St. Petersburg, Florida - The 2013 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda took place in St. Petersburg, Fla., this weekend with the Peninsula Pipeline Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. MAZDASPEED Motorsports driver Peter Portante walked into this event a little humbled from his results at Sebring the previous weekend. However, he would not let it weigh too heavily on his mind as he spent most of his time with Belardi Auto Racing engineer Joe D'Agostino getting his #41 (Beurre & Sel, California Scents, Velez Computer Systems, Intercity Lines, Inc., Pagliacci's Restaurant) in top shape to race.
Day One brought two practice sessions. In the first Portante would finish P11 with a fast time of 1:15.729. The period between the first and second practice sessions would involve a slight change of weather and track conditions, which would come into play for everyone. Portante would finish the second practice session in P25 with a 1:15.622. He spent the rest of the day with driver coach Lee Carpentier and engineer Joe D'Agostino to prepare for qualifying under ever-changing weather/track conditions.
Saturday brought a very early qualifying session that would prove very beneficial for the young driver. He found much more speed and was able to qualify P17 with a 1:14.863.
"I had a tough practice day yesterday but found a little more time today," he said in a post qualifying interview. "I know I have a lot more to gain but we should be strong for the race."
Portante went into Race 1 with confidence and strength. The race itself was more than anyone expected. On the first lap Cape Motorsports teammates, Neil Alberico and Jeroen Slaghekke, would come together in Turn One. Another incident further down the track would bring out a two-lap caution.
"It was pretty chaotic," Portante said. "There were lots of incidents but I feel we made up a lot of time early on." "We got up to eighth but with the accidents we fell to fourteenth then were able to climb back up to eleventh. I found more time and improved upon my driving skills. We were able to gain some valuable points which we needed after our Sebring race."
For Sunday's Peninsula Pipeline Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Portante was set to start P20 with the impending threat of rain along with high winds on everyone minds. The race went on calm and consistently for the young drivers of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda. Portante was able to use his newfound speed to finish P13 with a fast lap time of 1:14.951.
"Pretty fun race," he said afterwards. "We started in the back and made our way up at a consistent pace. There was a really good battle with my teammate (Daniel Burkett) which was fun. I'm looking forward to the Mid-Ohio test coming up as well as the Lucas Oil Raceway oval event."