Kyle Kirkwood drove a flawless race March 10, 2018 to win the Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Allied Building Products for the locally based Cape Motorsports team.
Kirkwood, 19, from Jupiter, Fla., the reigning US F4 champion, qualified second behind young Mexican Jose Sierra (DEForce Racing) but took the lead at the first corner and never looked back on his way to an impressive debut victory in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
Sierra finished second ahead of Darren Keane (Newman Wachs Racing), from Parkland, Fla., who secured his first podium result for Newman Wachs Racing after a partial USF2000 campaign in 2017.
To no one’s surprise, the first corner of the 30-minute race brought plenty of drama as the 25-car field jockeyed for position. One of the pre-season favorites, Kaylen Frederick (Pabst Racing), from Potomac, Md., left his braking too late and ran deep into the braking area, causing several other drivers to take evasive action. Kirkwood took advantage of his situational awareness and emerged in the lead ahead of Sierra, Alex Baron (Swan-RJB Motorsports) and Keane, who vaulted from eighth on the grid to fourth.
Exclusive Autosport teammates Igor Fraga, from Brazil, who had qualified a strong fourth, and Manuel Cabrera both ended up at the back of the field, along with fellow debutant Oscar DeLuzuriaga (Newman Wachs Racing). Cue a full-course caution.
Kirkwood immediately took off into the lead at the restart, posting a series of consistently fast laps to ensure he was in an unassailable position.
Anglo-Frenchman Alex Baron, from Narbonne, France, running a fine third for Swan-RJB Motorsports, was assessed a drive-through penalty for an infraction at the start. Top-10 qualifiers Lucas Kohl (Pabst Racing), from Brazil, and Kory Enders (DEForce Racing), from Warwick, N.Y., also picked up penalties, while Frederick rejoined a distant last after another incident on the opening lap required a change of nosecone.
British F4 champion Jamie Caroline (BN Racing), from Warlingham, England, displayed his capabilities by setting the pace during the early stages of qualifying, despite having absolutely no time in a USF2000 car prior to the opening race event of the season, only to end his session early after making contact with one of the omni-present walls. Unfortunately, he did the same during the race after climbing from seventh to second place inside the opening laps.
Sierra thereby regained second place, which he maintained with a comfortable margin over Keane.
Calvin Ming (Pabst Racing), from Georgetown, Guyana, overcame a disappointing qualifying session by climbing from 14th on the staring grid to fourth at the checkered flag, narrowly ahead of 2017 South African Formula Ford champion Julian Van der Watt, who ensured a strong North American debut in one of Team Pelfrey’s distinctive yellow Tatuus-Mazda USF-17s.
Colin Kaminsky, from Homer Glen, Ill., finished sixth for DEForce Racing ahead of Bruna Tomaselli, who finally passed the similar Team Pelfrey car of Kyle Dupell in Turn One after a lengthy scrap for position. They were eventually split at the flag by Fraga, who posted a fine comeback drive after his opening lap incident. Rasmus Lindh completed the top 10 for Pabst Racing.
Frederick recovered to 11th, while Baron set the fastest lap as he charged back into the top 10, only to clip the wall and retire.
Kyle Kirkwood (No. 8 Firstex/SAFEisFAST.com/Bell Helmets/Sparco-Cape Motorsports Tatuus-Mazda USF-17): “There’s a bit of relief! Our deal came together really late, but I know I’m in the right place at the right time. The plan I had worked out perfectly, which was to get a good jump at the start. On the first green, I didn’t expect to fall back to the inside lane, but it worked when Kaylen fell back and created a gap. Jose got a good jump so I really needed that gap. I out-braked them going into Turn One but the yellow came out before I could get a run. On the restart, I went as soon as I was allowed, and Jose didn’t expect it so I got a good run on him going into Turn One so no one could draft up on me. I knew I could pull away so I just focused on my driving. When you’re out in front, you can just focus on yourself and on the car and come back even stronger in the second race. I’m really fortunate to be with Cape Motorsports. I think we can come back and do the same thing tomorrow.”