Cape Motorsports teammates Michael d’Orlando and Reece Gold each claimed a victory from a pair of exciting Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship races today at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Gold and Eduardo Barrichello (Pabst Racing) shared the second-place finishes, while Nolan Siegel (Jay Howard Driver Development) and Australian Cameron Shields (DEForce Racing) also made podium visits after finishing third.
Incredibly, it’s game-on in the quest for a scholarship valued at over $328,000 to graduate onto the next step of the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder, Indy Pro 2000, in 2021. Just over one week ago, Denmark’s Christian Rasmussen (Jay Howard Driver Development) held a commanding 85-point lead in the standings following a dominant run of six consecutive wins to start the season, including a triple-header sweep at Mid-Ohio in July.
But all of a sudden, that huge advantage has been whittled down to just three points over Gold, who has gone on a tear of his own with eight podium finishes, including two wins, from his last nine starts.
Six races remain, beginning tomorrow morning with the final leg of this weekend’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio tripleheader.
Rasmussen yesterday bounced back from a disappointing event last week on the Indianapolis Grand Prix circuit by scorching to his sixth Cooper Tires Pole Award of the year.
The rapid Dane duly made an exemplary start to lead the ultra-competitive 21-car field around the opening lap, only to overcook the entry to the tricky, uphill Turn 11 and run wide onto the grass at the exit. Rasmussen’s out-of-control Tatuus USF-17 then careened across the race track and into the tire barriers at the Carousel, handing the lead to d’Orlando, who had out-muscled Cape Motorsports teammate Gold at Turn Four.
Rasmussen was fortunate to be able to extricate his car from the tire wall and continue, albeit at the back of the field. His predicament was helped by the fact the Pace Car was deployed following a separate incident between Kyle Dupell (Cape Motorsports) and Jack William Miller (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports) which ended with Dupell’s car embedded in the gravel trap at Turn 8.
D’Orlando, who had qualified third, put his head down at the restart and narrowly held off Gold for the remainder of the 20-lap race to claim a well-deserved maiden victory. The margin between them at the checkered flag was a hair over half a second.
“I saw Rasmussen overshoot Turn 4 and I knew he was going to be pretty aggressive,” d’Orlando said. “I waited to see if he would make a mistake, but I didn’t expect him to throw himself off like that. I feel for him, but that’s the way it goes. From there, I treated it like open lapping, focusing on my marks and my braking points. I knew Reece was back there, putting on pressure; I had to just focus forward.
“Huge thanks to my family, the team and all my sponsors. This is incredible.”
After starting sixth, Rasmussen’s teammate, Siegel, jumped to third on the opening lap. The 15-year-old maintained his position throughout, despite the best efforts of fellow Californian Christian Brooks (Exclusive Autosport), who maintained his strong recent form by working his way impressively from 13th on the grid after a disappointing run yesterday in qualifying. Brooks also was the top rookie finisher. Behind, fellow rookie Josh Green (Cape Motorsports) was involved in an entertaining tussle for fifth with Aussie Shields (DEForce Racing).
Several other performances also were noteworthy. Rasmussen limited the damage to his title hopes by rising to 14th at the finish, and looked set to claim an additional championship point for The Ticket Clinic Fastest Lap Award until being pipped on the final lap by Brazilian Kiko Porto (DEForce Racing). Porto finished seventh but had been closing rapidly on the battle between Green and Shields.
Eduardo Barrichello (Pabst Racing) was similarly impressive. After forging his way into title contention by winning twice last week at Indianapolis, the unfortunate Brazilian had to start at the back of the field for this morning’s race following a technical problem yesterday in qualifying. A fired-up Barrichello posted the drive of the race as he rose to 10th at the finish, earning the Tilton Hard Charger Award.
For Race Two, Gold maintained his recent rush of form by snagging his first Cooper Tires Pole Award during a separate qualifying session on Friday afternoon. He duly led away from the start, chased by Barrichello and Shields. Rasmussen, after qualifying sixth, moved up a couple of positions on the opening lap, but his miserable run of luck continued on Lap 2 when a clash of wheels led to a puncture, which in turn caused him to run off the road and into a spin at Turn 4.
The good news for Rasmussen was that he was able to continue, once again at the back of the pack. This time, though, he was two laps down to the leader, although he did gain a valuable consolation by claiming The Ticket Clinic Fastest Lap Award which in turn guaranteed him pole position for what will be a crucial third race of the weekend tomorrow.
Gold and Barrichello, who shared the victory spoils at Indianapolis, remained locked together at the front of the field throughout the 20-lap race. Try as he might, though, Barrichello could find no chink in Gold’s armor, and it was the 16-year-old American who held on for the win.
Gold ensured a clean sweep of the day’s PFC Awards for brothers Dominic and Nicholas Cape as the winning car owners.
“This feels awesome. We’ve had a lot of seconds and thirds so another win feels great,” Gold said. “We came into the race weekend 50 points behind and now we’re only (three) points back (in the championship chase), so we have a really good shot.
“The track was cold and really slippery for the first race this morning,” Gold continued, “and going into Turn 4, Michael got me on the outside. I’m happy he got the win and I’m happy with the points. It’s a really hard track to pass on and I got close in some points but not close enough to make anything happen – the lap times to catch up this morning came too late to make a difference. We had a great car this afternoon, though, and Dudu was in my mirrors the whole time, but we were able to hold him off. I tried to stay focused and manage the gap, and I’m so glad we were able to get the win.”
Green looked set for a fine third place finish until sliding off the road at Turn 4 on the final lap, gifting the position to Shields. Brooks thus once again finished as the top rookie, fourth, chased home by Englishman Matt Round-Garrido (Pabst Racing) and Miller, who rebounded well from a difficult morning.
This morning’s winner, d’Orlando, drove another fine race, albeit this time having to work his way through the field from 15th on the grid following an accident yesterday in qualifying. He clawed his way to seventh at the finish to secure the Tilton Hard Charger Award.
Another exciting contest is in store tomorrow morning, with the green flag set to fly at 11:15 a.m. EDT, immediately prior to the second NTT IndyCar Series race of the weekend.