Neil Alberico began his sophomore campaign in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires with a dominant victory for St. Petersburg-based Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing in this afternoon's Allied Building Products Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Alberico, from Los Gatos, Calif., qualified fastest this morning 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, 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 Four. 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 One 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.
O'Ward, the youngest driver in the field at age 15, found a way past Jose Gutierrez (Juncos Racing) for fourth place on Lap 8 and tried every which way to find a way past Burkett before the pair made contact in the braking area for Turn One with just four laps remaining. Latorre was able to slip past both of them, leaving O'Ward to fend off the attentions of Gutierrez for fourth in the final stages.
Bobby Eberle of World Speed Motorsports took Expert Class honors. Eberle, the 2014 Expert Class champion, finished 13th overall.
Contingency awards included the PFC Award to the winning car owners, Dominic and Nicholas Cape of Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, the Staubli Award to race winner Alberico and the Replay XD Move of the Race to Latorre for his pass of Raoul Owens (JDC MotorSports) in Turns One and Two on Lap 10.
Race 2 for the Allied Building Products Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will begin tomorrow, Sunday, March 29, at 9:50 am ET.
Neil Alberico (#3 Rising Star Racing/Mobe-Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing): "Half the battle on a street course is qualifying. We qualified first, so that's half the work already done. Then it's just a matter of keeping your head down and running a clean race, and that's what we did. You can't change what the guys behind you are doing, you have to focus forward. We prepared for things like the restarts – in a race like this, you have to expect it. I think we executed pretty well and now we have good momentum going into tomorrow's race. The Cape team has done a great job. It's great to have Florian on the podium as well. It's a testament to how good our cars are put together."