What a difference a year makes. A little over 12 months ago, Christian Brooks left St. Petersburg, Fla. unable to make his first career start in USF Pro 2000 Presented by Cooper Tires following a destructive crash in qualifying. Previously a winner on the unforgiving streets in USF2000 Presented by Cooper Tires, Brooks, from Santa Clarita, Calif., made a victorious comeback to the sport by qualifying on pole position for the Discount Tire Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and then leading from flag to flag for Turn 3 Motorsport on Saturday.
Two more former USF2000 race winners in St. Petersburg completed the podium with Kiko Porto, from Recife, Brazil., finishing second for DEForce Racing ahead of Myles Rowe (Pabst Racing with Force Indy), from Brooklyn, N.Y.
Brooks, who cemented his deal to join Turn 3 Motorsport shortly before the opening race of the season, laid down the best lap in qualifying Friday afternoon to claim the Cooper Tires Pole Award. After the first attempt at the start to Saturday’s 25-lap race was waved off with the field improperly formed, Brooks maintained his advantage at the green flag to lead into the first corner, although a couple of separate incidents on the opening lap quickly brought out the caution flags.
One of the casualties was last year’s USF2000 championship and scholarship winner Michael d’Orlando, from Hartsdale, N.Y., who had lined up sixth on the grid for Turn 3 Motorsport, but was tipped into a spin at the first corner and lost a lap before he was able to resume.
Brooks drove a masterful race to keep the snarling pack of cars behind him at the restart, and with overtaking opportunities few and far between on the 1.8-mile street circuit, he was able to dictate the pace and remain narrowly, but decisively, ahead of Porto, who had jumped from third to first at the first corner.
Porto piled on the pressure but was unable to find a way past, even after a late-race incident further down the field which once again led to the Pace Car being deployed and left time for just a three-lap dash to the checkered flag.
Rowe remained hot on Porto’s tail in third, grateful to finish on the podium on his USF Pro 2000 debut, while fellow rookie Francesco Pizzi, from Rome, Italy, took fourth for TJ Speed Motorsports. Pizzi was shuffled down from second to fifth at the first corner, but fought his way past another newcomer, Reece Ushijima (Jay Howard Driver Development), to regain one of those positions on lap 10. Pizzi also posted the fastest race lap.
Ushijima finished just ahead of Jace Denmark (Pabst Racing), from Scottsdale, Ariz., in sixth while Salvador de Alba, from Guadalajara, Mexico, Exclusive Autosport teammates Yuven Sundaramoorthy, from Delafield, Wis., and Joel Granfors, from Eskilstuna, Sweden, completed the top 10. Granfors’ result was especially meritorious since he had started 20th and last following an incident in qualifying. It also earned him the first Tilton Hard Charger Award of the new season.
For the second successive year in St. Petersburg, Peter Dempsey earned the PFC Award as the winning car owner.
The double-header opening round of the season will continue Sunday with the Andersen Interior Contracting Grand Prix of St. Petersburg at 3:00 p.m., directly after the first race of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season. Pizzi will start from pole position, by virtue of the fact his best lap during today’s race was quicker than all drivers’ second-fastest lap set in qualifying on Friday.