Grab the broom. Rinus VeeKay swept the opening weekend doubleheader in the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires on the streets of St. Petersburg.
After taking Race 1 from eighth on the grid on Saturday, the 17-year-old enjoyed the view of starting Race 2 from the pole. It was the success he had hoped for, but also the type of battle he expected.
“Coming into this season, I wasn’t worried, but I thought it would be a hard one,” said VeeKay, driver of the No. 2 Juncos Racing Mazda/Tatuus PM-18.
“And it will because (of) some drivers like Harrison Scott from Europe, one of the No. 1s are driving here with so much experience. It shows how high the American level is and how hard it is to drive in American in the Pro Mazda series and, if you win this, you get the scholarship (to advance to Indy Lights).
“The Mazda Road to Indy gives you a big chance to get to INDYCAR without having all the money in the world and just talent.”
When the green flag waved, Scott (No. 10 RP Motorsport Racing) got the jump to push from seventh-place all the way to the lead entering Turn 1. Moments later, the caution waved and the cars were brought down pit road. Ultimately, the confusion drew the red flag as race stewards sorted out issues of the initial start.
The field reset with VeeKay’s No. 2 Juncos Racing entry back at the top spot on Lap 5. From there, VeeKay managed the lead and kept the No. 79 BN Racing entry of David Malukas at bay as the pair sped away from the rest of the field.
A late-race incident involving Kris Wright’s No. 78 BN Racing machine in Turn 9 brought out the caution, setting up a two-lap shootout for the win. VeeKay managed the restart and maintained the lead around the treacherous 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit to pick up his fifth victory in the Mazda Road to Indy.
The runner-up finished was a career best in Pro Mazda for Malukas, while Carlos Cunha joined teammate VeeKay on the podium in third. After two of 16 races, VeeKay holds a 19-point lead in the Pro Mazda standings over Parker Thompson (No. 90 Exclusive Autosport).
“I’m super happy,” VeeKay said. “I couldn’t ask for much more. I won both races and had one pole in qualifying, so we showed the speed was there. I showed I could race and the whole team showed they were amazingly quick with every driver scoring a podium (this weekend).”
Pro Mazda returns for Rounds 3 and 4 at Barber Motorsports Park from April 20-22.
Baron redeems for Race 2 win in USF2000
Alex Baron started on pole and put together a flag-to-flag performance to score the Race 2 win in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda doubleheader in St. Petersburg.
The victory came after a demoralizing Race 1 on Saturday, which saw the driver of the No. 19 Swan-RJB Motorsports Mazda/Tatuus USF-17 post the fastest lap around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit, only to retire four laps from the finish in 22nd place.
“It was a great race,” Baron said of Sunday’s race, when he led all 25 laps. “Being able to control from start to finish, the car was great, thanks to the team. Just a very, very satisfying coming back for a win.”
The win marks the Frenchman’s third victory in USF2000, but first since 2013. He also owns a win in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires in 2014.
It was the first win for Swan-RJB Motorsports, which gave it extra meaning for Baron.
“I wouldn’t have managed to actually win this race without their hard work,” Baron said. “I’ve been supervising their work ever since I got here two and a half weeks ago and they’re doing an outstanding job on the car, very meticulous, very detailed. I’m glad to have won for them.”
Igor Fraga finished second in the No. 91 Exclusive Autosport entry, 2.0072 seconds behind Baron. Lucas Kohl ended the day third in the No. 22 for Pabst Racing.
Kyle Kirkwood (No. 8 Cape Motorsports), winner of Race 1 on Saturday, holds the championship lead after two of the 14 races by a slim seven points over Jose Sierra (No. 12 DEForce Racing).
The USF2000 series returns for Rounds 3 and 4 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on May 10-12.