Sam Corry started 12th on the grid for Friday afternoon’s first of three races that will comprise the Discount Tire Grand Prix of Indianapolis, but he ended the day on the top step of the podium to score his first USF2000 Presented by Cooper Tires victory for VRD Racing. A chaotic fifth round of the season saw four different leaders during the 15-lap race, with Corry, from Cornelius, N.C., taking full advantage of a tangle between Mac Clark (DEForce Racing) and former points leader Simon Sikes (Pabst Racing) to grasp the initiative on the final lap.
Lochie Hughes, from Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia, crossed the line in second place for Jay Howard Driver Development to take over the points lead, mere inches ahead of polesitter Nikita Johnson (VRD Racing), from Gulfport, Fla.
Johnson, who claimed all three bonus points for the pole, fastest lap and most laps led, laid out his stall Thursday by pacing the field both in the two hours of testing and official practice later in the afternoon. Even though conditions were dramatically different Friday morning, Johnson continued that form on a wet but drying track to secure his first-ever Cooper Tires Pole Award.
The action began at the first corner when second-place qualifier Jacob Douglas (Exclusive Autosport), from Christchurch, New Zealand, clambered over the curbs and was collected by several other cars to ensure a full-course caution.
There was more contact soon after the restart as 14-year-old Max Garcia (Pabst Racing), from Coconut Grove, Fla., missed his braking point at Turn 7 and inadvertently took out both debutant Max Taylor (VRD Racing), from Hoboken, N.J., and local driver Elliot Cox, who had qualified a fine third for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Development. Cue another caution.
The final five laps were held under proper green flag conditions, even though they, too, were peppered with incidents. Johnson staunchly defended his lead at the first restart, but on the second, having been pinned to the inside by a charging Sikes, left his braking a tad too deep and slid wide at the apex, gifting Sikes the lead. It didn’t last for long. A couple of corners later, Hughes, up from 11th on the grid, made an incisive pass on Sikes, who had started fourth, at Turn 3.
It was Hughes’ turn to take on a defensive strategy as the leaders headed down the long front straightaway into Turn 1 for the 12th time. He, too, carried too much speed through the middle of the corner, running out wide and taking Sikes with him. Clark, last year’s USF Juniors Presented by Cooper Tires champion, was the main beneficiary as he slipped past both of them to grasp the advantage ahead of Sikes and Corry, who had steadily moved up the order. For him, the best was yet to come.
When Sikes once again pressured Clark into Turn 1 for the final time, there was a sense of deja vu as the Canadian ran wide at the apex and once again took Sikes with him. On this occasion both ran onto the grass, losing several positions. Sikes subsequently was involved in a separate incident at Turn 5, dropping him to the tail of the field.
Corry grasped the opportunity with both hands, reeling off the final 2.439-mile lap to take a well earned victory. Behind, Hughes barely held off Johnson, who had recovered well after falling to seventh following his earlier incident.
“I started P12 and everyone loves a comeback story,” Corry said afterward. “I just tried to stay out of trouble at the beginning and just try to hit my marks. There was some carnage in front of me and I got out of that clean and led the last lap again just trying to hit my marks and I did and it came to me. The VRD boys put together a really good race car, and I can’t thank them (and my family) enough.”
Danny Dyszelski (VRD Racing), from Belmont, N.C., scored a career best fourth ahead of the recovering Clark, while Chase Gardner (Exclusive Autosport), from Prosper, Texas, picked up the Tilton Hard Charger Award after climbing from 19th on the starting grid to sixth. Clark was later assessed a 30s penalty for avoidable contact, which dropped him to 14th position.
Dan Mitchell, of VRD Racing, claimed his first PFC Award of the season as the winning car owner.
The USF2000 competitors now have a little time to catch their breath and prepare for two more races Saturday at 8:00 a.m. and 12 noon EDT.