LEXINGTON, Ohio – No one came close to challenging the dominance of Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship leader Christian Rasmussen Wednesday afternoon during the first of three midweek races comprising the USF2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio presented by Cooper Tires Honoring First Responders.
Rasmussen, from Copenhagen, Denmark, quickly moved up from his third-place starting position for Jay Howard Driver Development, overtook pole winner Eduardo Barrichello of Pabst Racing on the third lap, then simply drove away into the distance at the challenging 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Second-generation Brazilian racer Barrichello held on for a career-best second-place finish, despite a determined challenge from 15-year-old Floridian Reece Gold who also secured his best result to date for Cape Motorsports.
The standalone triple-header race meeting for the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires began with a 30-minute practice session Wednesday morning, followed a couple of hours later by qualifying.
Barrichello, 18, was fastest in both to clinch his first-ever Cooper Tires Pole Award.
Gold was just .0045 of a second adrift to ensure a starting position on the outside of the front row. After winning both season-opening races from the pole at Road America earlier this month, Rasmussen had to be content with a position on row two of the grid alongside Michael d’Orlando of Cape Motorsports.
Barrichello made a good start to maintain his position at the front, but it wasn’t long before Rasmussen was looming large in his mirrors. On the third lap, Rasmussen made a bold move around the outside over the crest of the hill at turn five, which ensured he would have the inside line as the two leaders plunged downhill again into Turn Six.
It was a fine maneuver, and thereafter he was in a class of his own as he set and reset fastest lap of the race before finally taking the checkered flag a massive 12.7818 seconds clear of Barrichello.
“I’m so happy with the result, pulling it off again today,” said Rasmussen. “I had a great car right off the truck and made a few changes after qualifying, and they were spot on so thanks to the team. It was a short day but I have so many laps here between tests, USF2000 and F4, so I know my way around. The plan is always to win so today definitely went according to plan – I got around Reece at the start, then Eduardo made a small mistake and I managed to get by, but it’s those small things that make the race.
“The plan for tomorrow is to go for two more.”
Rasmussen’s magnificent effort ensured a third successive PFC Award for team owner Jay Howard, who himself is a former champion in both USF2000 and Indy Lights.
Barrichello looked to have second place fairly comfortably within his grasp at the halfway point in the 20-lap race. But Gold had other ideas.
The youngster from Miami, Fla., closed inexorably during the final stages without ever quite getting close enough to cause Barrichello too much concern.
Behind, Gold’s teammate d’Orlando also was part of the battle until he had to fend off the attentions of Matt Round-Garrido from Pabst Racing.
After starting a lowly 15th, the Englishman made rapid progress through the order, earning the Tilton Hard Charger Award as he finished fifth, hot on the heels of d’Orlando.
Unfortunately, another Cape vs. Pabst battle had ended in tears early in the race when Josh Green, a podium finisher at Road America, tangled with Yuven Sundaramoorthy in the Carousel on the opening lap.
Christian Brooks finished a distant sixth, followed closely by Kyle Dupell, with USF2000 debutant Kiko Porto taking eighth for DEForce Racing.
Australian Cameron Shields and Californian Bijoy Garg completed the top 10.
Jack William Miller displayed prodigious pace – setting the second fastest lap of the race – for Miller Vinatieri Motorsports. Unfortunately, he finished two laps off the pace in 16th after his car failed to fire up on the starting grid.