On Saturday, March 23, third-generation racer Matthew Brabham produced an impressive performance to score a clear victory in the Allied Building Products Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Round 3 of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.
Brabham, 19, who was born in Boca Raton, FL, and raised in Surfers Paradise, Australia, had set the pace throughout practice with the #83 Team Andretti Autosport entry but qualified only eighth after the gear shift lever broke off in his hand midway through the 30-minute qualifying session. Undeterred, Brabham, who won last year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, earning a MAZDASPEED scholarship to graduate to Pro Mazda this season, was on the move almost as soon as the green flag waved. He leapt to sixth at the start, only for his progress to be delayed almost immediately by a full-course caution following a first-corner incident which eliminated Colombian Juan Piedrahita (JDC MotorSports).
Brabham pounced again at the restart, passing Team Pelfrey teammates Spencer Pigot and Petri Suvanto as well as local driver Nick Andries (JDC MotorSports), from Pinellas Park, Fla., on consecutive laps to move into third by Lap 6.
Brabham then tracked down the two leaders, Diego Ferreira (Juncos Racing) and his own Andretti Autosport teammate Shelby Blackstock, who had qualified on the pole in his #28 Team Starstruck car but was struggling from the start with excessive oversteer.
Brabham overtook Blackstock cleanly under braking for Turn One on Lap 10, then repeated the maneuver on Ferreira to take the lead two laps later. Brabham continued to turn a series of consistently fast laps to take a dominant victory, finishing almost 10 seconds clear of Ferreira, who just held onto the second position ahead of Blackstock.
“First I have to thank Andretti Autosport for giving me a fantastic car and Mazda for giving me the opportunity to be up here racing with these guys this year,” stated Brabham. “It was a fantastic race for me. It was a bit hairy going into the first corner. I had to dodge a few cars as they were all piling up on each other, but I was able to get through. I knew I had a fast car but it is tough to tell where you are at but after the first couple of laps, I was moving up through the field and knew it was good. It was a great race and everyone drove very well. I’m speechless. It was just such a great race.”
Andries, who had started 10th, held fourth place for the majority of the race until being passed by Pigot (#81 Doug Mockett & Company/Gap Guard/Parathyroid.com/California Scents/OMP/Team Pelfrey) on Lap 18.
Andries maintained fifth until the end, despite the best efforts of Zack Meyer (#66 Damis Partners III/Red line Oil/JDC MotorSports) and Scott Anderson (#44 Neuropathy Testing Center/Laser Nail Centers/Ottercares/Sparco/Bell/Juncos Racing).
Suvanto (#82 GetGapGuard.com/Team Pelfrey) finished eighth after serving a drive-through penalty for blocking in the opening stages.
The tight nature of the field was exemplified perfectly in qualifying when the entire field was blanketed by a mere 0.6 seconds. Contingency awards included the Staubli and PFC awards issued to the winner and winning team, and the Quartermaster Hard Charger Award for most positions gained which went to Brabham, who advanced seven places.
Brabham’s winning ways continued on Sunday, March 24, and it seemed as though no one else was able to even come close to the third generartion racer. With Sunday’s win, he claimed a commanding lead after four rounds of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.
Andretti Autosport teammate Shelby Blackstock (#28 Team Starstruck) finished a career-best second after starting from the pole position, backing up his third place from Saturday.
“Today was a pretty good race overall,” stated Blackstock. “I can’t complain. The two Andretti cars were definitely at the front of the pack by far. Actually, my car was a little bit weak where Matt’s [Brabham] was the strongest and that was where he was able to get us. We went back on a change before the start of the race and we should have left that change in. Other than that, it was a pretty good race overall and I would like to thank St. Petersburg, Allied Building Products, Mazda, Cooper Tires, Andretti Autosport, everybody for putting this race on and giving us excellent cars. We are first and third in the points and that’s a great start to the season.”
Round 1 winner Diego Ferreira finished a distant third in Juncos Racing’ s #57 Team Vi5o Venezuela/Mindeporte entry.
“This is my fourth podium of the season and I feel really good,” added Ferreira. “I did my best in the race and played smart to make sure I would be on the podium which is important for the championship. It is a long season and hopefully we can continue our momentum.”
Brabham, last year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda Champion emerged from the first corner in third place, picked off Ferreira for second on Lap 2, then was content to bide his time behind teammate Blackstock before making his move for the lead under braking for Turn One on Lap 10, finally taking the checkered flag 6.255 seconds clear of fellow rookie Blackstock.
Local driver Nick Andries (#19 JDC MotorSports), from Pinellas Park, Fla., made another excellent start to jump from eighth to fourth, but lasted only until Lap 10 when he encountered some mechanical difficulties.
Spencer Pigot (#81 Doug Mockett & Company/Gap Guard/Parathyroid.com/California Scents/ OMP) made up one position on the opening lap and eventually finished fourth for the locally based Team Pelfrey, but the Orlando, Fla., resident struggled with his car’s handling and was disappointed after winning three times on the streets of St. Petersburg over the past two years in USF2000 competition. Finnish teammate Petri Suvanto looked set for sixth until clipping the wall in Turn Nine on the final lap while closely pursuing Californian teenager Kyle Kaiser’s #18 InterVision/ NetApp/Juniper Networks/Riverbed car fielded by World Speed Motorsports.
Kaiser therefore finished a fine fifth ahead of Colombian Juan Piedrahita (JDC MotorSports), who rebounded from a disappointing start to his season to secure sixth in the #19 Petrosur/Sisolec/ GFM Motors/Red Line Oil car.
Contingency awards included the Staubli and PFC awards issued to the winner and winning team, and the Quartermaster Hard Charger Award for most positions gained which went to Brabham, who advanced four places.
After four races, Brabham leads Ferreira by a 13-point margin, 118 to 105. Blackstock holds down third place on 82 points ahead of Pigot on 64. The Pro Mazda competitors will now take a mini-break before resuming for Round 5 at the Lucas Oil Raceway oval in Indianapolis, part of the traditional “Night Before the 500″ event on Saturday, May 25.
“It was an awesome race,” continued Brabham. “The team has been working so hard. The guys at Andretti are doing such a great job and to get a one-two in this race just shows how hard they have been working and how good the cars are. It has been a special weekend for the team with James [Hinchcliffe] winning today’s [IZOD IndyCar Series] race as well so it is a bonus to get another win for myself. It was an exciting start to the race. I managed to have a really good start and get to the inside and make a few passes early on and that really helped me later in the race. I didn’t have to follow too many people and burn the front tires off. I am just absolutely thrilled and can’t thank everyone enough.”
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