Up until recently, Kyle Kirkwood claimed to be not much of a fan of oval racing. His tune changed somewhat following his first left-turn-only test at Memphis Motorsports Park last week, and the 18-year-old took full advantage of that positive experience this evening at Lucas Oil Raceway as he sped to a dominant victory for Cape Motorsports in the Cooper Tires Freedom 75, round seven of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
Kaylen Frederick finished second in a race that was cut from 75 to 58 laps due to time constraints following a couple of lengthy full-course cautions. Pabst Racing rookie teammate Rasmus Lindh rounded out the podium in third.
Kirkwood took full advantage of the fact his team had tested its Tatuus-Mazda USF-17 on the challenging 0.686-mile oval last year in the hands of close friend and 2017 series champion Oliver Askew. The points leader with two wins already under his belt this season, Kirkwood qualified on the pole with a two-lap average of 98.505mph.
Kirkwood took off confidently in the lead and soon began to stretch away from Lindh, who also impressed on his oval track debut by qualifying alongside on the front row of the grid.
Kirkwood’s primary championship rival, Alex Baron, made up ground quickly after a mistake in qualifying left his locally based Swan-RJB Motorsports car eighth on the grid. Baron drove around the outside of several cars in Turns 3 and 4 to vault up to third on the opening lap, although he was unable to make much of an impression on the two cars in front of him.
By Lap 25, Kirkwood held a comfortable advantage of around 3.5 seconds over Lindh, with Baron another 1.6 seconds behind in third, struggling to hold off the attentions of Pabst teammates Lucas Kohl and Frederick. Next up in sixth was Keith Donegan (ArmsUp Motorsports), enjoying by far his best run of the season thus far after winning the Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200k Scholarship Shootout last fall.
Four laps later, the caution flags waved for the first time when Baron, still in third place, tangled with the lapped car of Russell McDonough (BN Racing) in Turn 3. Baron’s car ended up parked heavily against the wall. Neither driver was injured. Moments earlier, Frederick had completed a timely pass on Kohl for what now became third place.
The green flags waved again with 40 laps in the books, but only briefly before Julian Van der Watt (Team Pelfrey) and Greenfield, Indiana, native Zach Holden (Newman Wachs Racing) tangled between Turns 1 and 2. Cue another round of waved yellow flags.
The final restart came at the beginning of Lap 50, but once again Kirkwood had no difficulty in keeping the rest at bay. In his wake, an aggressive restart by Frederick saw him sweep past Lindh into second place in Turns 1 and 2. The Swede tried his best to redress the balance in the closing stages, but it was to no avail as Kirkwood took the win by 1.2695 seconds, and Frederick held Lindh at bay for third.
“This is amazing – it’s a great feeling,” Kirkwood said. “To win here in Indianapolis, on this day, I really couldn’t have dreamed of it. Because I have a karting background and have never driven an oval in my life, I was never really a fan of oval racing. In my mind, it was all just turning left. But my perspective on it has totally changed after this weekend, after I learned how much strategy was involved and how technically it actually was.
“Getting the car setup right is huge. I love it now – that was the most fun I’ve had with all the passing, both in practice and in the race. We had a good setup for traffic, which meant we could run the high line and the low line. I was very confident in the car, in being able to get by guys quickly.”
Kohl finished just off the podium in fourth, and was chased across the line by Jose Sierra (DEForce Racing), Donegan and Igor Fraga (Exclusive Autosport) after a protracted battle for position.
Darren Keane finished eighth for Newman Wachs Racing, followed by Guyanan Calvin Ming (Pabst Racing) and Manuel Cabrera, who rose from 15th on the grid to 10th to secure his third successive Tilton Hard Charger Award.
Kirkwood’s third win of the season brought yet another PFC Award for the winning car owners, Dominic and Nicholas Cape, and enabled him to extend his championship lead to a whopping 45 points, 139-94, as the series heads next to Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., for the next two races on June 23-24.