Birmingham, Ala. – Neil Alberico bounced back to prominence this morning for Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing, winning an action-packed Mazda Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park. The 22-year-old had struggled two weeks ago at NOLA Motorsports Park, finishing sixth after winning both opening rounds of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires at St. Petersburg, but his latest victory, added to a fourth-place finish yesterday, enabled him to stretch his championship lead to eight points, 130-122 over today’s second-place finisher Santi Urrutia (Team Pelfrey).
Canadian Garett Grist also rediscovered some form to round out the podium for Juncos Racing after a difficult start to his 2015 campaign.
Malaysian Weiron Tan was in a perfect position to move closer into championship contention, starting from the pole after his convincing win yesterday, but his fortunes starting to go downhill even before the green flag when he edged fellow front row qualifier Timothe Buret (Juncos Racing) onto the grass on the exit of Turn 17 in anticipation of the start. Buret was fortunate to be able to rejoin, but not before losing many positions.
Alberico then made a decisive move around the outside at Turn One, sweeping past third-place qualifier Urrutia, and when Tan was penalized shortly thereafter for his indiscretion prior to the green flag and sent to the rear of the field, Alberico suddenly found himself in the lead.
An early full-course caution was necessary to remove some cones from the racing surface (which had been dislodged by Buret’s errant car as well as a spin from Daniel Burkett of Cape Motorsports), and was quickly followed by another caution when Expert contender Jay Horak (M1 Racing) spun into the gravel trap at Turn Two.
Alberico then put his head down at the restart and soon began to stretch his lead over Urrutia, posting a series of fastest laps and increasing his advantage to over four seconds before another incident, this time involving Tan and Jose Gutierrez (Juncos Racing), led to the 30-minute race finishing under caution. Tan was subsequently penalized per Rule 10.3(e) Contact resulting in a loss of five points.
Grist took full advantage of the confusion at the start to jump from seventh on the grid to third, which he maintained to the finish ahead of teammate Will Owen and Florian Latorre (Cape Motorsports), who had overtaken Dalton Kellett (Andretti Autosport) for fifth on Lap 10.
While Horak claimed his second Expert Class victory of the season yesterday, Bobby Eberle (World Speed Motorsports) took top honors today – his third win on the 2015 calendar – with a 14th-place overall finish to maintain his lead in the point standings.
Grist’s bold first-lap passes earned him the RePlay XD Move of the Race Award, the Quartermaster Hard Charger Award and the Staubli Award, while the PFC Award went to the winning team, Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing.
The Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires will continue with a triple-header as part of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on May 7-9. The event will include an additional race to make up for Race Two at NOLA Motorsports Park which had been postponed due to adverse weather conditions.
Neil Alberico (#3 Rising Star Racing/Mobe-Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing): “The start was pretty hectic. It’s difficult to pass here during the race, so the drivers are trying to take advantage at the start. The leaders were very aggressive and fighting for position but we were able to avoid that and come out on top. A lot of things went right today. We dug ourselves a little bit of a hole Thursday and Friday but we got out of it for qualifying when it really mattered. Since then, we’ve been improving, getting better and better. Perseverance is huge. The Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing guys have a great deal of belief in my ability and I appreciate that. It can be easy to get discouraged, but they keep me on track.”