Robert Megennis (Team Pelfrey) and Oliver Askew (Cape Motorsports) shared the limelight today as the new-look Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda kicked off in style on the streets of St. Petersburg. The brand-new Mazda-powered Tatuus USF-17 chassis provided some spectacular action as the talented young American duo each claimed a race win during today’s season-opening double-header.
Last year’s top rookie, Megennis, from New York, N.Y., secured his first win this morning despite a late charge from former karting star Askew, from Jupiter, Fla., who was making his USF2000 debut after winning both a Team USA Scholarship and the inaugural Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout in 2016. Dutch teenager Rinus VeeKay finished third for Pabst Racing.
In Race Two this afternoon, Askew pounced on a mistake by polesitter Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport), from Red Deer, Alb., Canada, to claim the victory, followed by VeeKay and the recovering Thompson.
Megennis, who turned 17 last week, qualified on pole yesterday for Race One, the Hi-Tide Boat Lifts Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and quickly established a clear advantage over the chasing pack, led by Guyana’s Calvin Ming (Pabst Racing) and San Diego’s Dakota Dickerson (Newman Wachs Racing), who had managed to find a way past Askew at the start.
Askew redressed the balance on Lap Seven, then passed Ming for second place on Lap 13 before setting his sights on the race leader. Askew posted the fastest lap of the race as he negated a three-second deficit within a half-dozen laps, but Megennis held his ground to claim a hard-earned victory. VeeKay also closed in during the late stages before the three leaders crossed the finish line in nose-to-tail formation.
Kaylen Frederick, 14, from Potomac, Md., also impressed for Team Pelfrey by finishing fourth ahead of Thompson, who finished a close second in the 2016 title-chase.
Ming slipped to seventh at the checkered flag behind Dickerson, as Cameron Das (Newman Wachs Racing), Moises de la Vara (DEForce Racing) and Andre Castro (Newman Wachs) completed the top 10.
Megennis and Team Pelfrey claimed the Staubli and PFC Awards respectively, while VeeKay earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award for his impressive drive to third after starting 14th.
Thompson, who had snared the pole for Race Two, the Allied Building Products Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, during a separate 20-minute qualifying session this morning, maintained his advantage at the green flag, chased by Askew, VeeKay and Megennis, who snuck past Dickerson at the start.
Following a full-course caution after five laps when Castro crashed heavily in Turn Two, Thompson left his braking for Turn One at the restart a fraction too late while under intense pressure from Askew.
Askew ducked neatly to the inside and moved gratefully into the lead as the Canadian slid wide and lost three positions. Askew also snatched the fastest lap of the race as he sped to a 1.2056-second victory over VeeKay.
Megennis also took advantage of Thompson’s miscue to move up to third, only to make a mistake on his own on Lap 18. Thompson thereby moved up one position to complete the podium, narrowly ahead of Exclusive Autosport teammate – and St. Petersburg resident – Luke Gabin, who hails originally from Perth, Australia.
Frederick and Dickerson completed the top six ahead of Syracuse, N.Y.’s Devin Wojcik, who drove a strong race to seventh for ArmsUp Motorsports ahead of Kory Enders (DEForce Racing), from Warwick, N.Y., Das (who claimed the Tilton Hard Charger Award after fighting his way up from 18th on the grid) and Ming.
Askew, who took the early championship lead as a result of his pair of top-two finishes, also won the Staubli Award, while his St. Petersburg-based Cape Motorsports team pocketed the PFC Award.
Oliver Askew (#3 Mazda Motorsports/MC Racing-Cape Motorsports): “I knew this would be possible but I didn’t know it would happen this soon. I came into this weekend looking for points, so I’m really speechless right now. It hasn’t sunk in. I’ve been preparing for this since the Shootout; my whole focus is to win the championship. I’m so thankful to everyone at Mazda for choosing me. I feel very honored and hope I can follow guys like Spencer Pigot through the program.”
Robert Megennis (#80 Palo Alto Networks-Team Pelfrey): “The season couldn’t have started any better for us with a pole position and a win. It was pretty intense, especially when Rinus and Oliver were right there: It got me worried but I held them off. I drove hard but didn’t take any huge risks. When you’re out in front, you have to keep doing what you’ve been doing and maintain your pace, which was the plan until Oliver started going so fast! Then it becomes a matter of knowing how hard you can push yourself and how hard you can push the drivers around you. Oliver is a pretty smart driver so I knew I had to defend and make my car as wide as I could. But I can’t say enough about the Tatuus USF-17. It’s comfortable to drive; it’s consistent throughout the sessions; you can push it harder. It’s fun and exciting to drive, so I’m really looking forward to the rest of the season.”