Christian Brooks and the Exclusive Autosport team enjoyed a near perfect weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg. The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship sophomore claimed a pair of victories today on the unforgiving 1.8-mile street circuit, elevating himself from fifth in the points table following the first two races of the season last weekend in Alabama to an already appreciable points lead.
Brooks, from Santa Clarita, Calif., was followed home in a scrappy race this morning by Exclusive Autosport teammate Matt Round-Garrido, from Stourbridge, England. Barber Motorsports Park race winner Yuven Sundaramoorthy, from Delafield, Wis., took third for Pabst Racing.
Brooks had to work much harder this evening, overtaking Brazilian polesitter Kiko Porto soon after a late restart and holding on to take a narrow victory. The podium was completed by Michael d’Orlando, from Hartsdale, N.Y., who mounted an incredible comeback for Cape Motorsports following a frightening accident in the earlier race.
“This is the best weekend of my life,” said Brooks. “It’s unbelievable, after such a tough weekend at Barber, to be the points leader and a back-to-back winner. I can’t thank everyone at Exclusive Autosport enough, the car was on rails the entire weekend. It was a great first race with my teammate Matt – when you have a guy like that behind you, you can’t make any mistakes, and to bring home a one-two finish was great. And in the second race, it was such a relief to get by Kiko. He’s such a fast driver and not an easy guy to pass, so I wasn’t sure I would be able to. But coming back from that yellow, that was the best restart I’ve ever done and I was able to take advantage of a little mistake he made. I was in the right place at the right time, and the car was amazing. It’s my third win at St. Pete and I think having experience here really helps my confidence. I know where to punch off on the restarts, the gap I need going into Turn One, how cold the tires are and how much I can push. The car was so good, I don’t think anyone had anything for us today.”
In the opening USF2000 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Andersen RacePark, Brooks made full use of his Cooper Tires Pole Award, earned yesterday in qualifying, to hold off teammate Round-Garrido and score an impressive one-two finish for the Canadian-owned team.
“It feels great to be on the podium, thanks to all the lads at Exclusive Autosport,” said Round-Garrido. “It was such a last-minute deal and with Barber not having gone so well, this is a nice bounce back. For the team to give us such fast cars, the only way we could repay them was by going one-two. Massive congratulations to Christian, who drove a great race. I put him under pressure the entire race and he hung on, great drive by him.”
Unfortunately, the race also was notable for a series of incidents which necessitated several full-course cautions and even one red-flag stoppage. The 26-car field managed to negotiate the tricky Turn One relatively cleanly, with just one spinner who was able to rejoin, but there was carnage later around the lap when six cars became entangled at Turn Seven.
The restart was no better as New Yorkers and long-time karting buddies d’Orlando and Josh Green (Turn 3 Motorsport), got together in Turn One , sending d’Orlando into a wild ride which ended with his car on its side.
Sweeping St. Pete with a win in race 1 and 2,! That’s four straight Top 5’s for Brooks to start the season! 👊🏁🔥 |
— USF2000 Series (@USF2000)
The race eventually ended under yellow with the two Exclusive cars chased home by Sundaramoorthy, who had run third early on, then fell as far as sixth before working his way back to finish on the podium.
“I made that a lot more difficult on myself than it needed to be, falling back on the restart when d’Orlando and Green came together,” said Sundaramoorthy. “I’m glad to hear that all the guys who crashed are okay, but that one happened right in front of me and was really scary. But in the end, I set fast lap so I know we were the quickest car out there; there were just too many yellows to catch the Exclusive guys.”
New Zealand Formula Ford 1600 champion Billy Frazier kept his nose clean to finish fourth ahead of Porto.
Rookie Grant Palmer, from St. Charles, Mo., capped a memorable race for Exclusive Autosport by rising from 25th on the grid to 13th to snag the Tilton Hard Charger Award.
Porto capitalized perfectly on having won the Cooper Tires Pole Award during a second qualifying session on Friday by leading confidently at the start of this evening’s USF2000 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Andersen Interior Contracting. Coincidentally, he and Brooks had shared the laurels during USF2000’s most recent visit to the Florida streets at the end of last season, each capturing his maiden series victory.
Kent Vacarro, Trey Burke, Erik Evans, Peter Vodanovich and Nolan Siegel all involved in the incident in turn 7!
Vacarro was sideways against the wall.| . .
— USF2000 Series (@USF2000)
Porto was intent upon securing his second win and seemed set to do so, despite the best efforts of Brooks, who remained apparently tied to his rear wing for most of a thrilling 20-lap race.
“It was so windy out there so we really had to make some adjustments during the race,” said Porto. “When the yellow came out, I tried to cool down my tires but I didn’t get them warm enough as we came back to green. When I got on the power on the restart, the car didn’t have good front traction and I had just enough understeer under braking that Christian got by. I’m not too disappointed but I know we can do more. We’re second in the championship now and we’ll keep pushing at all the rest of the races.”
Round-Garrido and d’Orlando led the chase until Myles Rowe (Force Indy), from New York, N.Y., appeared on the scene following a couple of incisive passes. Sadly, Rowe lost a couple of places when an attempt to pass Round-Garrido at Turn One went awry, and three corners later he left his braking a tad too late and inadvertently tipped an innocent Sundaramoorthy into the wall. Rowe also was eliminated in the incident which brought out the full-course caution.
Brooks took full advantage of the restart by pressuring Porto into a mistake at Turn One. Brooks nipped through as the Brazilian ran wide, then held off a late charge to win by just 0.3581 of a second and secured a second PFC Award of the day for Michael Duncalfe as the winning team owner.
Now THAT is how you wrap up a Race Day in style! 🍾 🏁 😎|
— USF2000 Series (@USF2000)
Round-Garrido looked set for another podium until d’Orlando pulled off a textbook pass at Turn One on the final lap to secure his first top-three of the season.
“It was such an emotional roller coaster,” said d’Orlando. “In the first race, I was running third with Josh Green behind me and he went for the inside move and we collided, causing me to flip. So to finish third in the second race after finishing the first race on my head is pretty good! It was a hard battle with Matt, with all his experience he’s a tough guy to pass. You never know who’s going to come out on top. He made some good moves and was pushing hard in the corners but on the last lap, I went inside and was able to make it work.”
Californian Prescott Campbell (DEForce Racing) had arrived in Florida as the points leader and ended what was a disappointing weekend on an up-tick by working his way from 16th on the grid to ninth, ensuring himself of the Tilton Hard Charger Award.
After commencing their season with four races inside eight days, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship contenders will now take a three-week respite before reconvening at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in Indiana for a triple-header event as part of the NTT IndyCar Series’ Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 14-15.
Provisional championship points after 4 of 18 races:
1. Christian Brooks, 97
2. Kiko Porto, 74
3. Prescott Campbell, 73
4. Josh Pierson, 69
5. Yuven Sundaramoorthy, 67
6. Michael d’Orlando, 54
7. Spike Kohlbecker, 54
8. Billy Frazer, 51
9. Matt Round-Garrido, 46
10. Josh Green, 46