A thrilling third race to complete the weekend’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio saw Denmark’s Christian Rasmussen reassert himself at the top of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship following his seventh win of the season for Jay Howard Driver Development.
After scoring his first-ever Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires victory yesterday, Michael d’Orlando had to be content with second place this morning after leading for a goodly portion of the 20-lap race. Cape Motorsports teammate Reece Gold claimed yet another podium finish in third after forging past impressive early leader Simon Sikes (Legacy Autosport) in the closing stages.
Rasmussen, 20, started from the pole position by virtue of posting the fastest lap in yesterday’s second leg of the triple-header weekend. The track was still damp following some heavy rain earlier in the day, and while Rasmussen was content to be a little cautious on the opening lap, mindful of his slender three-point championship lead, outside front row starter Sikes took full advantage by driving around the outside at Turn 2 to grasp the lead heading onto the back straightaway.
Rasmussen also was under pressure from behind as the Cape Motorsports trio of Gold, who produced a fine opening lap to jump from sixth on the grid to third, d’Orlando, up from seventh, and rookie Josh Green all jockeyed for position.
Once into his groove as the track dried out and lap times tumbled, Rasmussen took advantage of a better exit from Turn 2 on the sixth lap to slip past Sikes and regain the lead before the braking area for Turn 4.
Behind Sikes in second place, Gold and d’Orlando traded positions several times prior to a brief full-course caution due to a spin for USF2000 debutant Josh Sarchet (DEForce Racing). D’Orlando took the restart in third but quickly was able to draft past Sikes entering Turn 4. Next in his sights was Rasmussen.
On Lap 10, d’Orlando repeated his earlier move to grasp the lead and seemed to be breaking away from Rasmussen until missing his braking point at the Carousel on Lap 15 and sliding wide. A grateful Rasmussen slipped through to regain the lead once more.
The top two traded fastest lap times over the course of the final five laps but it was Rasmussen who finally secured one more crucial championship point and The Ticket Clinic Fastest Lap Award on the very last lap. Rasmussen crossed the finish line 2.2626 seconds clear of a disappointed d’Orlando, who earned some consolation by claiming the Tilton Hard Charger Award.
“I’m definitely relieved! The conditions made it difficult – there was no standing water but we had some damp areas early on,” related Rasmussen. “We could see that it caught some of the IndyCar drivers out at the end of qualifying so we knew it would be an interesting start. I was careful because I knew the car would be faster toward the end. I started to close the gap on him and d’Orlando made a mistake in the Carousel and I was able to take the lead.
“We’ve been struggling in the past few races and it’s been a difficult time. But we’ve bounced back – I’ve definitely matured as a driver this weekend and that will benefit me for the rest of my career. I’m happy to be back where I think we’re supposed to be. We’ve been the fastest car all weekend but we just haven’t been able to show it. I’m going home tonight so I’ll have some time to decompress, work through everything and work on what will make me a better race car driver.”
Gold maintained his impressive tally of nine podium finishes in the last 10 races after slicing past Sikes with five laps remaining. Sikes, the current F1600 Championship Series point leader, held on to finish fourth ahead of Cameron Shields (DEForce Racing).
Pabst Racing teammates Matt Round-Garrido and Eduardo Barrichello took seventh ahead of Christian Brooks (Exclusive Autosport), who overtook the fading Green for top rookie honors in the closing stages.
Rasmussen’s performance earned another PFC Award for former series champion Jay Howard as the winning car owner. It also ensured he will head to the next trio of races at New Jersey Motorsports Park on October 10-11 with a slightly more comfortable 14-point edge over Gold in the quest for the scholarship worth over $328,000 to graduate into the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires in 2021.