MILLVILLE, N.J. – Eduardo Barrichello made his way to victory lane for the third time this season Saturday with an impressive drive in the first of three races of the Andersen Companies USF2000 Grand Prix at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
Barrichello, 19, led throughout a thrilling 20-lap race for Pabst Racing, edging away in the closing stages from Denmark’s Christian Rasmussen, who extended his championship points lead with his eighth podium finish of the season.
Rasmussen barely held off a late challenge from Cape Motorsports’ Michael d’Orlando, from Hartsdale, N.Y., who also drove a fine race after starting back in seventh.
The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship provided some entertaining action on its return to the 2.14-mile Thunderbolt Raceway road course for the first time in more than 10 years.
Barrichello, though, was clearly on a mission.
Following a relatively disappointing outing at Mid-Ohio last month which netted “only” one podium finish from three races, the Brazilian laid down a marker this morning in qualifying by claiming his third Cooper Tires Pole Award.
Barrichello had failed to convert either of his two previous poles into a race win, but there were no hiccups this time around.
He fended off a determined challenge from Rasmussen under braking for turn one and remained in control for the remainder of the race.
Barrichello secured the Ticket Clinic Fastest Lap Award for good measure, with a new lap record of 1:18.2674, making for an average speed of 98.432 mph.
“The Pabst Racing team and I have been working so hard and this is really a team win. I wouldn’t be here without all of them, so I’m happy to give them another win,” said Barrichello. “This track is really fast so it’s hard to follow very closely because of the dirty air, so Christian wasn’t able to get to me. And the track was really dirty so everyone was really loose; we were two seconds slower than qualifying. We all struggled, but I guess I struggled the least.”
Rasmussen remained hot on Barrichello’s heels for the opening five laps, during which the two leaders pulled well clear of the battle for third place.
Rasmussen’s closest championship challenger, Reece Gold, held the pace initially, having fought past Christian Brooks at the first corner – but Gold was clearly unable to match the leaders’ pace.
Gold fell back down the order with severe handling difficulties after clipping a curb in the early laps. He eventually finished a disappointing 15th.
Brooks finally found a way past Gold after four laps and immediately began to close in on the two leaders. He lost some ground with a small mistake on lap 13, but put his head down and gradually closed the gap to Rasmussen, who by this stage had slipped around 1.5 seconds behind the fleeing Barrichello.
Also on the move was d’Orlando, who reduced a deficit of more than four seconds to Brooks down to just a few car lengths with four laps remaining.
The three-car battle for second was only resolved on the final lap when Brooks’ attempt to pass Rasmussen around the outside in turn one ended with the Californian on the grass, which elevated d’Orlando into third place.
He wanted more, too, but Rasmussen was up to the challenge, crossing the line merely .0452 of a second clear of d’Orlando.
Brooks recovered to finish fourth as the top rookie, although he was almost caught on the line by teammate Prescott Campbell, last year’s Lucas Oil Formula Car Series champion, who posted by far his strongest race of the season in fifth.
Australian Cameron Shields finished right on Brooks’ gearbox in sixth.
Jack William Miller, Englishman Matt Round-Garrido, Nolan Siegel and Yuven Sundaramoorthy completed the top 10, although Sundaramoorthy had run as high as seventh before slipping briefly off the road with three laps remaining.
Christian Bogle claimed the Tilton Hard Charger Award after rising from 16th on the grid to 11th.
Augie Pabst earned his third PFC Award of the season as the winning car owner.