The final two rounds of the Discount Tire Grand Prix of Indianapolis saw the top three drivers in the USF2000 Presented by Cooper Tires point standings share dual podium honors with Simon Sikes of Pabst Racing taking the win in race two and Lochie Hughes of Jay Howard Driver Development further extending his championship lead with a victory in race three.
Nikita Johnson of VRD Racing capped off two podium finishes of third with a second-place drive in the final 15-lap event.
The first of Saturday’s pair of races saw Johnson, from Gulfport, Fla., once again starting at the front of the field having earned his second successive Cooper Tires Pole Award. But the young Floridian found himself under attack the moment the green flag fell.
Remarkably, having lined up sixth on the grid, it was one of Johnson’s VRD Racing teammates, Danny Dyszelski, from Belmont, N.C., who drove around the outside of everyone at Turn 1 to emerge in the lead from Sikes, who started second, and Johnson.
The more experienced Sikes soon dispatched Dyszelski to assume the top position, which he was able to hold for the remainder of the 15-lap race to clinch his second victory of the season.
Sikes, from Atlanta, Ga., fought off his pursuers following a couple of full-course caution periods, then put his head down and set the fastest laps of the race as he edged clear of the battle for second between championship rival Hughes and Johnson.
Hughes, from Surfers Paradise, Queensland, Australia, who started second, drove well to regain ground after being elbowed out on the opening lap and falling to seventh. The Australian narrowly held off Johnson at the checkered flag.
Mac Clark (DEForce Racing), from Milton, Ont., Canada finished fourth ahead of Friday winner Sam Corry (VRD Racing), from Cornelius, N.C., then New Zealander Jacob Douglas (Exclusive Autosport) and local resident Elliot Cox (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Development), who claimed the Tilton Hard Charger Award after fighting his way to climbing from 18th on the starting grid to seventh.
The third race of an eventful Discount Tire Grand Prix of Indianapolis had Sikes claiming another successive Cooper Tires Pole Award by virtue of setting the fastest lap of the weekend during the earlier encounter. A four-wide battle heading into Turn 1 saw Sikes on the bottom and shuffled back to sixth as Evagoras Papasavvas of Jay Howard Driver Development, who started third, become the star of the opening lap as he moved into the lead.
The caution flags flew before the end of the first tour due to contact between two drivers and when the race resumed on lap four, Hughes took full command followed by Johnson in second, Papasavvas and Sikes.
Sikes continued to use his experience to advantage and when the yellow came out three laps later for an incident involving local driver Elliot Cox of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Development and Friday’s race winner Sam Corry of VRD Racing, he had advanced to second behind Hughes with Johnson in third and Papasavvas fourth.
After repairs to the tire wall following the incident, the scene was set for a three-lap shootout. Impressively, 14-year-old Max Garcia of Coconut Grove, Fla., found himself in the mix. The Pabst Racing driver slotted into third from eighth at the restart with Johnson settling in to second while Sikes was displaced to fourth.
Hughes comfortably maintained the point to continue his streak of winning one race in every event held to date this season.
“I am super happy to win race three,” Hughes said. “I mean, what a place to win. I can’t thank the team enough. It has been a tough weekend finishing second every single race so far. To finally come out on top is just such a relief and I can’t thank the team enough. It is cool to win for my mom on Mother’s Day as well so hi to them back home.”
Sikes, while not a winner this time around, was still positive.
“We started on pole, which is obviously where you always want to start but it quickly went downhill from there,” he said. “I had a bit of a rough start and got into the grass on the exit of Turn 2 and unfortunately fell back to sixth place. We went under the safety car pretty quickly and then I had an awesome restart and was able to get all the way back up into second before another yellow. I got the worse at the restart and knocked back a few spots but was able to have a great battle with my teammate Max Garcia for the final spot on the podium on the last lap. I am really happy for Pabst Racing to put another one on the podium.”
Garcia ended the day fourth with Ethan Ho of Los Angeles, Calif., showing impressive form for DC Autosport to round out the top five.
Zack Ping from Buford, Ga., picked up the final Tilton Hard Charger Award of the weekend for VRD Racing with a gain of eight positions to finish 11th.
Augie Pabst and Jay Howard took home the PFC Awards as the winning car owners.
The USF2000 teams and drivers will remain in the Indianapolis area for their next round on Friday night, May 26, their only chance of the season to compete on an oval track at Lucas Oil Raceway Park.