MILLVILLE, N.J. – Christian Rasmussen clinched the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Sunday following an impressive sweep of the final two races of USF2000 Grand Prix at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
Along with the championship will go a scholarship valued at over $328,000 to graduate into the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, the next rung on the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder, in 2021.
“We knew that if we had a very good weekend that we could clinch, but we just took it one race at a time,” said Rasmussen. “I’m so happy for myself and for the team. We can celebrate now and go after it at St. Pete. I’m so proud of the job the entire team did this year. It’s only our second year in the series, and we’ve come a long way. They did such an amazing job.”
Rasmussen also clinched the first championship for the Jay Howard Driver Development team, ending a streak of nine consecutive titles for Cape Motorsports, which gained some consolation by wrapping up this year’s team championship on Sunday.
Four different drivers shared the podiums with Rasmussen Sunday. Australian Cameron Shields and yesterday’s winner, Brazilian Eduardo Barrichello, chased him home Sunday morning, while a pair of rookies, Josh Green and Prescott Campbell, secured honors in a wet weekend closer.
Rasmussen has had a roller-coaster ride this year. He began with a stunning sequence of six wins, then saw a massive championship lead dwindle from 87 points to just three before coming back on strong again to win three out the most recent four races. After a second-place finish on Saturday, Rasmussen began this morning by claiming his eighth Cooper Tires Pole Award of the season during qualifying.
He immediately took control of the race by completing the first lap more than 1.2 seconds clear of Shields, who started on the outside of the front row. Thereafter Rasmussen was content to not over-tax his Cooper tires and remain just far enough ahead of the Australian to ensure there could be no serious threat to his lead.
In stark contrast to a thrilling opening race of the weekend Saturday, race two was remarkably tame. Barrichello chased Shields throughout the 20-lap contest while at the same time coming under increasing pressure from d’Orlando in the closing stages. The top four crossed the finish line covered by just over two seconds but their positions had remained unchanged.
After qualifying sixth, Yuven Sundaramoorthy managed to sneak past erstwhile championship contender Reece Gold on the third lap. He made not the hint of a mistake to effectively end Gold’s title aspirations.
Several drivers took the opportunity to take on a fresh set of Cooper Tires during the race in hopes of claiming The Ticket Clinic Fastest Lap Award, which would in turn secure pole position for the final race of the weekend. That honor was claimed by Jay Howard Driver Development teenager Nolan Siegel, who established a new race lap record of 1:17.7495, an average speed of 99.087 mph.
Siegel duly led the opening three laps of the final race of the weekend, which began on a dry track but with clouds looming ever darker, only to be greeted by a sudden rain squall as he led the field into Turn Four the next time around. Siegel, along with a few other drivers, unwittingly skated off the road, forcing race officials to display the red flag and allow time for everyone to switch onto wet-weather Cooper tires.
Siegel’s misfortune handed the advantage to Shields, but it wasn’t long before Rasmussen began to pile on the pressure. Sure enough, on lap eight, Rasmussen swept past serenely on the outside line at turn one, then romped away to a clear victory. His final margin of victory was 9.9579 seconds.
Rasmussen’s pair of wins increased his tally on the year to nine, which, allied to three more wins during his rookie campaign in 2019, took his career total to 12 – second equal with fellow former champions J.R. Hildebrand (2006) and Kyle Kirkwood (2018) on the all-time list, just one behind 1993 champion Chris Simmons. Rasmussen also snared two more PFC Awards for former series champion Jay Howard as the winning team owner.