Kyle Kirkwood drove a flawless race to win the Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Allied Building Products for the locally based Cape Motorsports team.
Kirkwood, the 19-year-old reigning F4 U.S. champion, qualified second behind Jose Sierra (DEForce Racing) but took the lead at the first corner and never looked back on his way to an impressive debut victory in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
Sierra finished second ahead of Darren Keane, who secured his first podium result for Newman Wachs Racing after a partial USF2000 campaign in 2017.
The first corner of the 30-minute race brought plenty of drama as the 25-car field jockeyed for position. One of the preseason favorites, Kaylen Frederick (Pabst Racing), left his braking too late and ran deep into the braking area, causing several other drivers to take evasive action. Kirkwood took advantage of his situational awareness and emerged in the lead ahead of Sierra, Alex Baron (Swan-RJB Motorsports) and Keane, who vaulted from eighth on the grid to fourth.
Exclusive Autosport teammates Igor Fraga, who had qualified a strong fourth, and Manuel Cabrera both ended up at the back of the field, along with fellow debutant Oscar DeLuzuriaga (Newman Wachs Racing). Cue a full-course caution.
Kirkwood immediately took off into the lead at the restart, posting a series of consistently fast laps to ensure he was in an unassailable position.
Baron was a drive-through penalty for an infraction at the start. Top-10 qualifiers Lucas Kohl (Pabst Racing) and Kory Enders (DEForce Racing) also picked up penalties, while Frederick rejoined a distant last after another incident on the opening lap required a change of nosecone.
British F4 champion Jamie Caroline (BN Racing) displayed his capabilities by setting the pace during the early stages of qualifying, despite having no time in a USF2000 car prior to the opening race event of the season, only to end his session early after making contact with one of the omnipresent walls. He did the same during the race after climbing from seventh to second place inside the opening laps.
Sierra regained second place, which he maintained with a comfortable margin over Keane.
Calvin Ming (Pabst Racing) overcame a disappointing qualifying session by climbing from 14th on the starting grid to fourth at the checkered flag, narrowly ahead of 2017 South African Formula Ford champion Julian Van der Watt, who ensured a strong North American debut in one of Team Pelfrey’s distinctive yellow Tatuus-Mazda USF-17s.
Colin Kaminsky finished sixth for DEForce Racing ahead of Bruna Tomaselli, who finally passed the similar Team Pelfrey car of Kyle Dupell in Turn 1 after a lengthy scrap for position. They were eventually split at the flag by Fraga, who posted a fine comeback drive after his opening lap incident. Rasmus Lindh completed the top 10 for Pabst Racing.
Frederick recovered to 11th, while Baron set the fastest lap as he charged back into the top 10, only to clip the wall and retire.
Baron will have a chance for redemption tomorrow having qualified on pole for Round 2 earlier this morning with a new record qualifying lap of 1m12.2574s (89.679 mph). Fraga will start second and Kirkwood third for the second 30-minute race of the weekend, which is scheduled to start tomorrow afternoon at 5:25 p.m. EST. Coverage can be found on a series of platforms including Road to Indy TV, the Road to Indy TV App and dedicated broadcast channels on demand via Apple TV, Amazon Fire and Roku and, most recently, the Xbox One Official App as well as live streaming and live timing on usf2000.com and racecontrol.indycar.com.