ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Pabst Racing clearly has a handle on the setup required for the challenging 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit in St. Petersburg. The Wisconsin-based team won both Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda events in 2015 with Jake Eidson, and repeated the feat one year later when Australia’s Jordan Lloyd and China’s Yufeng Luo claimed a victory and a second-place finish apiece in today’s double-header.
New Yorker Robert Megennis and teammate Jordan Cane, from Bognor Regis, England, shared the third-place trophies for Palmetto, Fla.-based Team Pelfrey.
This morning’s Priority Marine Construction Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Andersen RacePark took a while to get going. A multi-car incident at the first corner led to the first six laps being run behind the Mazda 3 Safety Car, whereupon another incident at the restart caused another lengthy full-course caution.
When the race finally began in earnest with 11 laps already in the books, polesitter Lloyd maintained his advantage to lead from Luo and Megennis, who had avoided all the carnage and vaulted all the way from ninth on the starting grid. Lloyd, who competed at St. Petersburg last year before returning to his native Australia to win his nation’s inaugural CAMS Formula 4 Championship, quickly made his escape and secured an impressive victory, 1.553 seconds clear of teammate Luo at the finish.
Megennis held on for third ahead of Luke Gabin (JAY Motorsports), fellow Australian Anthony Martin (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing), who posted the race’s fastest lap (just 0.0022 second faster than Lloyd) to claim a championship point, Brazilian Victor Franzoni (ArmsUp Motorsports), and former F600 champion Clint McMahan (RJB Motorsports), from Covington, Ga., who earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award after picking his way through from 20th on the starting grid.
The PFC Award went to the winning car owner, Augie Pabst III, while race winner Lloyd also took home the Staubli Award.
Lloyd looked well on his way to a double celebration when he took control of this afternoon’s Hi-Tide Boat Lifts Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Andersen RacePark, Round Two of the 2016 USF2000 title-chase. That was until the advent of another full-course caution negated his 3.3-second lead after 15 laps.
A hectic restart saw Canadian Parker Thompson (Cape Motorsports) grasp the lead with an opportunistic maneuver in Turn Two, but his advantage lasted only a couple of corners before Luo seized the upper hand. Lloyd resumed in second ahead of 14-year-old Cane, who had worked his way steadily up from 10th on the grid.
Another incident on Lap 19 ensured the race would finish behind the Safety Car with Luo becoming the first Chinese driver to win a race on the Mazda Road to Indy. Lloyd had to be content with second and the championship lead, 58-56, over teammate Luo, who earned the Staubli Award while team owner Pabst pocketed another PFC Award.
The Tilton Hard Charger Award went to Brazilian Lucas Kohl (Afterburner Autosport) for making up 12 positions from 26th on the grid to finish 14th.
The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda will resume at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., for two more races on April 22-24.
Jordan Lloyd (#21 Pabst Racing): “It’s a different thing to lead a race, with no one ahead to judge off of. You have to keep it at the limit the whole time, but also be wary of what’s coming behind you. It’s always hard coming to a track you’ve never been to before but this was one of the two tracks we were at last year so I was able to recall some of that experience and use it this time. I don’t want to jinx it, but if you can build momentum you can carry that into the later rounds. It’s all about gaining points.”
Yufeng Luo (#23 Blue Bay International Resorts-Pabst Racing): “I blew the braking zone for the last corner twice and Jordan was able to catch up so those were some intense moments. We know how well the Pabst cars have run at St. Pete and from the first practice session until now, the car has been very good. I think we have the best cars out here.”