By Steve Wittich
For the 19th through 21st times since the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda series was reborn in 2010 and the 41st, 42nd and 43rd time a “two-liter” series will take to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
The first winner on the Central Ohio circuit in 1993 was Chris Simmons. The win was Simmon’s 7th of a series leading 13 wins for Simmons, who is currently Scott Dixon’s race engineer at Chip Ganassi Racing.
Cape Motorsports with their 20 wins at Mid-Ohio have traveled home to St. Petersburg, Fla. with exactly half of the first place trophies in the past quarter of a century. That includes a run of nine straight wins between Parker Thompson and Exclusive Autosport’s upset in race #2 last year and a victory by Team E and R.C. Enerson in race #1 in 2014.
After playing host to a double-header last year, the 2.258-Mile, 13-Turn Road Course will see a trio of races contested for the fifth time in six years.
Two dozen drivers took part in a two-day series test at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course last week, and not surprisingly, it was championship leader Kyle Kirkwood that leads the way. He was followed by the Pabst Racing trio of Rasmus Lindh, Lucas Kohl, and Kaylen Frederick. Michael D’Orlando (Team Benik) and Jacob Abel (Abel Motorsports) will be returning to the series after taking the last round North of the Border off and were joined in the top 10 by Keith Donegan (BN Racing), Calvin Ming (Pabst Racing), Kory Enders (DEForce Racing) and Dakota Dickerson (ArmsUp Motorsports). The top 16 drivers were all within one second of Kirkwood.
Dickerson confirmed to TSO Ladder that he would be taking part in this weekend’s event and the finale at Portland International Raceway next month.
“The guys at ArmsUp have been nothing short of fantastic,” said Dickerson, who leads the F4 United States Championship Powered By Honda by 10 points with three rounds remaining. “The constant and consistent improvement is proof of this, and it is only a matter of time. From the mechanics to the ownership, we all gel really well together and are working towards a common goal and I think our results are beginning to prove that.”
Since one driver, hint, hint, his name is Kirkwood, is stinking up the show. TSO Ladder will be taking a different approach to our Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda previews for the final two rounds of the championship at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Portland International Raceway. Instead of more driver-focused previews, we’ll be taking a look at the top five stories that we’ll be watching during the race weekend.
1) Yes, he’s been that good
Not spending time on just how good Cape Motorsports rookie Kirkwood has been this year would be a massive disservice to the 19-year-old. Plus, TSO Ladder (well, at least Steve) is a big proponent of rewarding the best drivers with the most words.
To start, of the 312 points available so far in the 2018 season, Kirkwood has scored 279. That equates to an almost ridiculous 89.4% of the points possible and to a remarkable 131 point lead. Kirkwood can win the championship by scoring 34 points in the remaining five races.
Kirkwood is dominating the series statistics leading in the following categories:
- Wins (7)
- Podiums (8)
- Top 5s (9)
- Top 10s (9)
- Poles (3)
- Average starting position (2.44)
- Average finishing position (1.56)
- Quickest average race lap (2.33)
- % of laps completed (tied at 100%)
Kirkwood has led in every race except St. Pete #2 and has been particularly outstanding over the last five races He’s collected all but seven of 180 points on offer.
Quite simply put, he’s been tough to beat. Perhaps, the most impressive part of his seven wins is that five of them, including the last four, have required passes for the lead.
With five races remaining, Kirkwood has the opportunity to match J.R. Hildebrand’s incredible feat of 12 wins during a single season.
2) We’ll be watching the tight chase for second place
While it appears that Kirkwood has a lock on the $325,000 Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarship, the battle for second place, with seven active drivers all within 50 points, will likely come down to the last race at Portland International Raceway on Labor Day Weekend.
Kaylen Frederick currently has a hold of that spot, and outside of Kirkwood is the hottest driver in the series. The 16-year-old has stood on the podium in four of his last five outings, and has experience on the 2.258-Mile, 13-Turn Road Course, finishing on the podium last year.
Only three points behind Frederick is Exclusive Autosport’s, Igor Fraga. The rookie is coming off an impressive second place finish in Toronto that saw Fraga lead his first laps in Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires competition. The Japanese born driver, along with Kirkwood, are the only two drivers to complete all 207 laps of USF2000 action so far this season.
