SEBRING, Fla. – Neil Alberico opened the Cooper Tires Winterfest Championship at Sebring International Raceway by winning the first of the six-race challenge from the pole in Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing’s No. 2 Racelite Protection/Bondurant School of High Performance Driving car.

Alberico set a USF2000 lap record on the 3.74-mile circuit of 2 minutes, 3.074 seconds -- more than eight-tenths of a second quicker than his qualifying time – on Lap 9 as he sped to a convincing first-ever professional victory. The feat also ensured he will start on the pole position for the first of two races Feb. 6.

“We knew going in and starting from the pole that we wanted to get out front and be consistent and turn some good lap times," said Alberico, 20, of Los Gatos, Calif. "The Cape guys – Dominic, Nicholas, Will and all the mechanics – they all make it easy for me to do my job. It was a good day today and, hopefully, we can duplicate it (1:20 p.m. and 4:20 p.m. ET, Feb. 6).

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Teammate Scott Hargrove was second in the No. 38 Analytic Systems/Race Energy/Metal Action/Skip Barber Racing/Bell Racing car.

“The race was a lot of fun and it was great to be near the front for a change," Hargrove said. "Cape Motorsports did a great job in providing me with the car and I just need to go and catch up to Neil (for Races 2-3). Everything ran flawlessly, so it is a good thing that there is still more racing.” 

Third place went to USF2000 rookie Danilo Estrela of Goiania, Brazil, driving the No. 11 entry for Belardi Auto Racing. A standout in the Skip Barber Racing series the past two seasons, Estrela qualified fifth, made up two positions on the opening lap and held off a determined mid-race challenge from fellow USF2000 rookie Stefan Rzadzinski to ensure his podium appearance.

Rzadzinski, from Edmonton, Alberta, finished fourth in the No. 93 Can Torque/Christenson Developments car entered by JDC MotorSports. RC Enerson, 15, of New Port Richey, Fla., finished fifth in his first start in the No. 10 Team E/Patriot Bank/ZSports Midwest car.

Reigning Skip Barber Racing Series champion Jake Eidson, 17, from Littleton, Colo., also drove a good race to finish sixth on his debut for Afterburner Autosport.

The Winterfest shifts to Palm Beach International Raceway for three races on Feb. 9-10. The 2013 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda opens its season March 14-15 with two races at Sebring.