Myles Rowe grasped an early lead in Friday’s Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Sebring, then romped away to claim his second USF Pro 2000 Presented by Cooper Tires victory of the season for Pabst Racing with Force Indy. With three of the season’s 18 races now in the books, Rowe, from Brooklyn, N.Y., already holds a handy 16-point lead in his quest to win a Discount Tires Driver Advancement Scholarship valued at $664,500 to graduate to Indy NXT in 2024.
Joel Granfors, from Eskilstuna, Sweden, drove a fine race for Exclusive Autosport, rising from sixth on the grid to take second ahead of TJ Speed Motorsports’ Francesco Pizzi, from Rome, Italy. For both Europeans it was their first podium finish since switching their sights on a career in North America.
Rowe and Pabst Racing teammate Jace Denmark, from Scottsdale, Ariz., continued their form from Spring Training by pacing the 19-car field during the lone official practice session Friday morning. A couple of hours later it was Denmark who shone brightest in qualifying, turning a best lap of 1m58.609s, an average speed of 113.711mph, to snag his first Cooper Tires Pole Award. Rowe completed the front row of the grid, less than a tenth of a second off the pole time, while Pizzi shared row two with a third Pabst Racing Tatuus IP-22 in the hands of Jordan Missig, from Channahon, Ill.
The majority of the first five laps were run behind the pace car due, firstly, to a mechanical problem which unfortunately sidelined St. Petersburg double podium finisher Kiko Porto (DEForce Racing), from Recife, Brazil, then an incident between Mexico’s Ricard Escotto (Jay Howard Driver Development) and Miami-based Brazilian Nicholas Monteiro (NeoTech Motorsport).
At the initial wave of the green flag, Rowe had followed Denmark through Turn 1, then pounced decisively at Turn 3 to take the lead. The caution flags waved shortly thereafter. Then, soon after the restart, Denmark began to experience gearshift problems, costing him precious fractions of a second. For the majority of the 15-lap race, Denmark maintained a gap of around a second to Granfors, who had leapt from sixth to third at the initial attempt at a start. But the pressure continued to build on the young Arizonan, who eventually lost out to Granfors on the run toward Turn 1 with just a couple of laps remaining. Moments later, Pizzi also took advantage of Denmark’s loss of momentum to slip into third place and assume the final podium position.
Missig also finished right with the lead group in fifth, securing his best-ever finish, as Germany-based Albanian Lirim Zendeli (TJ Speed Motorsports) and Mexico’s Salvador de Alba (Exclusive Autosport) both found a way past Japanese-American Reece Ushijima (Jay Howard Driver Development) for sixth in the closing stages.
“That move on lap one was crucial because I didn’t know how the racing was going to be today,” Rowe said after the race. “In practice, the aero push was insane so I knew I had to make a move early. It was a good clean move and we got it done. We had a full-course caution so it was about focusing on the restart. We executed and it was just about keeping my head down and focusing on facing forward and it paid off.”
The Tilton Hard Charger Award went to Jack Miller William (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports), from Carmel, Ind., who made up five places from his starting position of 16th.
Augie Pabst picked up his third PFC Award of the young season as the winning car owner.
The USF Pro 2000 competitors will be back in action Saturday morning at 10 a.m. ET for a second qualifying session which will set the grid for race two at 3:30 p.m. As always, full coverage can be found on the free USF Pro Championships App, YouTube channel and usfpro2000.com website.