Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires sophomore took a pair of dominant victories at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Neil Alberico began his sophomore campaign in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires with a pair of dominant victories for St. Petersburg-based Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing at the opener for all three Mazda Road to Indy series at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Alberico, from Los Gatos, Calif., qualified fastest for Race One and led throughout the 23-lap race to score a resounding 4.6819-second win – his first in the series – on the challenging 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit.
Local teams secured a lockout of the top four positions in the first race, with Uruguayan series rookie Santiago Urrutia finishing second for Palmetto-based Team Pelfrey, and Alberico’s teammate, Frenchman Florian Latorre, close behind in third with Urrutia’s teammate Patricio “Pato” O’Ward fourth.
Alberico, who finished third in the 2014 title chase, took command at the first corner and never looked back. He had built a margin of 3.4 seconds over Urrutia by Lap 12, and even though that margin was erased by a full-course caution after Malaysian Weiron Tan (Andretti Autosport) collected the wall in Turn 4, Alberico continued where he left off by edging clear once the green flag waved to commence Lap 17.
Canadian Daniel Burkett (Cape Motorsports) started second with an impressive final-lap charge in qualifying, and even though he lost a place to Urrutia on Lap 2, he still looked set for a podium finish until contact in Turn 1 on Lap 20 with O’Ward sent him spinning to the tail of the field.
Latorre, last year’s winner of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and MAZDASPEED scholarship, drove an impressive race from 10th on the grid to finish on the podium, earning himself the Quartermaster Hard Charger Award.
Alberico scored his second Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires victory in as many days as he led throughout the second stanza of the Allied Building Products Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The popular Californian started from the pole and was never seriously threatened during the half-hour race.
Jose Gutierrez, from Monterrey, Mexico, finished second for defending champion team Juncos Racing, while Alberico’s teammate Burkett secured his first podium finish with third.
Alberico lost no time in displaying his dominance after the first six laps were completed behind the pace car following a five-car incident in Turn 4 on the opening lap. He led by a full 1.2 seconds at the completion of the first lap of green-flag racing, and even though his charge was halted by another caution that left time enough for only a one-lap dash to the checkers, Alberico remained unflustered as he romped home the winner by a little less than one second.
Burkett provided one of the drives of the race as he made his way from sixth on the grid to third. Another strong run by the Canadian had ended early in the first race following an incident in Turn 1, but Burkett showed no ill effects as he made up two positions at the start, then passed Saturday’s second-place finisher, Urrutia at the restart on Lap 7. The pass earned Burkett the Replay XD Move of the Race Award. He also slipped briefly into second place with a brave move past Gutierrez in Turn 1 on Lap 9, but was unable to cement the claim as Gutierrez regained the place almost immediately.
The Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires will continue with another pair of races at NOLA Motorsports Park in New Orleans, La., on April 10-12.