Robert Megennis, Oliver Askew, Rinus VeeKay, Kaylen Fredrick, Parker Thompson, Dakota Dickerson, Calvin Ming, Cameron Das, Moises de la Vera, Andre Castro, Luke Gabin, Lucas Kohl, Ricky Donison, Kris Wright, Kory Enders, Colin Kaminsky, Dev Gore, Bruna Tomaselli, Devin Wojcik, Chandler Horton, Ayla Agren.
Race Two: Oliver Askew, Rinus VeeKay, Parker Thompson, Luke Gabin, Kaylen Fredrick, Dakota Dickerson, Devin Wojcik, Kory Enders, Cameron Das, Calvin Ming, Lucas Kohl, Ayla Agren, Chandler Horton, Colin Kaminsky, Kris Wright, Dev Gore, Ricky Donison, Moises de la Vera, Robert Megennis, Andre Castro, Bruna Tomaselli.