Christian Rasmussen strengthened his quest for a second successive Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires driver development ladder championship by scoring another impressive victory in this morning’s second leg of the Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Road America Powered by Elite Engines. Just over a week away from his 21st birthday, Rasmussen, from Copenhagen, Denmark, rebounded from a frightening incident yesterday to battle his way past fellow rookie Reece Gold (Juncos Racing) and win for the fifth time this season for the Jay Howard Driver Development team. The 17th checkered flag of Rasmussen’s Road to Indy career moved him into a tie for fourth on the all-time list.
Gold finished second for the third time in the last four races after an intense battle with Juncos Racing teammate Kyffin Simpson, from Grand Cayman Island.
A third Juncos Racing Tatuus PM-18 driven by Manuel Sulaiman started from pole position after securing his second straight Cooper Tires Pole Award in qualifying yesterday. Sulaiman, the Saturday winner, was flanked by Gold who was still seeking that elusive maiden Indy Pro 2000 victory.
The early stages of the 15-lap race were intense as Rasmussen took on not only the three-car Juncos juggernaut, but also the Exclusive Autosport pair of Artem Petrov and championship aspirant Braden Eves, who were also very much in the mix. Positions changed constantly as they jockeyed for position, with Sulaiman holding the lead for the first two laps before Rasmussen fought his way to the front.
There was a brief respite when Petrov left his braking too late at Turn 5, clipping the rear of Simpson’s car and ending his day with a broken suspension, followed shortly afterward by another caution period after Irishman James Roe’s Turn 3 Motorsport Tatuus understeered into the barriers at Turn Seven due to an apparent mechanical failure.
In the interim, Gold had moved back past Rasmussen into the lead. But he was never able to shake off the Dane, who regained the advantage three laps later at the exit of Turn 5.
This time there was no looking back for Rasmussen. Indeed his task was made a little easier by the fact that Gold had his hands full trying to fend off Simpson, whose rise from eighth on the grid earned him the Tilton Hard Charger Award.
“This feels pretty good; we’re just chipping away. I’m pretty good at putting stuff behind me and focusing on the job at hand, and that’s what we did today. Yesterday was crazy. That’s the worst wreck I’ve had, having two cars flying over the top of my head. I trusted the guys to get the car ready to go and after that, it was up to me. I took the opportunities I was given, and I knew they would be there with the long straights. And we knew the cautions would be tough. With the long front straight, it’s tough to stay in the lead – the draft is huge here, but I made it work for me after the second caution. We just have to do what we need to in order to keep extending the points lead so we can be there at the end.”
Rasmussen extended his lead to 1.6374s at the finish to claim another PFC Award for former USF2000 and Indy Lights champion Jay Howard as the winning car owner. Rasmussen also snagged one additional championship point by virtue of taking The Ticket Clinic Fastest Lap Award.
Eves fought past both Hunter McElrea (Pabst Racing) and Jacob Abel (Abel Motorsports) inside the final four laps to take fourth and ensure that his championship deficit didn’t grow any larger than 18 points.
The second half of the 18-race Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires season will see the series head to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for a double-header on July 3/4 in support of the NTT IndyCar Series.
Provisional championship points after 10 of 18 rounds:
1. Christian Rasmussen, 256
2. Braden Eves, 238
3. Reece Gold, 220
4. Artem Petrov, 200
5. Hunter McElrea, 180
6. Manuel Sulaiman, 170
7. Jacob Abel, 150
8. Kyffin Simpson, 140
9. Wyatt Brichacek, 105
10. James Roe, 104