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Bridges: Force Indy and Francis Jr. show promise at season opener

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The scenic street course that is St. Petersburg can be a challenging one, and it’s safe to say it threw some curveballs at Ernie Francis Jr. as he made his debut with the Force Indy race team in the Indy Lights Series season opener.

The seven-time Trans Am Series champion, who had limited testing in the few weeks prior to the season opener after accepting the opportunity with Force Indy Team Principal Rod Reid, experienced mechanical gremlins of the electrical nature in qualifying and as a result started the race last in the 14th position.

Francis was a hard charger all day, and when it was said and done, he brought it home seventh, holding that position steadily as he fought off Antonio Serravalle and Christian Bogle in a spirited battle in the closing laps.

While I was unable to speak to him after the event, he undoubtedly had to be pleased with his car and the tough passes for position it carried him to throughout the race.

Notes: Matt Brabham won the St. Petersburg Indy Lights event, but he had some good fortune in the process.

Christian Rasmussen ran out of fuel with the victory in sight, enabling Brabham to move up from the runner-up position and snatch the victory.

Ernie Francis Jr., accompanied by Force Indy Team Principal Rob Reid, visited Academy Prep Middle School in St. Petersburg to talk with an enthusiastic audience of students about career opportunities in motorsports.

St. Petersburg was a homecoming of sorts for Francis, who resides in Davie, Florida, which is roughly 25 miles north of Miami. He also made his professional driving debut here in 2013, competing in the Pirelli World Challenge Series.

Myles Rowe, who piloted the Force Indy USF 2000 series entry last year to a victory in the season finale, won his second race in St. Petersburg driving the Penske Entertainment-Pabst Racing entry. Keep an eye on Rowe as the young man has talent, as he demonstrated by turning the fastest lap of the race.

Scott McLaughlin qualified on the pole and never looked back, leading 50 laps in the process as he captured his first career IndyCar Series win in the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The affable second-year Team Penske driver held off defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Alex Palou to set off a celebration in his home country of New Zealand.

McLaughlin’s teammate, Will Power, rounded out the top three at the podium on a day where 22 of the 26 starters finished on the lead lap.

The banked bullring of a track known as Texas Motor Speedway will host the next NTT IndyCar Series race March 20, while the Indy Lights Series resumes competition May 1 at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama.

Danny Bridges, who could get used to watching open-wheel racing in sunny Florida and writing about it, can be reached at 317-370-8447 or at bridgeshd@aol.com.

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