St. Petersburg notebook: Frost and Rowe are ice cold amidst Florida chaos

It was an action-packed weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg, as the feeder series below IndyCar kicked off their season. Here is our round-up of The Best and The Rest in sunny Florida.

By Jeroen Demmendaal

Bumpy city streets, packed fields and lots of wheel-to-wheel racing action: the ladder formerly known as the Road to Indy did not disappoint this past weekend. The palm tree-lined streets of St. Petersburg played host to the start of the 2023 season for USF2000, USF Pro 2000 and Indy NXT, and Feeder Series was on hand to witness every session. Here’s what we learned about who performed well and who needs a bounce-back at the next race.

The Best

* The Indy NXT race was often chaotic (and in that sense a precursor for the IndyCar race later in the day), but Danial Frost deftly wheeled his way through the yellows and secured his first victory of the season right off the bat. The Singaporean’s win topped off a good weekend for HMD Motorsports, which saw seven of its cars finish in the top-10. Nolan Siegel grabbed a fine second, Christian Rasmussen finished a solid fourth and Ernie Francis Jr. was a strong sixth.

Red and white car on track
Danial Frost at the 2023 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg | Credit: Chris Owens, Penske Entertainment

* The other highlight of the NXT race was the performance of Abel Motorsports and Jacob Abel. The young man from Kentucky just missed out on pole, just missed out on the win, but exceeded all expectations. Third place was well-deserved for Abel, who mixed it up with HMD and Andretti like it wasn’t a thing. Teammate Colin Kaminsky was also solid in his rookie race and came home 11th.

* Racing is an expensive business, and no one was more aware of that reality than Simon Sikes and Christian Brooks as they arrived in Florida. Both drivers had a contract for only this race and needed to impress if they stand any chance of continuing their campaign. At the moment of writing it’s still unclear whether they can, but the two young Americans issued a strong statement of intent.

Sikes seemed to get off to a bad start in USF2000, as he bottled his qualifying and started only 15th in Race 1 in his Pabst Racing machine. He recovered well, however, finishing a strong fourth and earning himself a pole for Race 2. After finishing that second race with a second place, he is now third in the standings.

As for Brooks, he started in the best way possible by grabbing pole for USF Pro 2000 Race 1 and taking a flag-to-flag victory in his Turn 3 Motorsports car. Another top-6 finish in Race 2 means he, too, has planted himself among the leaders in the championship battle. Food for thought for Pabst and Turn 3 as they consider their plans for the second race weekend at Sebring.

* Staying with Pabst Racing and USF Pro 2000: can we get a hallelujah for Myles Rowe? The Force Indy-backed driver goes from strength to strength and has seamlessly adapted to the Pro 2000 car. His performance in Race 2, going from fifth on the grid to the win, was a sight to behold and Rowe now leaves St. Petersburg sitting atop the table. More generally, it’s encouraging to see Pabst do so well after a rather flat Pro 2000 season in 2022, with Jace Denmark also in the top-6 all weekend.

Black, orange and blue car on track
Myles Rowe is going from strength to strength | Credit: Gavin Baker Photography

* Kiko Porto also deserves a mention. The Brazilian entered his sophomore year with DEForce Racing in USF Pro 2000 and had to show that he can be a front runner. He clearly did: two podium finishes mean he’s hot on Rowe’s heels in the championship and should be a contender this year.

* In USF2000, Jay Howard Driver Development had a great start to the season. Lochie Hughes took the standings lead with a win and a third, while Evagoras Papasavvas completed the rout with a second place in Race 1 and a fourth in Race 2. It’s a welcome return to form for JHDD after a few rough years in USF2000, and especially Papasavvas was a positive surprise up front.

Blue, black and yellow car on track
Lochie Hughes took the standings lead in USF2000 | Credit: Gavin Baker Photography

* A final word of praise goes to Future Star Racing. It was the squad’s first outing in USF2000, and while team management told Feeder Series that getting ready for this season has been intense, the team did very well in St. Petersburg. Three top-10 finishes in two races, including two top-7s for Trey Burke, is very solid indeed and it will be interesting to see if FSR can continue this momentum.

The Rest

* Let’s start with the obvious one: Andretti Autosport had a rough weekend in St. Petersburg. Things already started off poorly for title contender Hunter McElrea on Friday, when the Kiwi driver crashed hard and badly damaged his Dallara. Luckily he was very strong on Sunday, fighting his way back to fifth after qualifying a lowly twelfth and limiting the points damage.

His colleagues, however, had a bad Sunday. Louis Foster qualified on pole, but got caught up in one of the many incidents and retired. James Roe also had to park his car early due to technical gremlins, while Jamie Chadwick struggled for pace all weekend and used up three front wings on race day. In other words, a downbeat (and expensive) start to the season for the Andretti squad.

* No one expected Cape Motorsports to pull up any massive trees in their first ever Indy NXT weekend, but the Cape brothers must have hoped for more on Sunday after showing encouraging pace in practice and qualifying. However, two race incidents meant that Enaam Ahmed and Jagger Jones were classified 18th and 19th in the race. Neither incident was caused by the Cape drivers, but on paper the team is currently dead last.

* A pre-season favourite on many lists, Mac Clark was remarkably lacklustre in Florida. The Canadian is the defending USF Juniors champ and won a race during his first USF2000 weekend at Portland last fall, but was never a factor throughout the weekend. DEForce Racing as a whole were average in Race 1, and then an engine issue in the second race led to a retirement for Clark. As a result, he now heads to Sebring 17th in the standings – surely not the start he was hoping for.

Header image credit: Gavin Baker Photography


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