Banner Crop of Talent Poised to Shine as USF2000 Heads to St. Petersburg
 March 21, 2012| 
  • Series News
Impressive Field of 35 Cars Highlights Interest in the Mazda Road to Indy Series

After kicking off with two races last week in front of massive crowds at the 60th Annual Twelve Hours of Sebring, the flourishing 2012 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda will reconvene 100 miles or so to the west for this weekend’s USF2000 St. Petersburg Grand Prix Presented by Allied Building Products. A pair of 30-minute races on March 24-25 will be held in support of the IZOD IndyCar Series-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

USF2000 is the first rung on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, a three-step program which helps aspiring stars of the future work their way from the grassroots of the sport toward a career in the IZOD IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500. All three steps – USF2000, Star Mazda and Firestone Indy Lights – will be in action this weekend.

A huge field of 35 drivers, including 29 Americans and overseas campaigners from as far afield as Australia, Korea and Norway, is expected to converge on the 1.8-mile street circuit which is centered on the Albert Whitted Airport adjacent to downtown St. Petersburg, Fla.

The list of potential front-runners is extensive. Matthew Brabham, from Boca Raton, Fla., holds the early series lead after claiming a race win and a second-place finish from the opening two rounds of the 14-race series at Sebring, although Spencer Pigot is a mere eight points adrift after the Orlando, Fla., resident passed Brabham to win Race Two and back up his charging drive to third (after starting seventh) in the caution-filled opening encounter. Both 18-year-olds drive for defending champion team Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing – based in St. Petersburg – and are intent upon repeating the achievements of 2011 USF2000 champion Petri Suvanto, who this weekend will accrue the benefits of his Mazda scholarship prize as he graduates to the next rung on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder to contest the opening rounds of the Star Mazda Championship. 

Roman Lagudi, who was born in Sydney, Australia, and is now based in Las Vegas, Nev., also arrives in St. Petersburg with high hopes after claiming a second and a third at Sebring for Belardi Auto Racing. Lagudi, 16, lies third in the standings ahead of Thomas McGregor (Andretti Andretti), 20, from Saskatoon, Sask., Canada; Scott Anderson (Belardi Auto Racing), 23, from Fort Collins, Colo.; Timmy Megenbier, 20, from Chicago, Ill., who posted a pair of top-six finishes after securing a drive with impressive new USF2000 team Afterburner Autosport; Neil Alberico (JDC Motorsports), 18, from Los Gatos, Calif.; and Matthew Di Leo (MDL Racing), 17, from Innisfil, Ont., Canada, who are all separated by a mere five points.

Other contenders to watch include 15-year-old Luigi Biangardi, from Chicago, Ill., who produced a stunning pole-winning performance in qualifying for ArmsUp Motorsports at Sebring, only to be involved in a first-corner incident with the third Cape Motorsports entry driven by Trent Hindman, 16, from Wayside, N.J. Both were eliminated, although Biangardi charged from the back of the 35-car field to finish ninth in Race Two, while Hindman rose as high as 13th before being involved in another unfortunate incident. 

Additional potential pace-setters include Shelby Blackstock (Andretti Autosport), from Nashville, Tenn.; Dalton Kellett (Pabst Racing Services), from Stouffville, Ont., Canada; Colin Thompson, from Perkasie, Pa., and Belardi Auto Racing teammate Luca Forgeois, from New York City, N.Y., who was unfortunately plagued by mechanical gremlins at Sebring.

As many as 15 National Class cars, featuring slightly less powerful engines, including almost a dozen entries conforming to the newly eligible SCCA Formula Enterprises regulations, will be on the grid at St. Petersburg. Judging by the opening races at Sebring, the competition is sure to be no less than intense than in the Championship Class.

Mark Eaton, from Melbourne, Fla., heads the points after scoring a win and a second at Sebring for the Florida-based Robinson Motor Sports team, while 15-year-old Henrik Furuseth, from Norway, made a stunning North American debut by winning Race Two for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing.

Defending SCCA Formula Enterprises Pro Series champion Scott Rettich (Alliance Autosport), from Camden, Ohio, SCCA Pro Formula Enterprises Rookie of the Year Patrick Gallagher (JAY Motorsports), from Thornville, Ohio, and Eric Filgueiras, from Cocoa Beach, Fla., in another Robinson car, also should be among the front-runners in FE entries, while 15-year-old RC Enerson, from nearby New Port Richey, Fla., was the class of the field in qualifying at Sebring in the ZSports Midwest with Team E Racing Van Diemen, only to be restricted by various dramas to 11th and fourth-place finishes in the two races. He is anxious to confirm his true potential this week.

The USF2000 field will take to the track for the first time on Thursday afternoon, followed by a second practice session and then qualifying on Friday. Race One on Saturday is slated for 12:10 pm, with Race Two on Sunday at 9:15 am.

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