By Tony DiZinno

It’s a dominant drive for Kyle Kirkwood in Round 5 of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda, with a flag-to-flag win from pole position in the time-shortened race from Lucas Oil Raceway.

A planned 75-lap race, the Cooper Tires Freedom 75, was shortened to a timed 30-minute race – just 58 laps – on the 0.686-mile oval because of two full-course cautions for incidents. One of them involved Kirkwood’s closest championship rival, Alex Baron.

The engines were fired at 6:08 p.m. ET for USF2000’s first and only oval race of the year, with the 75-lap Cooper Tires Freedom 75 ready to launch from Lucas Oil Raceway.

Field forms up nicely and takes the green flag second time by with Kirkwood and Lindh leading the field to green.

Baron immediately is on the move up to third by the end of the first lap after completing a three wide pass past Donegan and Kohl, where Donegan was sandwiched in the middle.

At Lap 5, Kirkwood leads Lindh, Baron, Kohl, Frederick in the top five with Donegan, Keane, Sierra, Fraga and Ming in the top 10. Dupell, 21st and last, is 11.6293 seconds back – so roughly half a lap down. Thompson lost the 2016 race in traffic so how Kirkwood handles traffic when he gets there will be key to note.

At Lap 10 the order is identical all the way from first to 21st with no major battles. Dupell is 17.3039 seconds back so we are only five seconds away from the leaders catching the tail end of traffic.

Blue flag is displayed to Dupell as Kirkwood completes Lap 16 with a 2.6163 second lead over Lindh. He’s past Dupell at the end of Lap 17 and start of Lap 18, on the inside and into Turn 1. This means the leaders will be in traffic for the rest of the race.

At Lap 25 we are one third of the way through the race. The full order is Kirkwood, having led all 25 laps so far, with nearly a four second lead over Lindh, Baron third, then Kohl and Frederick in the top five. Then it’s Donegan, Keane, Sierra, Fraga and Ming in the top 10, van der Watt, Cabrera, Enders, Holden, Kaminsky, Soler-Obel and Tomaselli on the lead lap with Osborne, McDonough, DeLuzuriaiga and Dupell.

The race and potentially the championship take a big turn on Lap 29, as Baron is in the wall at Turn 3 with a broken beyond repair No. 19 Swan-RJB Motorsports car. He was trying to lap BN Racing’s McDonough, and McDonough pits his car with front wing damage. Baron’s out of the car and out of the race; this is a big hit to his title hopes as he entered the race 13 points behind Kirkwood. Now he’ll finish either 20th or 21st in this race.

This brings out a full-course caution and helps the Pabst Racing trio of Lindh, Frederick and Kohl move up to second, third and fourth. Lindh will be right behind Kirkwood on this restart but one of the Newman Wachs Racing cars, Osborne, is sandwiched in-between Lindh and the other two Pabst cars.

Restart occurs at the end of Lap 40, start of Lap 41. Kirkwood gets a great jump on Lindh, and Osborne stays low through Turns 1 and 2 to get out of the way.

However the yellow flag flies again just after the restart, as Zach Holden’s No. 10 DEForce Racing car is actually riding over the back of Julian van der Watt’s No. 80 Team Pelfrey car exiting Turn 2. They come to a rest at the entrance to Turn 3. Van der Watt had restarted in 10th place while Holden had restarted in 13th. This is a tough hit for van der Watt, as the South African driver had quietly leapt to fifth in the points entering the race.

There are 30 laps to go during this second full course yellow and the revised order up front is Kirkwood, Lindh, Frederick, Kohl, Donegan, Sierra, Fraga, Keane, Ming and Cabrera in the top 10.

Somehow, though, neither van der Watt nor Holden’s cars appear that damaged and they both drive around to the pits, despite the odd looking accident. However Holden and van der Watt both climb from their cars once they are in the pits.

Lights are out on the pace car at the end of Lap 49 and we are back green on Lap 50, with 26 laps to go. Frederick makes a run past Lindh and is by the red-haired Swede at Turns 1 and 2 for second. Frederick holds off Lindh’s re-pass attempt through Turns 3 and 4. Further back, Fraga is working on Donegan for sixth as Sierra had passed the Irishman a lap earlier for fifth.

However because of the cautions, this becomes a 30-minute timed race, so there are only 58 laps completed.

Kirkwood wins over Frederick with a winning victory margin of 1.2695 seconds. The teenager leads Pabst’s trio, with Lindh in third and Kohl in fourth. Sierra, who started 10th, moves up five positions to fifth for DEForce Racing.

Kirkwood entered with only a 13-point lead over Baron but will gap him by an additional 40-plus points (at least 45 to 2 for this race alone), owing to the increased points percentage for the oval race.

After the race, Kirkwood told TSO Ladder that his Memphis test helped him understand how to drive an oval but not to race it. Also, he said he was able to restart better here versus the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. He didn’t have any issues on either restart and brought it home for his third win of the year. He hated that Baron had the incident – he didn’t wish any ill will on him – but didn’t mind the fact this result helps his points gap.

For Frederick, his first podium of the year was overdue, and came after a patient run to get past Lindh for second.

The series is off until Road America, the weekend of June 22-24.

Cooper Tires Freedom 75 – Unofficial Results

P No Name Team Laps Diff
1 8 Kyle Kirkwood Cape Motorsports 58
2 24 Kaylen Frederick Pabst Racing 58 1.2695
3 23 Rasmus Lindh Pabst Racing 58 1.9099
4 22 Lucas Kohl Pabst Racing 58 3.5994
5 12 Jose Sierra DEForce Racing 58 4.7860
6 30 Keith Donegan ArmsUp Motorsports 58 5.2606
7 91 Igor Fraga Exclusive Autosport 58 6.0105
8 36 Darren Keane Newman Wachs Racing 58 6.9243
9 21 Calvin Ming Pabst Racing 58 8.2575
10 90 Manuel Cabrera Exclusive Autosport 58 8.8193
11 11 Kory Enders DEForce Racing 58 10.0898
12 5 Mathias Soler-Obel Sol.O Racing 58 11.7898
13 27 Colin Kaminsky DEForce Racing 58 12.4723
14 82 Bruna Tomaselli Team Pelfrey 58 14.2833
15 37 David Osborne Newman Wachs Racing 57 1 LAPS
16 38 Oscar DeLuzuriaga Newman Wachs Racing 57 1 LAPS
17 81 Kyle Dupell Team Pelfrey 57 1 LAPS
18 10 Zach Holden DEForce Racing 41 Contact
19 80 Julian Van der Watt Team Pelfrey 40 Contact
20 29 Russell McDonough BN Racing 30 Contact
21 19 Alex Baron Swan-RJB Motorsports 28 Contact