By Tony DiZinno
Kyle Kirkwood continued his roll in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season, dominating the first Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Road America race this weekend.
The young American took his fourth win in six races and extended his championship lead in the process, driving the No. 8 Cape Motorsports Tatuus USF-17 Mazda.
He started second but got around polesitter Rasmus Lindh of Pabst Racing almost immediately after the green flag, and never looked back en route to a flag-to-flag victory.
The race ended under full-course caution conditions. Kaylen Frederick upheld Pabst’s honor with second in his No. 24 car, while Keith Donegan scored his first USF2000 podium finish in his first weekend with his new team, BN Racing.
Kirkwood grabs the lead around the outside of Lindh at Turn 1 off the start, and is already out to a 0.7 lead after the first lap.
Both Donegan, now at BN Racing, and Dakota Dickerson, in an ArmsUp Motorsports entry, were big movers on the first lap. Donegan leapt from 10th to fourth while Dickerson moved from 20th to 12th. Lucas Kohl meanwhile had a nightmare first lap for Pabst, falling from sixth to 25th.
The first full-course caution flew on Lap 4, with Sabre Cook in trouble at the Carousel to drop from 17th down to 26th and last. This erases Kirkwood’s 1.427-second lead.
Although the restart got a bit crazy with periods of three, four and even five wide action, there were no incidents as the race resumed on Lap 6 of 12.
Michael d’Orlando’s and Manuel Cabrera’s races took turns for the worse after the restart. D’Orlando pitted, while Cabrera pulled off course on Lap 7 at Turn 3, removing one of the three Exclusive Autosport entries from the race.
On Lap 8, Jose Sierra defended against Mathias Soler-Obel in Turn 12. Both cars took wide exits at “Canada Corner,” but survived the exit without further drama.
There was also a big change for position up front. Lindh, who was second, fell to fifth behind Frederick, Donegan and Kory Enders who all got past the speedy Swede. Ming is now sixth, and Baron seventh ahead of Fraga.
With just three laps to go, Frederick sets the fastest lap of the race and is 1.5535 seconds behind Kirkwood for the lead. Lindh got past Enders at Turn 1 for fourth to regain one of his lost spots. South African rookie Julian van der Watt pits his Team Pelfrey machine from 17th place.
A second full course caution flies at the end of Lap 10 for Cook. She’s stopped between Turns 7 and 8 on driver’s right.
The white and yellow flags fly simultaneously at Lap 11, which means this race will finish under caution.
It’s Kirkwood, Frederick, and Donegan on the podium with Lindh fourth, Enders fifth, then Ming, Baron, Fraga, Sierra and Keane in the top 10.
For Kirkwood, he said it wasn’t his favorite win of the year because he won it under yellow flag conditions. He was surprised Lindh seemed to crowd Kirkwood close to the grass on the run up the hill, but then realized the tactics failed once he was able to get by at Turn 1.
Kirkwood said the concern about the draft here isn’t as bad as at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Even though there are long straights here, he said teams are carrying more downforce, which means you’re not a sitting duck. He restarted fine off the first full-course caution and wasn’t headed.
Frederick, who along with Kirkwood exchanged the fastest lap of the race before Kirkwood got it, started fourth and was unable to mount a serious challenge for the win. He hailed the Pabst Racing team in its home race – it’s amazing how much they know about this place – and says that with a 1-2-3 on the grid for Sunday’s race they’ll be poised to deliver Augie Pabst a win not far from their Oconomowoc, Wis. base. He also looks forward to racing in cooler temperatures tomorrow morning.
Donegan, who’s had a whirlwind week, spoke highly of the BN Racing group for how fast he integrated into the team. About his move forward from 10th to third, Donegan said, “Coming from 10th to third wasn’t easy! Our lane was moving quite quick. I got a good run and once I got to the inside, I got another spot. Then I started picking more cars off. Moving forward early allowed us to race well from there. We didn’t expect to be this far up. It’s a relief to get a podium.”
Unofficially Kirkwood is on 186 points, with Baron second on 109 and Sierra third on 102.
Provisional USF2000 Race #1 Results
|24||80||Julian Van der Watt||9||Running|