USF Pro Championships Set for St. Petersburg Season Openers
 February 28, 2023| 
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Pabst Racing to the Fore as Spring Training Concludes at Sebring

SEBRING, Fla. – A new North American open-wheel racing season is set to begin this coming weekend with the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg hosting the top two levels of the USF Pro Championships Presented by Cooper Tires driver development ladder in conjunction with the first round of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.

A total of 41 drivers representing a dozen states and 11 different nations will take to the challenging and unforgiving 1.8-mile street circuit, and every one of them has their sights firmly set upon a future at the pinnacle of their chosen sport.

Competitors in both USF Pro 2000 Presented by Cooper Tires and USF2000 Presented by Cooper Tires today wrapped up a successful two-day Spring Training preseason test just 100 miles or so away at Sebring International Raceway, with Pabst Racing topping the times in both series.

Rowe Leads the Way in USF Pro 2000
Myles Rowe, from New York, N.Y., became the first Black driver to win a USF Pro Championships race in 2021 at New Jersey Motorsports Park, then cemented his burgeoning reputation last year by winning one of the two opening races of the USF2000 season in St. Petersburg. He ultimately fell just a little short of his goal, the championship title, but this week will return to the streets with his confidence at an all-time high after consistently topping the time sheets at Spring Training for Pabst Racing with Force Indy.

“It is just good momentum heading into the first race of the season,” said Rowe. “We always thought we had good cars here so this sets us up well for the second round [of the championship] which is here at Sebring [on March 25/26]. It is good momentum for the team and keeps the team in good spirits, and we can roll into St. Pete feeling good. God willing, we hope so and think so that we can win again in St. Pete. It is just about executing.”

Rowe’s teammates, fellow rookie Jace Denmark, from Scottsdale, Ariz., and series veteran Jordan Missig, from Channahon, Ill., also showed well at the test by posting the second and sixth fastest times. Denmark, who finished third in the 2022 USF2000 championship, ended the two days just 0.086 of a second shy of the fastest time set by Rowe at 1:58.669.

Brazilian Kiko Porto, the 2021 USF2000 champion, was third fastest for DEForce Racing, followed by Michael d’Orlando, from Hartsdale, N.Y., who has joined Turn 3 Motorsport after winning last year’s USF2000 crown along with a scholarship valued at almost $407,000 to cement his graduation to USF Pro 2000.

Christian Brooks, from Santa Clarita, Calif., completed the top five with Turn 3 Motorsport.

All of the top six times from the test were set during the first of today’s two 45-minute sessions. The seventh and eighth best times overall were both set yesterday by TJ Speed Motorsports teammates Lirim Zendeli, from Bochum, Germany, and Francesco Pizzi, from Rome, Italy. Both elected to sit out today’s sessions.

Other contenders this weekend will likely include Japanese American Reece Ushijima (Jay Howard Driver Development) and Sweden’s Joel Granfors (Exclusive Autosport), who rounded out the top 10 at Spring Training and will make their North American racing debuts after previously competing in Europe.

Sikes Fastest in USF2000
Pabst Racing also topped the Spring Training charts in USF2000 as Simon Sikes, from Augusta, Ga., turned the fastest time in both of the first two sessions today, then opted to sit out the third. Sikes’ best lap from the earlier session, 2:05.431, an average speed of 107.342 mph, remained as comfortably fastest of the day.

“This is the first time back in a car since December so it’s been awhile,” said Sikes, a former two-time SCCA Runoffs National Champion. “It is nice to shake off the rust and get back in with this team. We did our representative running that we felt like we needed to and checked off all the boxes and now we are just going to hit it hard at St. Pete. We showed well at Spring Training and we’re hopefully going to walk away with two wins this weekend. Obviously, that’s a tall task but we are going to work hard and we know we have the equipment. The pressure is on to get it done.”

Sikes has previously contested three partial campaigns in USF2000, garnering eight top-five finishes. He will begin the new season as one of the title favorites after joining the team which finished second and third in the points table last year – and swept both St. Petersburg races in 2022.

Ethan Ho, from Los Angeles, Calif., turned heads in the final session late this afternoon by posting the second fastest time of the day at 2:05.664 for the DC Autosport team. Ho, whose primary focus this year will be in USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires, was using the same car – switched over to USF2000 specifications – with which he ended yesterday with the fourth best time in USF Juniors testing.

Others to shine during today’s Spring Training test included inaugural USF Juniors champion, Mac Clark, from Milton, Ont., Canada., who ended the day third fastest for DEForce Racing; the Jay Howard Driver Development pair of Lochie Hughes, from Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, and Evagoras Papasavvas, from Loveland, Ohio; and Elliot Cox, from Indianapolis, Ind., who will fly the flag for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Development.

Several drivers opted not to venture out for the third and final session of the day, including VRD Racing’s Nikita Johnson, a native of St. Petersburg who now resides in Gulfport. The youngest driver in the field at just 14 years of age, Johnson finished second in his 2022 USF Juniors campaign and also showed impressive form in several USF2000 outings toward the end of last season.

Other than Sikes, only four other drivers in the field have previous experience in St. Petersburg: the Future Star Racing pair of Andre Castro, from New York, N.Y., and Trey Burke, from Alvin Texas; New Zealand teenager Jacob Douglas (Exclusive Autosport); and Mexico’s Jorge Garciarce (DEForce Racing).

After packing up and making the short drive to St. Petersburg, teams will prepare for the first official practice sessions on Friday morning. Coverage can be found on the free USF Pro Championships App, YouTube channel and respective series’ websites.
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