Ferreira, 19, from Maracay, Venezuela, displayed steady progress with Juncos Racing during his rookie campaign in 2012, finishing among the top five in each of the final five races. He put that experience to excellent use in the 2013 season opener, qualifying on pole and leading from start to finish in Race 1, then adding a second-place finish in Race 2 to claim an early advantage in the championship.
Brabham, also 19, has graduated to Pro Mazda this season with the help of a full MAZDASPEED Driver Development scholarship after winning last year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – step one on the highly acclaimed Mazda Road to Indy ladder. The third-generation racer, grandson of three-time Formula 1 World Champion Sir Jack Brabham and son of sports car champion Geoff Brabham, regularly topped the preseason testing charts with his Team Andretti Autosport entry, but had to be content with third place in Race 1. He bounced back to win Race 2 handsomely and trails Ferreira by a mere four points.
Brabham, who was born in Boca Raton, Fla., and raised in Surfers Paradise, Australia, finished second in both USF2000 races in St. Petersburg last year.
Two Former St. Pete Winners Lead Team Pelfrey Challenge
Based just a few miles from St. Petersburg in Clearwater, Fla., Team Pelfrey also has high expectations for this weekend’s races, especially since both of its drivers, Petri Suvanto and Spencer Pigot, have won previously on the unforgiving 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit.
Suvanto, 20, from Nurmo, Finland, won one of the USF2000 races in St. Petersburg – where he now lives during the racing season – en route to the championship title in 2011, while 19-year-old teammate Spencer Pigot, from Orlando, Fla., has enjoyed even more success, winning the other USF2000 race in 2011 and sweeping both races last year.
“I really like the track in St. Pete," said Pigot, who finished a strong second on his Pro Mazda debut at Circuit of The Americas and was unfortunately involved in an accident in Race 2. “It seems to suit my style and I can hardly wait to get back out there."
The local connection also extends to Pinellas Park resident Nick Andries, who drove for Team Pelfrey in 2011 and concluded a last-minute pre-season arrangement to join Minnesota-based JDC MotorSports. He was out of luck in the first two races at Circuit of The Americas but has every intention of rebounding strongly on a track where he qualified second fastest in 2011.
Step 2 on the Mazda Road to Indy
Pro Mazda represents the second step on the Mazda Road to Indy, which offers scholarship opportunities for drivers to graduate all the way from USF2000 to Pro Mazda to Firestone Indy Lights and, ultimately, the IZOD IndyCar Series.
The education process extends far beyond the race track. During the lead-up to this weekend’s races, all USF2000 and Pro Mazda drivers will attend a media training session hosted by Sportscast Stars Training, LLC; a Mazda Business of Motorsports Seminar; a “Building a Successful Brand" presentation by James Hinchcliffe, who will drive the Go-Daddy car for Andretti Autosport in this weekend’s feature event; and a Team Talk with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and team driver Tristan Vautier, who has won consecutive championships in Pro Mazda (2011) and Indy Lights (2012).
Other likely contenders who are seeking to follow in the footsteps of both Hinchcliffe and Vautier include Shelby Blackstock and Scott Anderson, both of whom have graduated this year from USF2000 to Pro Mazda. Blackstock, from Nashville, Tenn., is the son of country singing star Reba McEntire and has already displayed his own talents this year with an excellent drive to third place in Round 2 with his Starstruck/Andretti Autosport entry.
Anderson, who won a pair USF2000 races last year (the only driver to break the stranglehold of Brabham and Pigot), finished sixth and fourth in his Pro Mazda debut in Texas with Juncos Racing.
Allied Building Products to Serve as Race Weekend Sponsor
Allied Building Products, a leader in the wholesale building materials industry, will be the title sponsor of this week’s Pro Mazda doubleheader. The East Rutherford, N.J.-based company will be showcased at the series’ hospitality unit, and its clients and guests will participate in a variety of activities, including serving as honorary race starters; giving the command to start engines and waving the green flag; assisting in podium ceremonies and trophy presentations; and taking part in private paddock tours, driver meet-and-greets and a dinner featuring series drivers.
Race Week Schedule
Locally based drivers Pigot and Suvanto will be available for interviews during the Green Flag VIP Luncheon at the Renaissance Vinoy Golf Club, beginning at 11:00 am ET on Thursday, March 21. Blackstock, Brabham, Ferreira and Pigot will participate in the Festival of States Parade at 7:00 pm that same evening.
The on-track action for the Allied Building Products Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will commence on Friday, March 22 with a pair of practice sessions at 8:35-9:05 am and 4:25-4:55 pm. Official qualifying will run from 8:35-9:05 on Saturday morning, followed by an autograph session at the INDYCAR Fan Village (located between Turns Four and Five) from 10:00-10:30 am and then Race 1 which will start at 1:10 pm. The green flag for Sunday’s Race 2 will fly at 3:00 pm, immediately following the opening round of this year’s IZOD IndyCar Series.