Hughes Holds off Polesitter Sikes for Sebring USF2000 Win
 March 25, 2023| 
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SEBRING, Fla. – As with the earlier USF Pro 2000 Presented by Cooper Tires race, the third-place starter in this afternoon’s USF2000 Presented by Cooper Tires contest at Sebring International Raceway stole a march on both front-row qualifiers to take a lead he was never to relinquish. This time it was Lochie Hughes, from Surfers Paradise, Australia, who translated the hole-shot into his second win of the season for the Jay Howard Driver Development team.

Simon Sikes, from Augusta, Ga., claimed the bonus points for both pole position and fastest race lap, but for the second race in succession had to settle for a second-place finish for Pabst Racing. Hughes’ teammate, Evagoras Papasavvas, from Loveland, Ohio, completed the podium in third.

Sikes continued where he left off at the Spring Training preseason test at Sebring by turning the fastest time in qualifying this morning to secure his second Cooper Tires Pole Award. But an aggressive move at the first corner by Hughes also allowed a fast-starting Elliot Cox (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Development), from Indianapolis, Ind., to move into second place at Turn One.

Sikes regained one position from Cox later on the opening lap, and after a red-flag stoppage to remove the cars of VRD Racing teammates Zack Ping, from Buford, Ga., and Nikita Johnson, from Gulfport, Fla., Sikes quickly homed in on Hughes to commence a protracted battle for the lead.

Sikes briefly found a way past into Turn One on the ninth lap, only for Hughes to regain the advantage with another strong move at Turn 17. Sikes redoubled his efforts on the 12th and final lap, drawing alongside Hughes as they raced into Turn 17, Sunset Bend, but Hughes was able to hang on and secure his second win of the year.

Papasavvas overtook Cox for the third position a couple of laps after the restart, although his hopes of challenging for the lead were dealt a blow on the seventh lap when he made a mistake in the Turn 15/16 complex of corners. Papasavvas instantly fell back into the clutches of both impressive 14-year-old debutant Max Garcia (Pabst Racing), from Coconut Grove, Fla., and Cox, who had slipped back to fifth. Cox then glimpsed an opportunity to make a move on Garcia at Turn 17, diving to the inside under braking, whereupon contact between the pair caused both cars to spin.

Last year’s USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires champion, Mac Clark, from Milton, Ont., Canada, was the biggest beneficiary, emerging to claim fourth for DEForce Racing.

Cox recovered to cross the finish line in fifth ahead of Chase Gardner, from Prosper, Texas, although a post-race penalty for avoidable contact later dropped Cox two positions in the final results. Gardner, who was promoted to fifth, his best finish to date for Exclusive Autosport, also took home the Tilton Hard Charger Award after rising from 13th on the grid.

Hughes’ effort ensured a second PFC Award of the season for Jay Howard as the winning car owner.

The Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Sebring will continue tomorrow morning with a second qualifying session at 9:35 am EDT to establish the grid for the fourth race of the season, which is due to see the green flag at 1:40 p.m.

Provisional championship points after 3 of 18 races:
1. Lochie Hughes, 85
2. Simon Sikes, 74
3. Evagoras Papasavvas, 66
4. Nikita Johnson, 58
5. Sam Corry, 40
6. Jorge Garciarce, 37
7. Chase Gardner, 33
8. Mac Clark, 30
9. Danny Dyszelski, 30
10. Trey Burke, 29

Lochie Hughes (#8 JHDD/CSU One Cure/Lucas Oil Products/LHP-Jay Howard Driver Development Tatuus USF-22): “The race was pretty solid. I managed to get into the lead at the first corner. I just sent it in there and hoped for the best. I was able to pull a gap and then the red flag came out, which was a bit annoying, and I tried to get the best restart possible. I managed to do that and pulled a little bit of a gap again but the slipstream here is so big that Simon was able to catch up. It was tricky out there because the track was so slippery compared to how it has been all weekend. It was good to just make no mistakes, which was hard because Simon was starting to catch me. He passed me and I was able to pass him back and then hold off on the last lap so it was good racing there in the end.”

Simon Sikes (#22 Group6Gear.com-Pabst Racing Tatuus USF-22): “It was a fun race. I got passed on the start. It seems like if you start first here, you have a really good opportunity to get drafted by on the front straight and it happened. I got knocked back to third and made my way back to second before the red flag. I then managed to hold that position and start charging down to Lochie. We ended up having a pretty good, aggressive battle there at the end, going side by side twice through Turn 17 with some contact, but that’s racing. I came away with a nice second-place finish and some good points.”

Evagoras Papasavvas (#6 JHDD/CSU One Cure/Lucas Oil Products/LHP-Jay Howard Driver Development Tatuus USF-22): “It was a pretty solid race. I started fifth and finished in third. The start was good. I got myself up into fourth for the first lap and then we had the red flag. After that, it was pretty solid running. I passed Elliot and moved up into third and built a little bit of a gap. I made some mistakes sliding around quite a bit so they caught back up but I was able to defend pretty well and built my gap back up.”

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