Franzoni, Enerson Split USF2000

Brazilian rookie Victor Franzoni started the “regular season” Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda in exactly the same way as he began the recent Cooper Tires Winterfest preseason mini-series – with a victory. The 18-year-old from Sao Paulo started Afterburner Autosport’s No. 17 Vhero/Aflex/E-QUAL/Novac Sports Van Diemen-Mazda from the pole position but was made to work extremely hard for his victory in the Peninsula Pipeline Grand Prix of St. Petersburg by 16-year-old RC Enerson from New Port Richey, Fla.

The margin between the two front-runners was a scant 0.0081s in qualifying for the first round, held Saturday morning on a dry track. Conditions, however, were completely different by the afternoon. After a lengthy delay due to a severe storm warning, the 18 USF2000 drivers were facing an extremely wet 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit for the 15-lap race.

The first three laps were run behind the pace car, after which the field was unleashed with Franzoni immediately coming under pressure from a fired-up Enerson, who claimed the inside line under heavy braking for Turn 1 and emerged with the lead. Enerson showed precisely why he won the Winterfest championship by holding on to his advantage until Lap 10, when Franzoni drew alongside under braking for Turn 1 and pulled off a breathtaking maneuver around the outside to take over the lead.

Once in front, Franzoni edged clear to a well-deserved triumph. Enerson finished a fine second for Team E Racing. Nico Jamin (Belardi Auto Racing), Jake Eidson (Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing) and Daniel Burkett (Belardi) rounded out the top five.

While Enerson was pleased with his second-place finish in Round 1, he was ecstatic after clinching his first regular-season victory in Round 2 on Sunday.

The 16-year-old high school student started on the outside of the front row for the race, which was held in cool, dry, sunny conditions – in stark contrast to the rain-slickened surface the day before. He then grasped the lead on the first lap and never looked back.

Round 1 winner Franzoni started from the pole but was unable either to keep his rival behind at the start or match his pace in the early stages. The first six laps were run under caution following a major pile-up at Turn 4 on the first lap that eliminated six of the 18 starters. Enerson put his head down at the restart and quickly established a small but decisive advantage over Franzoni and the remainder of the field. Enerson eventually took the checkered flag with a 1.4289-second margin of victory.

Franzoni, however, was later disqualified from the results after his car failed post-race technical inspection. Eidson moved from fourth to third on the opening lap and remained there throughout the 21-lap race to secure his first podium finish. Frenchman Florian Latorre (Belardi Auto Racing) slipped a couple of seconds in arrears of Eidson as the race progressed, but held onto fourth (which became third following Franzoni’s disqualification), narrowly ahead of rookie Adrian Starrantino (JAY Motorsports), who rounded out a fine first weekend at this level with his second consecutive top-six finish. Texan Clark Toppe finished fifth for JDC Motorsports.

Enerson takes an early lead in the championship standings with a 13-point margin over Eidson as the championship heads next to Barber Motorsports Park for two races in support of the Verizon IndyCar Series and the entire Mazda Road to Indy ladder system on April 26-27.