MONTEREY, Calif. — The first rung on the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder provided some of the best entertainment this afternoon at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and ensured that the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship will remain undecided until tomorrow’s conclusion of the 15-race season.
Denmark’s Christian Rasmussen continued his recent run of success by claiming an emphatic victory for Jay Howard Driver Development, while New Zealander Hunter McElrea (Pabst Racing) finished second and claimed a bonus point for setting the fastest lap of the race. McElrea’s teammate, Colin Kaminsky finished third ahead of Cape Motorsports’ Braden Eves, who was unable to match the speed he had displayed yesterday when claiming the pole position.
McElrea now leads Eves by 12 points, 342-330, although he will be obliged to start 18th and last for tomorrow’s season finale following a mechanical problem in qualifying this morning while Eves will line up in third.
Pabst Racing’s double podium finish stretched its lead in the Team Championship to 14 points over Cape Motorsports, 384-370.
Eves laid out his stall by utilizing two of his weekend allocation of three sets of Cooper tires during qualifying yesterday afternoon. The ploy enabled him to claim pole position – and a potentially vital championship point – but it became apparent soon after the start of the 20-lap race that Pabst Racing’s tactic of saving a fresh set of tires for the race was the more optimal solution.
After desperately clinging onto his advantage for the opening two laps, Eves fell an easy victim at the Mario Andretti Hairpin to Rasmussen, who had displaced McElrea from second place at the start. Once into the lead, Rasmussen, 19, quickly romped clear to claim his third win of the season and another PFC Award for team owner Jay Howard.
Eves narrowly maintained third place for the next couple of laps until he bowed to the inevitable and both McElrea and Kaminsky swept past into second and third. McElrea then posted a string of fastest race laps but Rasmussen was already out of reach and the Kiwi had to be content with his 12th podium finish of the season.
Fortunately for Eves, instead of plummeting further down the field, he now had the luxury of being pursued by teammate Jak Crawford, who dutifully maintained position and at the same time prevented Eves from coming under attack from Brazilian second-generation racer Eduardo Barrichello (DEForce Racing).