Can anyone beat Christian Rasmussen? The 20-year-old Dane swept all three races that comprised the USF2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio Presented by Cooper Tires Honoring First Responders over the past two days at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for Jay Howard Driver Development. Added to his pair of wins at Road America earlier this month, Rasmussen now has won the opening five races of the season – a feat previously unmatched since the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship was reintroduced following a four-year hiatus in 2010.
“I’m so happy, I’m at a loss for words,” said Rasmussen. “I’m rarely loud on the radio but I think I actually yelled this time! I couldn’t be happier about how this week went. I know I have the speed now and that I can go do it if everything is on point. But there are so many factors that go into it: it’s not just me, or the team, it’s everything.
“We’ve been lucky, we haven’t had any problems, and the team has been on top of their game. I’ve rarely driven a car that’s been perfect all weekend and I’m so appreciative of what they’ve done for me. They have worked so hard in the off season so I’m glad I can give this back to them. I have confidence in our ability so hopefully we can continue this next week.”
Another piece of history was made this morning as, for the first time, a pair of 15-year-olds, Reece Gold (Cape Motorsports), from Miami, Fla., and Nolan Siegel (Jay Howard Driver Development), from Palo Alto, Calif., shared the podium in the opening race of the day. Gold also finished third in this afternoon’s second race behind teammate Michael d’Orlando, from Hartsdale, N.Y.
“This is awesome – to get my first podium yesterday and two more today, especially knowing we’re coming back here next week for three more races,” said Gold. “I’m hoping we can come back and get even more points. The team gave me a great car as usual, and great support: good coaching, good data and help to get me here. And it’s great to share this with my teammate.”
Seigel added: “The whole team has worked so hard to get this first podium, so it’s great to get rewarded. Christian was super fast – he’s been fast all weekend so he’s been the guy to chase. He’s helped me a lot. I was fighting to keep guys behind me the whole race while still trying to reach Christian and Reece. It’s hard to balance that: at a certain point you have to stop looking backwards.”
A busy day of action for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship teams and drivers began at 8:00 a.m. with a qualifying session to set the starting grid for the first of two 20-lap races. Once again Rasmussen was in control, snagging his third Cooper Tires Pole Award of the season. Gold and Siegel started second and third.
Rasmussen was untroubled throughout the first race, leading from start to finish and barely blinking an eye even when a hard-earned advantage of 2.5 seconds was nullified after 12 laps by a full-course caution due to a single-car incident at Turn Nine.
Gold was similarly untroubled in second, taking full advantage of the fact that Siegel was far more concerned about defending his third position than challenging for second.
Rookie Christian Brooks (Exclusive Autosport), from Santa Clarita, Calif., kept the pressure on Siegel during the early stages until he, too, began to focus his attentions on keeping determined Englishman Matt Round-Garrido (Pabst Racing) at bay. At half distance, Brooks’ increasingly defensive tactics eventually caught the eye of the race stewards, who, during the caution period, instructed Brooks to cede the position.
Rasmussen again pulled away after the restart, finally taking the checkered flags 2.2147 seconds ahead of Gold. He in turn finished well clear of Siegel, who barely kept Round-Garrido in his mirrors. Yuven Sundaramoorthy (Pabst Racing), from Guilderland, N.Y., also was in close contention.
Another intense battle immediately behind saw Kyle Dupell, from Portland, Ore., edge out Cape Motorsports teammate Josh Green, from Mount Kisco, N.Y. for seventh. Both were chased by Australian Cameron Shields (Legacy Autosport), d’Orlando, who claimed the Tilton Hard Charger Award after starting a lowly 16th, and yesterday’s second-place finisher Eduardo Barrichello, who struggled to an 11th-place finish for Pabst Racing.
After an early stoppage to retrieve two cars that had encountered problems before the start of Race 3, Rasmussen maintained his unbeaten streak with another flag-to-flag win this afternoon to continue his perfect season and earn car owner Jay Howard his fifth straight PFC Award.
Behind, all eyes were centered on the scrap for second between teammates Gold and d’Orlando, who muscled past soon after the restart and narrowly held onto his position throughout the 20-lap race. They were separated by less than a half-second at the finish line.
“We had our share of issues early in the weekend, but we got it together, focused on setup and learned a few things,” said d’Orlando. “My run up from 16th to P10 gave me a boost and confidence coming into this race. I was hoping to get closer to Rasmussen but he was really good. I know we can get him sooner or later but this feels really good right now and I’m super excited for the next ones.”
Brooks displayed his increasing confidence by holding onto the two Cape cars and once again finishing as the top rookie in fourth.
A little farther back in fifth, Jack William Miller, 17, from Carmel, Ind., finally translated his occasional strong pace into by far his best finish, fifth, for the Miller Vinatieri Motorsports team. Miller drove beautifully to fend off the attentions of Barrichello and Green, who worked his way purposefully from 11th on the grid.
Dupell finished eighth ahead of Sundaramoorthy, Bijoy Garg (Jay Howard Driver Development), from Atherton, Calif., and Brazilian Kiko Porto (DEForce Racing), who claimed the Tilton Hard Charger Award after starting 18th.
The USF2000 contingent will return to Mid-Ohio for another three races to be held in conjunction with the NTT INDYCAR SERIES on the weekend of August 8/9.
Provisional championship points after five of 17 races:
1. Christian Rasmussen, 163
2. Michael d’Orlando, 97
3. Eduardo Barrichello, 90
4. Reece Gold, 85
5. Josh Green, 78
6. Matt Round-Garrido, 76
7. Christian Brooks, 65
8. Kyle Dupell, 59
9. Cameron Shields, 54
10. Yuven Sundaramoorthy, 53