By Steve Wittich
What does 90.1% equate to? An early Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda for Kyle Kirkwood.
The 19-year-old Cape Motorsports rookie has clinched the $325,000 Mazda Motorsports Advancement Scholarship by scoring 311 of the possible 345 points on offer in the first ten races of the 2018 season.
Kirkwood has compiled a fantastic season so far. The Jupiter, Fla. driver has won eight races (including the last seven in a row), four poles, nine podiums, and ten top-five finishes. He’s led in nine of the ten races and led 75.3% of the 227 laps contested to date.
If Kirkwood wins the remaining for laps, he can match J.R. Hildebrand’s record season USF2000 win total of 12.
“Amazing,” exclaimed a beaming Kirkwood. “There is no other way to put it. I’m so excited right now! I can’t believe we were able to unofficially win the championship this early in the season. I would never have thought that was possible at the beginning of the season. I had no expectations coming into the first race, and we were able to win it. Now we have eight wins and seven in a row. I don’t even know what to think right now. It’s amazing.”
Kirkwood’s title is the eighth straight driver’s championship for Cape Motorsports, a remarkable streak that began with Petri Suvanto in 2011.
Nicholas and Dominic Cape won their first USF2000 title in 2000 with Aaron Justus, and have now amassed a dozen season-long driver trophies.
The final track activity on a busy Friday at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was the first of three Cooper Tires USF2000 Mid-Ohio Grand Prix Powered by Mazda races. The race began at 4:15 PM.
Kyle Kirkwood and Kaylen Frederick led the 12 rows of two to the green flag on the front straight.
Kirkwood got the jump on Frederick and made it to the left-hand Turn 1 with a safe gap. The field went three wide into the Keyhole, and all two-dozen drivers made it cleanly onto the back straight.
That’s where things got sideways. Rasmus Lindh made a late dive-bomb move on his teammate Kaylen Frederick, locking up under braking and making contact with his Pabst Racing teammate. Frederick was able to keep his 2.0L Mazda fired but got high-sided as he tried to get back on track.
The Swedish rookie was issued a drive-thru penalty for avoidable contact and came to pit road from second place.
At the end of the first lap the running order was: Kirkwood, Lindh, Kohl, Keith Donegan, James Raven, Jose Sierra, Calvin Ming, Darren Keane, Julian Van der Watt, Kory Enders, Igor Fraga, Russell McDonough, Danial Frost, Jacob Abel, Colin Kaminsky, Bruna Tomaselli, Michael D’Orlando, Dakota Dickerson, Yuven Sundaramoorthy, Oscar DeLuzuriaga, Kyle Dupell, Sabre Cook, and David Osborne.
The race restarted at the beginning of Lap 3 and at the end of that lap, the top 10 were: Kirkwood, Kohl, Donegan, Raven, Ming, Sierra, Keane, Van der Watt, Enders, and Fraga.
Donegan was holding up a line of cars behind his No. 28 BN Racing machine and was being hounded by Raven and Ming, but the Irishman received a reprieve when the yellow flag came out at the start of Lap 7 for contact between Frederick and Donegan.
Just after the race restarted for the second time, Ming made an aggressive move around the outside of Donegan in Turn 4. About that move, the Guyana born driver told TSO Ladder:
“He (Donegan) nearly put me off the track three or four times. We had one more safety car, and they (his Pabst Racing) told me I needed to get by him as soon as possible. I just broke as deep as I could. I barely went off the track and dropped two wheels, but I managed to hold it. I don’t know how I did it. It was miraculous for me. But it worked out as I got up the inside in (Turn) 5 and I pushed him out.”
The third full-course caution occurred when Oscar DeLuzuriaga appeared to take a little too much curb at the exit of Turn 9, spinning into the barriers on driver’s right.
As the field came to the restart, the drivers running just outside of the top three, Sierra, Keane and Raven got stacked up with the No. 36 orange and white machine of Keane running over the back of Sierra.
Keane’s front wing folded under his race car and it came to a halt in the middle of the front straight just past the start-finish line.
Sierra made it to Turn 1, but without his rear wing, he went wide ending up in the gravel trap on the outside of the left-hander.
The drivers behind the stack-up all missed Keane’s stranded Mazda/Tatuus, but Tomaselli was hip-checked into the grass and the outside barrier on drivers right in the mayhem.
Two penalties were handed out for the incident. Keane received a 30-second penalty for avoidable contact and Raven was forced to serve a drive-thru on the final lap of the race after it was determined he jumped the restart. The DEForce Racing driver was running fourth but dropped back to 13th when he came to pit lane.
The top ten when the green flag came back out for a two-lap shootout were: Kirkwood, Kohl, Ming, Raven, Donegan, Van der Watt, Fraga, Dickerson, D’Orlando, and Frost.
Fraga was penalized for blocking in the final two laps and fell from sixth to 17th after being given a 30-second post-race penalty.
A few drives of note. Dickerson piloted his No. 9 ArmsUp Motorsports machine from last on the grid after having a transponder issue in qualifying to sixth.
D’Orlando started fifth but dropped to 17th on the first lap after driving off track to miss the Frederick/Lindh contact. The 16-year-old was able to move up nine spots over the final 19 laps and finished eighth.
The USF2000 drivers qualify again at 8:45 AM on Saturday morning and the second race of the triple-header rolls off at 12:35 PM.