ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Locally based Cape Motorsports maintained its stranglehold on the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Saturday by completing a sweep of the opening two rounds on the Streets of St. Petersburg with Braden Eves.
Following an accomplished victory Friday by Eves, the team which has won the last eight driver championships seemed to be moments away from celebrating another first USF2000 victory – this time for Florida racer Darren Keane – when the pole-sitter and race-long leader lost control under braking for turn 13 on the final lap while under pressure from Jay Howard Driver Development’s Christian Rasmussen.
Eves, who had been running third, took advantage to take the checkered flag ahead of New Zealand’s Hunter McElrea and Zach Holden, who completed the podium for BN Racing.
After proving to be one of the stars in Friday’s season-opener by carving his way from the back of the field to seventh due to a faulty transponder in qualifying, Keane looked set to take full advantage of his space during Saturday’s second race. Keane, who qualified on the pole, was briefly passed by Rasmussen on the first green-flag lap, but Keane soon regained the advantage and seemed to be in complete control, despite the distraction caused by a pair of brief full-course cautions.
On each of the restarts Keane was able to maintain his position ahead of Rasmussen – that is until turn 13 on the final lap when he left his braking just a fraction too late while trying to make sure there was no way for the Dane to make a last-ditch lunge for the lead. Instead, Keane’s car spun broadside across the track, leaving Rasmussen with no chance of taking avoiding action. The erstwhile leaders were eventually classified in 14th and 15th.
With the two cars spinning to a halt, Eves was just far enough behind to be able to pick a clear line and emerge with his second win of the weekend.
“Back in my karting days, I would literally go from third to first in the last corner so it was crazy,” Eves said. “I didn’t expect that but it was lucky for me. I was in the right position at the right time. The competition level is so high here that you go into each weekend with an open mind. You could never expect to take both wins on the weekend. I wanted good points, and that was the main goal, so you can’t ask for better than two wins.”
Earlier during the entertaining 25-lap race, Holden had briefly found a way past Eves under braking for turn 10, only to slide wide on the exit which allowed Eves to regain the position.
McElrea and Pabst Racing teammate Colin Kaminsky plus Frenchman Alex Baron, Australian Cameron Shields and Mexican Jose Sierra, aboard a second Legacy Autosport Tatuus US-17, also were embroiled in a battle for position at one point or another. After Shields and Sierra fell out of contention for various reasons, McElrea, the winner of last year’s Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200k Scholarship Shootout, was able to join Eves on the podium for the second straight day.
Baron bounced back from his monster accident on the opening lap Friday, rewarding his team’s hard work by finishing fourth, narrowly ahead of Kaminsky.