Pabst Racing pilot Rasmus Lindh has been crazy quick all season, collecting one of the five fastest race laps in all nine starts so far. The 17-year-old rookie is only seven points adrift of his teammate Frederick, and the Swede can make a run for second if he can consistently turn speed into results.
Veterans Lucas Kohl and Calvin Ming are currently 32 points behind their Pabst Racing teammate Frederick. Kohl’s pace has been podium worthy at most events, but he needs to make sure that he minimizes mistakes. Ming has been finishing races, but after a strong rookie season in 2017, surprisingly, needs to find some more pace.
Also within 50 points are Jose Sierra (DEForce Racing) and Keith Donegan (BN Racing). Sierra started the season strong, but three DNFs in the last six races have moved him from the top three in points to eighth. Since a move to BN Racing just before Road America rounds of the championship, Donnegan has had better pace and results but needs to cut back on unforced errors if he wants to move into the top five in the championship.
One of the biggest surprises (so far) of the 2018 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season is that with four talented pilots, Pabst Racing has been missing from victory lane. The last season that Pabst Racing did not win a Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda race was in 2013. Over the past four seasons, the Oconomowoc, Wisc. based squad has stood on the top step of the podium ten times.
The slight drought for the team certainly isn’t pace related. The team is tied for or leads the series in poles (3), podiums (9), and top fives (13).
The team has the 2nd (Frederick), 3rd (Lindh), 5th (Kohl) and 9th (Ming) best average starting positions and also the 2nd (Kirkwood), 3rd (Lindh), 8th, (Kohl) and 13th (Ming) quickest average race lap.
The problem? Kohl (-40), Frederick (-36) and Lindh (-35) have the three worst plus/minus from their starting spots of all 30 USF2000 drivers that have turned a lap. If the talented group of drivers can reverse that trend, the wins will soon follow.
It’s been 16 years since the team visited victory lane at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with the team’s current engineer Tonis Kasemets, but the team does have recent podium experience. Since the USF2000 series was restarted in 2010, Jake Eidson, Garth Rickards, Rinus VeeKay, and Jason Wolfe have all finished in the top three.
4) Qualify well, finish well at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
If history from the past 40 USF2000 races at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course tells us anything, it’s that starting up front is paramount to winning. The eventual race winner has started on pole 26 times (65%) and in the front row on all but five occasions. The average starting position for the race winner at Mid-Ohio is 1.7, and the lowest that a winner has started is sixth.
The last nine race winners have all started on the inside of the front row and going further back, 18 of the previous 20 winners have been the pole sitter.
The pole sitter in 1995, Jimmy Chianis, finished 30th and other poles sitters have finished 25th (twice) and 17th. But, don’t let those few poor results fool you. The driver who has been on the pole has finished on the podium at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 32 of 40 races.
5) Newbies and returnees
Making his Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires debut this weekend with Exclusive Autosport is Yuven Sundaramoorthy. The 15-year-old was born in Oconomowoc, Wisc. and currently lives in Upstate New York. As a 14-year-old, Sundaramoothy captured two wins, one pole, six podiums on the way to fourth in the 2017 F1600 Championship Series points chase. The youngster is once again contesting that championship and currently ranks third with a pair of wins and five visits to the podium. Sundaramoorthy completed 107 laps during USF2000 testing at Mid-Ohio last week and was within three-tenths of a second of teammate Igor Fraga.
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Two great days of learing at @officialmidohio. We made a lot of progress, although we have a lot more to learn to be competitive in this series of some amazing talent. We'll be back here with @exclusiveautosport next week for the triple-header race weekend. #MRTI #TeamCooperTire
Returning to the Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is James Raven. The 23-year-old contested the season-opening Pro Mazda rounds in St. Petersburg, Fla. with DEForce Racing and will be returning to that squad for the three USF2000 rounds at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The Portsmouth, England native is also contesting the F4 United States Championship Powered By Honda season with DEForce Racing and is currently sitting fourth in points. In that series most recent rounds at Mid-Ohio, Raven finished 2nd once and 4th twice.
