USF2000 Braden Eves Alex Baron

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida – Pole sitter Braden Eaves led flag-to-flag to score his first victory in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship – the first rung of the Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires.

The 19-year-old Ohio native kept his No. 8 Cape Motorsports Tatuus USF-17 up front and out of trouble as three cautions and one red flag plagued the opening race of the season.

“It was a pretty smooth race from up front,” Eaves said. “The only thing is someone came out of the pits right behind me and for a second I thought I was going to hit him but he backed off and that was fine.

“There were a lot of yellows, a bit more than I thought there would be but other than that it was a pretty smooth race, no big hiccups, much like many wins are.”

The most dramatic moment came at the drop of the green flag when Alex Baron (No. 14 Legacy Autosport), last year’s St. Pete Race 2 winner, missed the braking point heading into Turn 1, made contact and was launched into a corkscrew roll (shown in photo above) before landing on all four wheels and coming to a stop in the runoff.

A lap later, with the field still running under caution, Nate Aranda (Team E-JAY) crashed heavily in Turn 14. The race was red-flagged while the rookie was extracted from his car. Aranda was transported to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg for precautionary X-rays.

In the end, Eaves won by 0.4372 of a second over Manual Sulaiman (No. 12 DEForce Racing), with Hunter McElrea (No. 22 Pabst Racing) rounding out the podium.

Redemption for Thompson with Indy Pro 2000 victory

Parker Thompson pulled away late Friday to take the opening race of the 2019 Indy Pro 2000 Championship presented by Cooper Tires season.

The 21-year-old Canadian started on pole in the No. 8 Abel Motorsports Tatuus, but Rasmus Lindh (No. 10 Juncos Racing) got the jump at the start and led the opening 15 laps at the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit. Now to be denied, Thompson made the winning pass on the inside of Lindh going into Turn 1 on Lap 16 of 25.

“St. Petersburg has been one of my quickest tracks, but it’s been that win that has eluded me my whole Road to Indy career,” said Thompson, last year’s championship runner-up in Indy Pro 2000.

“So to come out here, put the hammer down and come get the win – even when we were behind, it wasn’t a flag-to-flag victory – I had to work for it. Had to do a really cool pass into Turn 1, gave the fans what they deserved and what they’re paying money for and got the job done for Abel Motorsports and myself.”

A late caution setup a five-lap shootout, but Thompson’s pace was too much for Lindh, who finished 1.3238 seconds behind the winner, with teammate Sting Ray Robb (No. 2 Juncos Racing) third.