Global Racing Group proved that a race isn’t over until the checkered flag drops, sweeping the podium in the final moments of the first F3 Americas Championship Powered by Honda round at NOLA Motorsports Park on Saturday. In what would be a storybook finish for Global Racing Group, the Seattle-based squad is the first team in F3 Americas’ short history to have drivers represented on each podium step in a single race.
In the last laps of the 35-minute session, Baltazar Leguizamon of Buenos Aires, Argentina, ascended into first place to claim his second victory of the season.
“I feel very nice after our second win. It’s another win for me, the team and everyone supporting me back in Argentina,” said Leguizamon. “We’ve been working very hard as a team and everything we’ve been working on came together today.”
Leguizamon started Round 13 in the front row in second. As the lights went out for the F1-style standing start, the young Argentinian experienced tire spin off the line that put him in an immediate disadvantage to eleven-time winner Kyle Kirkwood of Jupiter, Florida. After failing to complete a perfect start at Road Atlanta, Kirkwood flawlessly shot off the stripe from pole position, instantly building a gap from the rest of the field.
In an attempt to catch Kirkwood, Leguizamon continued to lay down solid fast times, but the reigning F4 United States champion’s metallic red, black and white No. 8 FirsTex machine was too fast and Kirkwood continued to pull away. However, entering the third to last lap, Kirkwood began experiencing mechanical issues that slowed his pace to a near halt, quickly dissolving his multi-second advantage over Leguizamon. Leguizamon zoomed by to take first as Kirkwood’s complication persisted, forcing the Abel Motorsports driver to retire to the pits for the duration of the race.
“It’s disappointing of course to not see Abel Motorsports represented on the podium,” Kirkwood said after missing the podium for the first time this season. “We had a failure in our left rear and if I continued the race, it could have cost us the weekend. The championship is still up for grabs so it was more important to focus on the long-term team goals than the single race.”
Benjamin Pedersen of Copenhagen, Denmark, kept his perfect podium streak alive with a second-place finish. The part-time F3 Global Racing Group driver has earned five second-place and two-third place finishes so far this season. While Pedersen is out of the title chase, he could respectively clinch a top-three championship finish before the finale next week at Circuit of the Americas.
“The Global Racing Group crew continues to give me a great car week after week and they have played a huge role in helping me achieve the successes that I have in F3,” Pedersen said. “We are focused on obtaining not only the team championship but having two GRG drivers represented on the inaugural championship podium.”
In just his fourth race of the season, Parker Locke of San Antonio crossed the stripe in third for his first podium-finish of his open-wheel career.
“I feel awesome after being on the podium for the first time,” Locke said while trying to hold back tears of happiness. “To share my first-open wheel podium with my Global teammates is the best feeling.”
Earlier in the day Locke qualified fourth but a penalty issued for causing a yellow flag, sent the Texas-native back two grid spots to start the race in sixth. Clean off the start, Locke challenged Jacob Abel of Louisville, Kentucky, and John Paul Southern Jr of Westlake, Ohio, for position, until he hit the curbing in Turn 7, sending his newly wrapped GRG signature orange No. 66 Ligier JS F3 car into a 180-degree spin. To recover, Locke was forced to turn around off track, collecting grass clippings in his radiator along the way. Locke was forced to pull into the pits for a quick clean out before continuing the race. The error cost Locke a lap.
“I lost a lot of time so our new goal was to take advantage of the clean air and lay down some solid lap times that would move me up on the starting grid for the next round,” Locke said.
Southern experienced mechanical issues that sent him to the pits for the duration of the race, which bumped Locke into fifth. After spinning off-track with four laps left, Abel’s podium chase ended. In a matter of minutes, Locke moved from sixth to fourth, and subsequently took third.
“I just wanted to finish the race and after the start we had, I never imagined that I would be on the podium,” continued Locke. “It just goes to show that no matter what happens, not to give up or be discouraged about making a mistake because until that checkered flag drops, anything can happen.”