ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Locally based Cape Motorsports maintained its stranglehold on the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship this afternoon by completing a sweep of the opening two rounds on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. Following an accomplished victory yesterday by Braden Eves, from New Albany, Ohio, the team which has won the last eight Driver Championships in succession 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 intense pressure from Jay Howard Driver Development’s Christian Rasmussen.
Eves, who had been running third, took advantage of the gifted victory to take the checkered flag ahead of New Zealand’s Hunter McElrea (Pabst Racing) and Zach Holden, from Greenfield, Ind., who completed the podium for BN Racing.
After proving to be one of the stars in yesterday’s season-opener by carving his way from the back of the field (due to a faulty transponder in qualifying) to seventh, Keane, from Boca Raton, Fla., looked set to take full advantage of his space during this afternoon’s St. Petersburg Grand Prix Presented by Andersen Interior Contracting Race Two. Keane, who qualified on pole position, was briefly passed by Rasmussen, from Copenhagen, Denmark, 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.
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, from Homer Glen, Ill., plus Frenchman Alex Baron (Legacy Autosport), Australian Cameron Shields (Newman Wachs Racing) and Mexican Jose Sierra, aboard a second Legacy Autosport Tatuus US-17, also were embroiled in a battle for placings at one point or another. But 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 yesterday, rewarding his team’s hard work by finishing fourth, narrowly ahead of Kaminsky and impressive Mexican Manuel Sulaiman, who charged from 20th on the grid (due to an accident yesterday in qualifying) to finish sixth and earn the Tilton Hard Charger Award.
By virtue of claiming yet another PFC Award as the winning car owners for brothers Dominic and Nicholas Cape, Eves’ memorable weekend ensured he will take a commanding championship lead, by 62 points to McElrea’s 47, as the series heads next to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course for the next two races in early May.
Braden Eves (#8 MDRN Livery/Community Choice Financial-Cape Motorsports Tatuus USF-17): “Back in my karting days, I would literally go from third to first in the last corner so it was crazy. 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.”
Hunter McElrea (#22 Mazda/Doric NZ/Miles Advisory Partners/Pabst Racing Tatuus USF-17): “To get double podiums in my debut race in the series, and my first street races, I’m happy to work from here. That was only my second rolling start and I think I dropped back to eighth so that’s not where we want to be, especially when we qualified up front. The car felt great and I think I could have gotten quick lap on that last one, if not for the incident. I would have loved a few more laps. Plenty of positives to take away, and much appreciation to Mazda Motorsports and Pabst Racing for the opportunity to be here.”
Zach Holden (#27 BN Racing Tatuus USF-17): “That last turn was insane; I don’t think anybody saw that coming. I was a last-minute entry and was really hoping just to finish, so to walk out of this weekend with a podium after not being in the car for six months feels really great. To have the pace we had all weekend and have the race we had gives us plenty of momentum and confidence going into my home race in Indianapolis.”