A thrilling first of three races that will comprise the Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix of Indianapolis Presented by Cooper Tires this afternoon saw Jay Howard Driver Development’s Christian Rasmussen cross the yard of bricks a scant 0.0713s ahead of Braden Eves (Exclusive Autosport). The two most recent Cooper Tires USF2000 champions are now tied on points at the head of this year’s Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, the next rung on the Road to Indy open-wheel racing development ladder, with five out of 18 races in the books.
After claiming his first Cooper Tires Pole Award in qualifying on Friday, fellow USF2000 graduate Reece Gold (Juncos Racing) had to be content with a third-place finish.
Gold desperately defended the inside line under braking for the tight Turn 1, but even that wasn’t enough to prevent Eves, who had qualified second, from nipping past on the exit to claim the early advantage. A little farther around the lap, Rasmussen also managed to sneak past Gold under braking for Turn 7. There was more shuffling for positions in their wake as a midfield incident resulted in Hunter McElrea (Pabst Racing) and Wyatt Brichacek (Jay Howard Driver Development) both headed to the pit lane for repairs.
The three leaders quickly edged away from Enaam Ahmed (RP Motorsport USA), who soon came under pressure from Kyffin Simpson aboard a second Juncos Racing Tatuus PM-18. Simpson made the move for fourth place on the fifth lap and then turned a series of quick laps to home in on the three leaders.
Eves displayed astonishing consistency at the front, turning the next five laps all within two hundredths of a second of each other. But he was unable to break clear of either Rasmussen or Gold, who claimed The Ticket Clinic Fastest Lap Award on his third time around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn Indianapolis Grand Prix road course.
Eves looked relatively comfortable as the race entered its closing stages, holding an advantage of about one second over Rasmussen, who in turn remained under pressure from Gold.
Then, with six laps remaining, the caution flags flew after Ahmed’s car ground to a halt on the front straightaway. Eves’ advantage was immediately cut to just a car length as the protagonists prepared for a restart with four laps to go.
Eves accelerated early out of Turn 13, hoping to steal a march on Rasmussen, but his ploy was unsuccessful. The Dane remained glued to Eves’ rear wing on the long drag race toward Turn 1, and even though Eves defended his inside line resolutely, Rasmussen determinedly held on around the outside of the first, tight, right-hand turn in order to gain the more advantageous line into Turn 2. Job done — or so it seemed. Eves tried one last-ditch attempt to repass his rival during a late lunge down the inside under braking for Turn 13 on the final lap, but Rasmussen was not to be denied, holding on to take the checkered flags just in front to secure his second successive victory. He also claimed another PFC Award for Jay Howard as the winning car owner.
“It means so much for me to win here. I’ve struggled here over the years and I’m glad to show people that I can actually race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” said Rasmussen. “This was the only place on the Road to Indy calendar that I needed to earn a podium at to be able to say that I have a podium at every track.
“I thought I could get both of them on the start but was only able to get Reece. Once he got into the lead, I couldn’t get close to Braden. But when the yellow came out, I took advantage of that. It was a great race for me and great points in the championship. Obviously, Braden is the guy to beat now and we’re even in points. I’m looking forward to even more tomorrow!”
Juncos teammates Gold and Simpson took third and fourth, followed by Russia’s Artem Petrov and Jacob Abel (Abel Motorsports), from Louisville, Ky., who recovered nicely after slipping to 11th in the early stages.
Pabst Racing’s Colin Kaminsky, from Homer Glen, Ill., took the Tilton Hard Charger Award after rising from 11th on the grid to seventh.
A busy week for the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires will continue with another pair of 25-lap races tomorrow at 7:50 a.m. and 11:40 a.m. ET.