Jace Denmark in the No. 23 Pabst Racing, Radford Racing School/Metal Works Tatuus, emerged victorious after a battle with his teammate in race one today. Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography/Road to Indy

By Tony DiZinno

The lead on-track and in the championship changed again in Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship in the first race of the weekend at the 4.014-mile, 14-turn Road America.

Michael d’Orlando entered Saturday morning as the points leader and polesitter and by race’s end, he wasn’t P1 in either. Jace Denmark captured a last-lap victory for Pabst Racing, while his teammate Myles Rowe has provisionally moved to the points lead. 

Despite a slight delay in the 21 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship cars arriving in the false grid – and a polite message from Race Control indicating the drivers needed to get a move on to arrive – the 12-lap Round 9 of the Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Road America Powered by Elite Engines went green on time at 11 a.m. CDT and local time.

Billy Frazer made a great start in his No. 92 Corpay Cross-Border Solutions Tatuus for Exclusive Autosport, jumping from third to first on the inside into Turn 1 off the start. A little further behind, Jagger Jones went off course at Turn 3 and fell down the order.

Frazer had to defend from polesitter and points leader Michael d’Orlando in the No. 4 Focused Project Management entry for Cape Motorsports. D’Orlando tried back around the outside at Turn 5 but lost momentum on exit with Frazer able to retain the lead ahead of Myles Rowe, who moved up to second in his No. 22 Penske Entertainment supported car for Pabst Racing, d’Orlando in third, Jace Denmark down to fourth in his No. 23 Radford Racing School/Metal Works Pabst entry and Dylan Christie fifth in the first of the DEForce Racing cars. Christie’s teammate Thomas Nepveu advanced four spots up to 10th from 14th; another Cape car on the move was Jackson Lee, up three spots from P11 to P8.

A full course caution flew on Lap 2 for a spun and stalled Evagoras Papasavvas at the Kink, the Kirkland, Wash. native in his series debut for Jay Howard Development Racing. 

After three laps behind the safety car, the race resumed under green at the conclusion of Lap 4 and start of Lap 5, albeit not for long.

Rowe tried around the outside of Frazer at Turn 1 on the restart but fell back into line behind him with d’Orlando, Denmark, Christie and Nikita Johnson in tow. Denmark though got a great run into T5 and got past both d’Orlando and Rowe. Contact between Burke and Johnson when battling over sixth at T5 resulted in a departed front wing and Johnson’s stalled car, precipitating another full-course caution. 

In the very brief green flag time, Nepveu gained another four spots from 10th up to sixth. So he was up eight total spots in 1.5 total green flag spots. Another big mover was Nicky Hays in another Cape car. He’d been 11th at the end of Lap 2, and was up to ninth at the end of Lap 5.

The next restart came at the end of Lap 6, and start of Lap 7 in the 12-lap race.

Rowe got Frazer for the lead outside of 1 ahead of Frazer with d’Orlando third. D’Orlando tries to the outside of Frazer for second but again ran wide on exit and fell back two further positions. 

The adjusted order on Lap 7 was Rowe up front by more than a second, Frazer second, Denmark third, d’Orlando third and Christie fifth. Nepveu, Garg, Lee, Hays and Weir completed the top 10. Weir passed Hays for ninth a lap later.

Things got dicey as Rowe’s lead got cut down to 0.299 of a second against Frazer on Lap 9 and he had to play defense. Denmark was able to get by Frazer for second on Lap 10. D’Orlando sought to do the same, but it ended in tears for the points leader. He spun around at Turn 8 attempting a move and fell to 17th. That swung the lead from being up 7 points on Rowe to down 8 in a single moment. 

Rowe’s lead wasn’t secured though, because after defending successfully against Frazer, he wasn’t able to do the same against teammate Denmark going into the final run. The Phoenix native got a run on Rowe into Turn 1 and was able to complete the move for the lead. 

With a local yellow in Turn 12 (Canada Corner) for a stalled car, the final passing opportunity of the track went away and Denmark was able to hold off Rowe to secure his second win of the season, and Pabst’s sixth USF2000 win at the home track for the Oconomowoc, Wis.-based team. 

Frazer was third for his fifth podium of the season, albeit none on the top step yet.

In fourth and fifth, Christie (No. 11 Stilo) and Jackson Lee (No. 2 IU Cancer Center/Browning Chapman/Spruce) posted career-best finishes. Lee was only 0.04 of a second behind Christie at the flag. 

There were lots of big movers in the next batch of drivers down to Hays in 12th. All but one of the drivers from P6 to 12 advanced at least five positions from their grid spots. They were Nepveu (14th to sixth), Garg (ninth to seventh), Weir (15th to eighth), Douglas (19th to ninth), Kohlbecker (16th to 10th), Nicholas d’Orlando (18th to 11th) and Hays (17th to 12th). 

This result also jumbled the points standings heading to today’s second race of the weekend.

Unofficially, Rowe now leads with 185 points, while Michael d’Orlando falls to second with 184. Denmark and Frazer are now tied for third on 175, with Jones still only 20 points back in fifth at 165 despite a fraught race today. 

USF2000 Cooper Tires GP of Road America Powered by Elite Engines – Race #1 Unofficial Results

P No Name Team Laps Diff
1 23 Jace Denmark Pabst Racing 12 LAP 12
2 22 Myles Rowe Pabst Racing 12 0.3126
3 92 Billy Frazer Exclusive Autosport 12 2.0737
4 11 Dylan Christie DEForce Racing 12 2.4787
5 2 Jackson Lee Cape Motorsports 12 2.5194
6 10 Thomas Nepveu DEForce Racing 12 3.6575
7 12 Bijoy Garg DEForce Racing 12 3.9793
8 32 Christian Weir Turn 3 Motorsport 12 4.0881
9 90 Jacob Douglas Exclusive Autosport 12 6.4009
10 33 Spike Kohlbecker Turn 3 Motorsport w/Ignite Autosport 12 6.5711
11 61 Nicholas d’Orlando VRD Racing 12 7.4356
12 5 Nicky Hays Cape Motorsports 12 9.5483
13 8 Danny Dyszelski Jay Howard Driver Development 12 14.7923
14 3 Jagger Jones Cape Motorsports 12 19.9807
15 4 Michael d’Orlando Cape Motorsports 12 21.1182
16 9 Jorge Garciarce Jay Howard Driver Development 12 25.5899
17 63 Trey Burke Joe Dooling Autosports 11 12.5990
18 30 Viktor Andersson VRD Racing 9 Off Course
19 17 Nikita Johnson VRD Racing 4 Contact
20 6 Evagoras Papasavvas Jay Howard Driver Development 1 Contact
21 91 Joey Brienza Exclusive Autosport DNS