Garcia leads Pabst domination in USF2000 opener at St. Pete

The record will show that 14-year-old Max Garcia started from the pole position for Pabst Racing and won Friday’s first of two races that will comprise The Andersen Companies Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the opening round of the new USF2000 Presented by Continental Tire season. But that doesn’t come close to telling the whole story.

Garcia, from Coconut Grove, Fla., chased Jay Howard Driver Development’s Evagoras Papasavvas, from Loveland, Ohio, for the majority of the 20-lap race before executing a pass to secure his first win. Papasavvas had to settle for second – matching his finish in the opening round last year on the unforgiving streets of St. Petersburg – while Garcia’s Pabst Racing teammate Sam Corry, from Cornelius, N.C., finished a close third.

Garcia, still nine days short of his 15th birthday, was not old enough to compete last year in St. Petersburg, but he took advantage of the experience he gained throughout the remainder of the 2023 season, as well as an excellent setup for his Tatuus USF-22 from the defending series champion Pabst team, to capture his first Continental Tire Pole Award.


Teammate Corry lined up alongside him on the front row of the grid, but neither of them was able to maintain their advantage at the first corner. Instead, Brazilian third-generation racer Nicolas Giaffone, last year’s USF Juniors champion, leapt from a fine third on the grid to the lead. Fellow second row starter Papasavvas followed him through into second, with Garcia back to third and Corry bundled all the way down to sixth.

An incident farther down the 21-car field ensured that the first lap finished with caution flags in the air, so the order remained unchanged until the field was unleashed again with five laps in the books.

An audacious move by Papasavvas around the outside line at Turn 1 following the restart saw his blue JHDD car into the lead, and Giaffone’s day soon deteriorated further when he made a mistake heading into Turn 4 and slid into the escape road.

Papasavvas and Garcia soon began to edge clear of Elliot Cox (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Development), from Indianapolis, Ind., who held third for a couple of laps before Corry was able to find a way past.

Another brief full-course caution interrupted the action after a dozen laps, whereupon Garcia redoubled his efforts to move back to the front. The pair managed to achieve an almost impossible task when they raced side-by-side through the tricky Turn 1-2-3 complex of corners before, incredibly, emerging in the same order, although finally, with just three laps to go, Garcia made a move stick at Turn Four to wrest away the advantage.

He duly reeled off the final few laps to secure a hard-earned victory.

Cox and Corry exchanged places a couple of times before Corry was able to claim third.

“It was really tough,” Garcia said. “Evagoras was protecting really hard but I managed to get by him with three to go. I never really looked back after that. Thank you to Pabst for giving me just an amazing car. I couldn’t have done it without them. Hopefully tomorrow we lead start to finish.”

Michael Costello (Jay Howard Driver Development), from Naples, Fla., was the top rookie finisher in fifth, hot on the leaders tail. Costello also earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award after lining up ninth on the grid.

Canada’s Nico Christodoulou (VRD Racing), Australian Quinn Armstrong (DEForce Racing), Jack Jeffers (Exclusive Autosport), from San Antonio, Texas, Ayrton Houk (DC Autosport), from McCordsville, Ind., and Joey Brienza (Exclusive Autosport), from Golden, Colo., completed the top 10 following an action-packed race.

Augie Pabst claimed the first PFC Award of the season as the winning car owner.

A new season of USF Pro 2000 Presented by Continental Tire also will take place this weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg. Australian Lochie Hughes, a USF2000 race winner at the corresponding event last year, will lead the field for the opening round Saturday at 11:55 a.m. after earning the Continental Tire Pole Award for Turn 3 Motorsport during qualifying earlier Friday. Race two for the Foundation Building Materials Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is slated for a start at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday.

The green flag for the second round of the 18-race USF2000 season will fly at 4:45 p.m. Saturday.


Story originally appeared on Racer