The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship drivers staged an enthralling second leg of the Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Road America Powered by Elite Engines this morning as Canadian rookie Thomas Nepveu (Cape Motorsports) emerged triumphant by just 0.0679s over Legacy Autosport’s Simon Sikes. It was the first podium finish for both. Josh Pierson finished third for the locally based Pabst Racing team.
The 12-lap race around the classic 4.014-mile Road America venue began inauspiciously as a series of incidents on the opening lap necessitated a full-course caution. The hot-and-heavy action continued at the restart, but somehow the remainder of the race remained green.
After taking the championship lead by winning yesterday from the pole, Kiko Porto had every intention of extending his advantage with a repeat performance today after once again gaining the Cooper Tires Pole Award for DEForce Racing. But there were 24 other young chargers who were equally intent upon stopping his win streak at one, including teammates Nolan Siegel and Prescott Campbell, who had qualified second and third.
A pair of Cape Motorsports cars also were in the mix at the restart, and when the leading DEForce pair of Campbell and Porto exchanged positions at Turn 1, Nepveu also slipped past Siegel into third. Nepveu then managed to out-brake both Porto and Campbell in an audacious maneuver at Turn 5 to lead a USF2000 race for the very first time.
Nepveu and Campbell traded places a couple of times over the next two laps, which allowed Sikes, up from 10th on the grid, to join in the lead battle.
An intense battle between Campbell and Sikes gave Nepveu the opportunity to eke out a little breathing room in front, but not for long. After Sikes managed to edge clear of Campbell, who unfortunately retired to the pits shortly thereafter, he homed in on Nepveu to commence one final push for the victory. Nepveu, though, was up for the challenge, driving some defensive lines and holding on impressively to score a well-deserved maiden victory.
“I’ve been working toward this since I joined the series and I didn’t think it would come this fast,” said Nepveu. “The Cape guys gave me a great car, it was on rails today. It’s been good all week but I couldn’t put it together – but it all came together today.
“I had a great start, and that really set up the whole race. Then I had a great restart, going from fourth to third on the front straight and got the two other DEForce guys on the back straight. They’ve been so quick all week long. From there on, it was just about holding the position. Once I was able to get away a bit, I was just hitting my marks and focusing forward, and I had a good gap until Simon caught me. I saw him coming in my mirrors and once he got by Prescott, I knew it was going to be tough. I just had to focus and defend the best I could.”
Sikes had to be content with second at the checkered flag – and a bonus point for setting the fastest race lap – while 15-year-old Pierson enjoyed a relatively lonely run to third to pick up his fifth podium finish of the season.
More hectic squabbling in their wake saw Josh Green, from Mount Kisco, N.Y., emerge in fourth for Turn 3 Motorsport, followed by Porto who recovered nicely after falling as low as 10th in the middle stages. The result enabled Porto to extend his series lead to 15 points over local favorite Yuven Sundaramoorthy (Pabst Racing), who fought back magnificently from the back of the huge pack after being involved in an incident on the opening lap.
A little farther back in the field, rookie Billy Frazer garnered his first Tilton Hard Charger Award after climbing from 22nd on the grid to 13th.
Finally, Nepveu’s effort ensured a second PFC Award of the season for winning car owners Dominic and Nicholas Cape.
Next up for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship is a triple-header weekend in concert with the NTT IndyCar Series at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on the July 3-4 weekend.
Provisional championship points after 10 of 18 races:
1. Kiko Porto, 220
2. Yuven Sundaramoorthy, 205
3. Josh Pierson, 192
4. Michael d’Orlando, 191
5. Christian Brooks, 182
6. Prescott Campbell, 150
7. Spike Kohlbecker, 147
8. Josh Green, 142
9. Thomas Nepveu, 137
10. Jace Denmark, 118