A record-setting field, 36 cars in all, took to the grid to contest the opening round of the 2012 Cooper Tires Presents the USF2000 National Championship Powered by Mazda took place this afternoon at the Sebring International Raceway. As Mike and I discussed on the podcast (Ep 129) last night, dealing with traffic and the congested track was going to be key to success, and we were not wrong. ArmsUp Motorsports Luigi Biangardi took the pole position in this morning’s qualifying and lined up along side Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing pilot and third-generation racer Matthew Brabham (@MattyBrabs).
Unfortunately for Luigi, Andretti Autosports’s driver Trent Hindman was overly ambitious on the start and heading into Turn 1. Luigi, Trent, Matthew, and Belardi Auto Racing’s Roman Lagudi all went 4-wide into the first turn, but Luigi and Trent didn’t come out the other side. After heavy contact between the two racers, they were both out of the race and forced a full-course yellow to clean up the mess the two had made. It’s been said many times before, but it’s worth saying again. You can’t win the race in the first turn, but you sure can lose it. Prior to reaching Turn 1, Brabham had overtaken Biangardi and he kept that position after the restart on Lap 3.
After the first restart, Brabham ran away from the field and built a comfortable lead. Trouble would bring out a second full-course yellow as Eric Cruz wound up high-centering his Formula Continental machine at Turn 16. That caution period would last the rest of the race and the checkers were thrown on Lap 9 as the time-limit for the event had been reached. Brabham took the win with Lagudi taking second, and Cape Motorsports’ Spencer Pigot rounding out the podium.
“It is really fantastic to get my first win in the first race of the series. I can’t explain the feeling. My plan was just to stay out front and my plan went through. It was a pretty easy race out in front except for the yellow flags bunching us up. It was a bit disappointing to finish under yellow but I’ll take any win as it comes. I am just really pleased with how everything went and would like to thank the guys at Cape Motorsports.” — Matthew Brabham, #83 Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing
One of the biggest movers of the race was the winner of the National Class race, Mark Eaton. Racing for Robinson Motor Sports, Mark Eaton started in 24th position, 4th in class, in a Formula Enterprise car and by the race’s end, he worked his way up to P1 in class and 17th overall. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve talked about him before as the 2008 SCCA Formula Enterprise National Champion after his victory at the Run-Offs at Heartland Park Topeka.
“The race was rather interesting, especially the start going three to four wide going into Turn One and three and four rows deep. It was pretty good to be able to pick through the field and make my way through traffic before the first yellow. I finally got around Scott [Rettich] towards the middle of the race and pulled a little bit of a gap before another caution came out. It was an interesting race and we will see what happens tomorrow.” — Mark Eaton, #92 Robinson Motor Sports
The starting grid for Race 2 is based on the fastest race laps from Race 1 so Matthew Brabham will start from pole alongside his teammate Spencer Pigot. Race 2 takes place tomorrow at 11:15 EDT, and you can follow along on the USF2000 Live Timing & Scoring page. Along with a variety of fans, various USF2000 and INDYCAR officials will be joining the chat as well. Although there is no video this race weekend, there’s great live audio commentary which really brings the event to life.