ST. PETERSBURG — The youngest driver in this weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is now the youngest winner at this weekend’s event.
Nikita Johnson, a 14-year-old from Gulfport, won Sunday’s race in the USF2000 series — his first career victory in the second rung on the developmental road to the top-tier IndyCar Series. His No. 17 VRD Racing car led 18 of 20 laps in his first race at his hometown track to beat Simon Sikes by 0.5627 seconds.
“That gives me a lot of confidence,” Johnson said.
Johnson started third and moved into second on the outside of the first turn, in front of many of the 100 friends and family members on hand to cheer him on. He used an over-under move to take the lead on the second lap and held on from there.
Sunday’s showing was part of a strong weekend in Johnson’s first full season in the series. He qualified second, missing the pole by less than a tenth of a second, and finished third in Saturday’s season-opening race.
“We looked at the video data, made some changes to the car,” Johnson said. “I made a few changes for driving. And that was it.”
Johnson said the setting — 7 miles from his home —was an added bonus. He got to sleep in his own bed and eat breakfast at home (6 a.m. pasta to load up on carbohydrates).
The victory party, however, will have to wait. Johnson has a 5:30 flight tonight out of Tampa International Airport to Frankfurt, Germany. He has a test scheduled this week at Imola, an Italian track, as part of his upcoming races in the Formula4 Italian Championship.