A hectic day of racing for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship saw Jace Denmark (Pabst Racing) and Michael d’Orlando (Cape Motorsports) each claim a victory as part of the Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Road America Powered by Elite Engines.
Denmark led only one of the 12 laps in the opening race but it was the most important one as he slipped past teammate Myles Rowe on the final circuit to snatch away the victory — his second of the season. Billy Frazer nished third for Exclusive Autosport.
Championship leader d’Orlando maintained his rich vein of form by earning his second and third Cooper Tires Pole Awards during a pair of qualifying sessions on Friday. But his lead didn’t last for long in the first encounter as Frazer took advantage of the draft to slip ahead even before Turn One on the opening lap. The first half of the 12-lap contest was blighted by a series of incidents, after which there was a thrilling battle for the top positions.
Frazer held the lead at the final restart, but this time the boot was on the other foot as Rowe, who had been running second, immediately drafted past to take the lead. A little farther around the 4.014-mile lap, Frazer also came under attack from d’Orlando, whose attempt to make a pass around the outside line in Turn 5 was firmly rebuffed.
A few corners later, in Turn 8, d’Orlando dived to the inside of Frazer under braking but succeeded only in initiating contact between the two cars. It was d’Orlando who came off worst as he fell to the back of the pack.
Denmark gratefully moved from fourth to second as the two Pabst cars pulled clear of the field to decide the outcome of the race between themselves. On the final lap, Denmark once again used the big draft to his benefit as he slipped past Rowe heading into Turn One, then held off his teammate at the flag to win by just 0.3126s and snare a fourth PFC Award of the year for team owner Augie Pabst.
“It was a tough one, definitely well earned as there was a lot of racing going on,” Denmark said. “The start wasn’t very good but we got back to fight for the podium halfway through and then, just as opportunities came through, I took them. I made my way up from fourth to second and second to first. For the team, it doesn’t hit home more than this race. It is so awesome to win here. It’s beautiful weather, a beautiful track, our hometown race — everything just came together perfectly for a one-two.”
Frazer had to be content with third despite leading the most laps, while Dylan Christie (DEForce Racing) earned his career best result in fourth. Jackson Lee (Cape Motorsports) appeared to have done the same, crossing the line in fifth, only to be later penalized 30 seconds for his involvement in an incident earlier in the race.
A little farther back in eighth, Jacob Douglas (Exclusive Autosport) secured his first top-10 result, along with the Tilton Hard Charger Award, after having started way back in 19th.
Race 2 also brought plenty of drama, including a red-flag stoppage following a brief rain shower on the back side of the track. At the restart, d’Orlando put his earlier disappointment behind him by fending off a determined challenge from Rowe to secure his second win of the season and a third PFC Award for team owners Dominic and Nicholas Cape.
“It was a crazy race. Crazy day!” said d’Orlando. “I started on pole for both races today. Race 1 I ended up getting into contact with Billy Frazer in Turn 8 which ended up putting me back to 15th, but that was a lost cause — the race was in the past, so I just had to move on, learn from mistakes and go on to this one, which … I definitely learned from my mistakes. I led the entire race.
“Myles definitely gave me a huge battle the entire time and then halfway through, when we came in for the red flag, because of the maybe rain, maybe not situation, that definitely had me on edge, but going out for those next two pace laps really made me feel more comfortable with the track again, going back at it. What a fantastic weekend. I can’t thank everyone enough: Cape Motorsports, Rising Star Racing, DB Collaborative, all my supporters, my family, for making this possible for me.”
The two leaders broke clear of DEForce Racing teammates Nepveu and Bijoy Garg, from Atherton, Calif., during the final couple of laps, with Denmark and Christie, after another strong performance, rounding out the top six.
Spike Kohlbecker (Turn 3 Motorsport) took home the Tilton Hard Charger Award after rising from 17th on the grid to 10th.
The championship is now finely poised with 10 of 18 races in the books. Rowe’s first runner-up finish of the day enabled him to briefly grasp the points lead, but d’Orlando’s bounce-back sees him back on top, 217 points to 211.
The Team championship also is in the balance. An excellent day for Pabst Racing at its home track was enough to vault past perennial rivals Cape Motorsports and take a narrow lead 243-232, as the series heads next to a triple-header event at the Mid-Ohio Sports Course in Lexington, Ohio, on July 1-2-3.
Provisional championship points after 10 of 18 races:
1. Michael d’Orlando, 217
2. Myles Rowe, 211
3. Jace Denmark, 192
4. Billy Frazer, 184
5. Jagger Jones, 180
6. Bijoy Garg, 159
7. Thomas Nepveu, 154
8. Spike Kohlbecker, 127
9. Christian Weir, 123
10. Simon Sikes, 119