Popular USF Pro 2000 Victory in St. Pete for Hometown Hero Johnson
 March 10, 2024| 
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Twelve months after Lochie Hughes and Nikita Johnson shared the victory spoils during the opening two USF2000 races of the season on the downtown streets of St. Petersburg, the two talented youngsters have repeated the feat. Only this time both have now stepped up to USF Pro 2000 Presented by Continental Tire, the next level on the USF Pro Championships ladder which propels drivers all the way from the grassroots of the sport via a scholarship-funded path toward a future in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.

Hughes, from the Gold Coast of Queensland, Australia, took top honors yesterday, while today it was the turn of local driver Johnson, from nearby Gulfport, Fla., who swept past his rival soon after a restart with six laps remaining and pulled away to an emphatic and popular victory for VRD Racing.

Hughes on this occasion had to settle for second as Turn 3 Motorsport teammate Danny Dyszelski, from Belmont, N.C., capped another fine weekend for the Illinois-based team by finishing third following a thrilling tussle with Pabst Racing’s Christian Brooks, from Santa Clarita, Calif.

Hughes jumped into an early lead after claiming his second Continental Tire Pole Award for the Foundation Building Materials Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Johnson, who started fourth, vaulted immediately to second at the first corner and remained tucked in behind the rear wing of Hughes’ car until the caution flags waved due to Ethan Ho (Turn 3 Motorsport), from Los Angeles, Calif., being inadvertently pitched into the wall at Turn 10 as TJ Speed Motorsports’ Hunter Yeany, from Virginia Beach, Va., tried to initiate a pass. Shawn Rashid (VRD Racing), from La Quinta, Calif., also was involved as an innocent victim.

The pace at the front was just as frantic following the restart, with both leaders lapping ever faster around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course.

Another incident after 16 laps brought a brief respite for Hughes, but there was no stopping the inspired Johnson soon after the restart when he elicited a loud cheer from the grandstands after executing a perfectly judged pass for the lead. Once in front, Johnson continued to set new fastest laps – quicker even than Hughes’ best from qualifying on Friday – before taking the checkered flag just over two seconds in front.

Dyszelski, who started second, held third place for the majority of the 25-lap race. Brooks, who finished second on Saturday, briefly found a way past Dyszelski at almost the same moment as Johnson overtook Hughes for the lead, only for Dyszelski to return the favor next time around.

Brooks also fell victim to Jay Howard Driver Development’s Frankie Mossman, from Newport Beach, Calif., who finished a strong fourth, chased home by Brooks and New Zealander Liam Sceats (TJ Speed Motorsports).

DEForce Racing’s Jorge Garciarce, from Guadalajara, Mexico, claimed his second Tilton Hard Charger Award of the weekend after rising from 20th on the grid to 10th – one position better than yesterday.

The PFC Award for the winning car owner went to VRD Racing’s Dan Mitchell.

The USF Pro 2000 competitors now have a month’s break before returning to action for a tripleheader at NOLA Motorsports Park, just outside New Orleans, La., on April 5-7.

Provisional championship points after 1 of 18 rounds:
1. Lochie Hughes, 59
2. Nikita Johnson, 51
3. Christian Brooks, 42
4. Liam Sceats, 37
5. Frankie Mossman, 32
6. Braden Eves, 30
7. Mac Clark, 27
8. Danny Dyszelski, 24
9. Hunter Yeany, 22
10. Jorge Garciarce, 21

Nikita Johnson (#17 409A Direct/AnyDesk/Labrador Primary Care-VRD Racing Tatuus IP-22): “My race went really well. I started fourth and made up two positions on the first lap going around the outside in Turn One. After that, I knew we had a fast car. I saw Lochie sliding a lot. He was pushing hard, and I was just trying to play the end game. We had a lot of cautions and, finally, on the last caution I pipped him. I followed him along down the inside and came back up high which forced him into an error and went over/under. After that, I led and did purple [fastest] laps. I want to thank all of my sponsors –  409A Direct, AnyDesk, Labrador Primary Care Center, LAVU, O'Maddy's Bar & Grille, PSA Check, Tiger Precision Products and ZOA – all my family and friends, and the team especially Dan Mitchell and Jacob Loomis.

“It feels great to win in my hometown. There was a lot of PR and activities leading up to this event, so I had to go do well. It was fun. I really loved it and hopefully we can continue on this roll at NOLA.”

Lochie Hughes (#44 Turn 3 Motorsport Tatuus IP-22): “It was a good race. I did everything right and pulled a gap and then there were a few Safety Cars, which made it difficult. Unfortunately, on the last Safety Car restart, I didn’t get the best exit onto the straight. I was forced to block into Turn One and there is just no grip down the inside there. I ran a little wide and then Nikita got the undercut. After that, there were four laps to go and that was the race done.”

Danny Dyszelski (#3 Vera Guitars/Formula Imports/Charlotte Mechanical Turn 3 Motorsport Tatuus IP-22): “The race was great. Starting off pole, getting third place – my first podium in USF Pro 2000 and first podium in USF Pro Championships in general – I am really happy. Turn 3 did a great job with the car. It was great all weekend. I was down in fourth for a bit, but going into Turn One, I just had that outside move and I am really proud of that and proud of everyone on my car this weekend. They all did a great job.”
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