After an impressive series debut at Road America and successful test on the 2.258-Mile, 13-Turn Mid-Ohio Road Course (6th best lap time) last week, Jacob Abel and family run team Abel Motorsports will be returning to USF2000 competition.
After missing the pair of races north of the border, Team Benik and drivers Michael D’Orlando and Sabre Cook will return for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Mid-Ohio Grand Prix Powered by Mazda tripleheader. D’Orlando is coming off a season-best sixth place finish in Race #2 at Road America had the fifth quickest time during the series open test last week. Cook is welcoming a new co-primary sponsor this week; Alpine Bank https://www.alpinebank.com will be featured on the side pods of her No. 31.
Ohio native David Osbourne will be returning to Newman Wachs Racing after sitting out the Toronto rounds. The Miami University biomedical engineering graduate won at his “home” track in the Formula F1600 Championship last year.
Past USF2000 winners at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
|2017 Race #2||Parker Thompson||Exclusive Autosport|
|2017 Race #1||Oliver Askew||Cape Motorsports|
|2016 Race #3||Anthony Martin||Cape Motorsports|
|2016 Race #2||Anthony Martin||Cape Motorsports|
|2016 Race #1||Anthony Martin||Cape Motorsports|
|2015 Race #3||Nico Jamin||Cape Motorsports|
|2015 Race #2||Nico Jamin||Cape Motorsports|
|2015 Race #1||Nico Jamin||Cape Motorsports|
|2014 Race #3||Florian Latorre||Cape Motorsports|
|2014 Race #2||Jake Eidson||Cape Motorsports|
|2014 Race #1||RC Enerson||Team E Racing|
|2013 Race #3||Garett Grist||Andretti Autosport|
|2013 Race #2||Neil Alberico||Cape Motorsports|
|2013 Race #1||Neil Alberico||Cape Motorsports|
|2012 Race #2||Scott Anderson||Belardi Auto Racing|
|2012 Race #1||Spencer Pigot||Cape Motorsports|
|2011 Race #2||Petri Suvanto||Cape Motorsports|
|2011 Race #1||Petri Suvanto||Cape Motorsports|
|2004 Race #4||Adam Pecorari||Andersen Walko Racing|
|2004 Race #3||Adam Pecorari||Andersen Walko Racing|
|2004 Race #2||Adam Pecorari||Andersen Walko Racing|
|2004 Race #1||Andre Prendeville||Andersen Walko Racing|
|2003 Race #4||Jonathan Bomarito||PR1 Motorsports|
|2003 Race #3||Jonathan Bomarito||PR1 Motorsports|
|2003 Race #2||Westley Barber||Cape Motorsports|
|2003 Race #1||Tonis Kasemets||Pabst Racing|
|2002 Race #3||Ross Fonferko||Cape Motorsports|
|2002 Race #2||Bryan Sellers||Cape Motorsports|
|2002 Race #1||Tonis Kasemets||Pabst Racing|
|2001 Race #2||Doug Bell||Cape Motorsports|
|2001 Race #1||Tonis Kasemets||Tonis Kasemets|
|1999 Race #2||Jeff Wright||Cape Motorsports|
|1999 Race #1||Dan Wheldon||Primus Racing|
|1998 Race #2||David Besnard||Primus Racing|
|1998 Race #1||David Besnard||Primus Racing|
|1997||Zak Morioka||Hayes Motorsports|
|1996||Steve Knapp||Miller Miling/Elite Engines|
|1995 Race #2||Jeret Schroeder|
|1995 Race #1||Memo Gidley||Cape Motorsports|
|1993||Chris Simmons||SOTARE Racing|
Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda weekend schedule
- 8:45 AM – 9:10 AM – USF2000 Practice #1
- 11 AM – 11:30 AM – USF2000 Autograph Session
- 12:45 PM – 1:05 PM – USF2000 Qualifying #1
- 4:30 PM – 5:10 PM – USF2000 Race #1
- 8:45 AM – 9:05 AM – USF2000 Qualifying #2
- 12:35 PM – 1:20 PM – USF2000 Race #2
- 12:10 PM – 12:50 PM – USF2000 Race #3