St. Petersburg, Fla. - Brazilian rookie Victor Franzoni started the "regular season" Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda in the same way as he began the recent Cooper Tires Winterfest preseason mini-series - with a victory. The 18-year-old from Sao Paulo started Afterburner Autosport's #17 Vhero/Aflex/E-QUAL/Novac Sports Van Diemen-Mazda from the pole position but was made to work extremely hard for his victory in the Peninsula Pipeline Grand Prix of St. Petersburg by 16-year-old RC Enerson from New Port Richey, Fla.
The margin between the two front-runners was a scant 0.0081 seconds in qualifying, which was held this morning on a dry track. Conditions, however, were completely different this afternoon. After a lengthy delay due to a severe storm warning, the 18 USF2000 cars were faced by an extremely wet 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit for the 15-lap race which began at 4:55 p.m.
The first three laps were run behind the Pace Car, after which the field was unleashed with Franzoni immediately coming under pressure from a fired-up Enerson, who claimed the inside line under heavy braking for Turn One and emerged with the lead. Enerson showed precisely why he won the Winterfest championship by holding onto his advantage until Lap 10, when Franzoni drew alongside under braking for Turn One and pulled off a breathtaking maneuver around the outside to take over the lead.
Once in front, Franzoni used the experience he had gained in European Formula Renault competition the last couple of years by edging clear to a well-deserved triumph. Enerson finished a fine second for Team E Racing.
The two leaders left everyone firmly in their wake during the early stages. Aaron Telitz (ArmsUp Motorsports) and Jake Eidson (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing) continued their battle from last year's F1600 Championship Series for much of the race before both were overhauled by Frenchman - and fellow rookie - Nico Jamin (Belardi Auto Racing). Another veteran of Formula Renault, Jamin stormed from 10th on the grid to fifth inside the first three laps of green-flag racing, then swept past both Eidson and Telitz on Lap 8 to take over third place.
Jamin was given a glimmer of hope for the victory by a full-course caution after Will Owen (Pabst Racing) crashed on Lap 10, but he was unable to find a way past Enerson following the restart and had to be content with third.
Eidson finished fourth for the St. Petersburg-based Cape Motorsports team, followed by Canadian Daniel Burkett (Belardi Auto Racing) who found a way past rookie Adrian Starrantino (JAY Motorsports) on the last lap to equal his career-best finish. Frenchman Florian Latorre (Belardi Auto Racing), Norwegian Henrik Furuseth (JAY Motorsports), Dutchman Jeroen Slaghekke (Afterburner Autosport) and German Keyran Andres (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing) completed the top 10.
The Replay XD Move of the Race was adjudged to have been made by Franzoni for his pass of Enerson in Turn One on Lap 10, after which he held on for the win. The Tilton Hard Charger Award was presented to rookie Andrew List (D2D Motorsports), who climbed eight positions from 20th on the grid to 12th at the finish. The PFC Award and customized Race Energy BMC21 charger - the Official Battery of the ladder series - went to winning car owners Tim Walsh and Brian Tomasi of Afterburner Autosport, while the Staubli Award went to race winner Franzoni.