Kyle Kirkwood concluded his remarkable Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda win streak Sunday at Portland International Raceway. The recently crowned champion stalked polesitter Rasmus Lindh (Pabst Racing) through the opening stages, then pounced decisively before edging away to another relatively comfortable victory — his 10th in a row and 12th of the 14-race season, which equals the record established by former Verizon IndyCar Series driver J.R. Hildebrand en route to the championship title in 2006.
Lindh, 17, from Gothenburg, Sweden, finished a career-best second — his fifth podium finish of the season — for Pabst Racing, while yet another rookie, South African Julian Van der Watt, also secured his best result, third, for Team Pelfrey.
The Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix of Portland Presented by Allied Building Products began with the habitual excitement provided by the Festival Curves chicane which constitute Turns 1 and 2 on the 1.964-mile road course, although for a change, most of the leaders made it through unscathed.
Lindh protected his pole position beautifully, making sure there was no room for anyone else even to think about diving down the inside under braking. He duly held onto the lead from teammate Kaylen Frederick, Kirkwood, Brazilian Lucas Kohl, in another Pabst Racing Tatuus-Mazda USF-17 and Kory Enders, from Sugarland, Texas, who yesterday earned his first podium finish for DEForce Racing.
Japanese-born Brazilian Igor Fraga (Exclusive Autosport) jumped from ninth on the grid to third, profiting from a coming together between Mexican Jose Sierra (DEForce Racing) and impressive debutant Braden Eves (Newman Wachs Racing), from Columbus, Ohio, both of whom were eliminated on the spot.
After three laps behind the pace car, there was more action at Turn 1 when Frederick inadvertently rammed into the back of his teammate, Lindh, under braking, which resulted in several cars taking to the escape road. The incident caused extensive damage to Frederick’s front wing (as well as tweaking the rear of Lindh’s car) and resulted in a drive-through penalty for the Maryland youngster.
Lindh nevertheless was able to maintain his lead, albeit now with Kirkwood in hot pursuit. The pair remained in close formation, pulling away from Kohl in third, until Lindh made a slight mistake in Turn 1 which allowed Kirkwood to sneak past. Kirkwood then turned a sequence of fastest laps before taking the checkered flag just under two seconds clear to claim Cape Motorsports’ 12th PFC Award of the season.
“It was a really good race — maybe not as much action as yesterday, from my point of view, but the action we had was incredible,” said Kirkwood. “It was a lot of back and forth early between me, Kaylen and Rasmus, picking our spots.
“I don’t even know how to explain it, to have only two losses this season. I’ve never been in this spot before, with so much success, so I can’t really absorb it. We’ve done so well this year, and it’s cool that we’ve tied J.R. Hildebrand’s record. The car has just been on rails, so I really have to say thanks to everyone on the Cape team – Nicholas and Dominic Cape, my mechanic Alan, Reggie, Don, Scott, Kyle, Will, Jeremy, Larry, Jonatan Jorge and of course, Oliver and Nikita. I can’t wait to start next year.”
Van der Watt took a few laps to find a way past Fraga, then steadily closed a deficit of almost five seconds to Kohl before making the pass for third with five laps remaining. He become the 14th different podium finisher — representing no fewer than nine teams — this season.
Fraga also squeezed past Kohl on the final lap for fourth, but it wasn’t quite enough to displace his fellow countryman for third in the final points table. Guyanan Calvin Ming (Pabst Racing) claimed his third successive Tilton Hard Charger Award, moving up from sixth after starting 12th.
The combined efforts of Lindh and Kohl proved enough for Pabst Racing to claim its second successive Team Championship by a margin of 15 points over Cape Motorsports, which will be celebrated — along with Kirkwood’s record-breaking season — at the Mazda Road to Indy Championship Celebration in Portland on Monday evening.