No one came close to challenging the current dominance of Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship leader Christian Rasmussen on Wednesday afternoon in the first of three midweek races which will comprise the USF2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio Presented by Cooper Tires Honoring First Responders.
Jay Howard Driver Development driver Rasmussen wasted no time moving up from his third-place starting position, overtaking polewinner Eduardo Barrichello (Pabst Racing) on the third lap, then pulling away on the challenging 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to win by nearly 13 seconds.
Second-generation racer Barrichello held on for a career-best second-place finishdespite a determined challenge from 15-year-old Floridian Reece Gold who also secured his best result to date for Cape Motorsports.
The standalone tripleheader Road to Indy race meeting began with a 30-minute practice session in the morning, followed a couple of hours later by qualifying. Barrichello, 18, was fastest in both to clinch his first-ever Cooper Tires Pole Award. Gold was just 0.0045s adrift to ensure a starting position on the outside of the front row. After winning both season-opening races from the pole at Road America earlier this month, Rasmussen had to be content with a position on row two of the grid alongside Michael d’Orlando (Cape Motorsports).
Barrichello made a good start, but Rasmussen was soon looming large in his mirrors. On the third lap, Rasmussen made a bold move around the outside over the crest of the hill at Turn Five, which ensured he would have the inside line as the two leaders plunged downhill again into Turn Six. It was a fine maneuver, and thereafter he was in a class of his own as he set and reset fastest lap of the race before finally taking the checkered flag a massive 12.7818 seconds clear of Barrichello.
Rasmussen’s magnificent effort ensured a third successive PFC Award for team owner Jay Howard, who himself is a former champion in both USF2000 and Indy Lights.
“I’m so happy with the result, pulling it off again today,” Rasmussen exclaimed. “I had a great car right off the truck (but) made a few changes after qualifying, and they were spot on, so thanks to the team. It was a short day but I have so many laps here between tests, USF2000 and F4 — I know my way around. The plan is always to win, so today definitely went according to plan: I got around Reece at the start, then Eduardo made a small mistake and I managed to get by; it’s those small things that make the race. The plan for tomorrow is to go for two more!”
Barrichello looked to have second place fairly comfortably within his grasp at the halfway point in the 20-lap race, but Gold had other ideas. The young Floridian closed inexorably during the final stages to within .296s at the flag.
“It was almost a perfect day,” Barrichello said. “I just didn’t get the win. P1 in practice and P1 in quali with a mega lap. The car was very, very good, but it was my fault; a lack of experience being at the front. I pushed too hard too early and had oversteer that made it possible for Christian to get past me. He’s an amazing driver, though, so congratulations to him and the team. We make mistakes and then we learn from them, so tomorrow I’ll come back and go for the win.”
Behind, Gold’s teammate d’Orlando also was part of the battle until he was forced to fend off the attentions of Pabst Racing’s Matt Round-Garrido who came up fast behind. After starting a lowly 15th, the Englishman made rapid progress through the order, earning the Tilton Hard Charger Award on his way to finishing fifth, hot on the heels of d’Orlando.
Unfortunately, another Cape vs. Pabst battle had ended in tears early in the race when Josh Green, a podium finisher at Road America, tangled with Yuven Sundaramoorthy in the Carousel on the opening lap.
Christian Brooks (Exclusive Autosport) finished a distant sixth, followed closely by Kyle Dupell (Cape Motorsports), with USF2000 debutant Kiko Porto taking eighth for DEForce Racing. Australian Cameron Shields (Legacy Autosport) and Californian Bijoy Garg (Jay Howard Driver Development) completed the top 10.
Spare a thought for Jack William Miller (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports) who showed great pace, setting the second fastest lap of the race, but finished a lowly 16th, losing two laps at the start when his car failed to fire up on the grid.
Miller — and others — will have another opportunity to shine tomorrow when the action continues. A second qualifying session at 8:00 a.m. will establish the grid for Race 2 (series Round 4), which is set for 11:30 a.m. The starting order for Round 5, which will start at 3:15 p.m., will be determined according to each driver’s fastest race lap in the morning race.