By Tony DiZinno and Steve Wittich
Kirkwood’s quest for 12
Kyle Kirkwood took care of clinching the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda last time out, more than a month ago at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Now, he has history to match.
The Floridian will look to equal JR Hildebrand’s single season record of 12 wins in 14 races, exactly, if he can sweep the pair of races this weekend. Hildebrand has already expressed his support in rooting for Kirkwood and Cape Motorsports to pull it off this weekend.
Coincidentally, Hildebrand swept USF2000’s most recent weekend at Portland in his record-setting 2006 season, and holds the current qualifying and race lap records (1:13.564 in the race, 1:12.748 in qualifying). You’d expect the new Tatuus USF-17 Mazda to be quicker once official lap times begin to register later in the weekend.
Alas, Kirkwood has 10 wins so far this year. Alex Baron of Swan RJB Motorsports was the only other driver to win, having done so at the second St. Petersburg and first Indianapolis road course race.
From a career stats standpoint, Kirkwood has matched Jay Howard and Nico Jamin with 10 career wins. One more win will equal him with Spencer Pigot while two more ties him with Hildebrand. He’ll be unable to match Chris Simmons, Scott Dixon’s Verizon IndyCar Series race engineer, for the all-time USF2000 mark of a lucky 13.
However, Kirkwood has the highest winning percentage of all these drivers at the moment. With his current 10 of 12 mark, he’s won 83.33 percent of his starts. Two more wins would take that up to a staggering mark north of 85 percent, 85.71 percent.
Down to the wire between incumbent Pabst Racing and former winner Cape Motorsports
For the first time since 2011, a team other then Cape Motorsports ended up taking home the team title hardware from the MRTI Banquet. Pabst Racing outscored Cape Motorsports by an impressive 92 points last season to knock the Brothers Cape from the top of the team pile.
This year, the team championship will come down to the final race with Cape Motorsports holding a slim 15 point margin over Pabst Racing. The St. Petersburg, Fla. based Cape Motorsports will rely on champion Kyle Kirkwood to keep them on top. Surprisingly, Pabst Racing is still looking for the teams first win of 2018, but have four fast drivers to get what will be an important win in the team championship.
The battle for the final spot in the top three on the team championship points table is equally exciting with DEForce Racing holding off the Canadian team, Exclusive Autosport, by only four points headed to the Portland International Raceway double header.
Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda team points
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Pabst, Exclusive drivers battle for runner-up
The driver’s championship is wrapped while the team’s championship isn’t, as noted above. The runner-up battle for drivers is yet to be settled this weekend as well.
Just 13 points separate three drivers for second place. Swedish rookie Rasmus Lindh of Pabst is on 194 points, with Japanese/Brazilian newcomer Igor Fraga next on 188 and Brazilian veteran Lucas Kohl fourth with 181.
Lindh has two poles at Road America, but has started in the top two rows each of the last eight races and nine times overall. Clearly quick, it hasn’t yet all come together for him in a race yet this year, and a maiden victory would reward his growth and development this year to ensure Augie Pabst has at least one driver in victory lane this season.
Fraga has carried the torch for Exclusive Autosport as the team’s only driver who’s raced every event this year. He has three podiums this year with a best finish of second, twice. He’s also seen the checkered flag every race as one of two drivers, along with Kirkwood, who has completed every lap.
Kohl’s third season in USF2000 has easily been his best. Guided by the tutelage of his driving coach, IndyCar and F1 veteran Roberto Moreno, Kohl has taken the necessary steps forward this year after showing occasional flashes with John Cummiskey Racing in 2016 before his switch to Pabst last year. Four finishes of 13th or worse offset his four podium finishes. Either way, after finishes of 12th and seventh in the championship his first two years, Kohl is poised for his best career championship finish this season.
The other two Pabst drivers, Calvin Ming and Kaylen Frederick, enter the weekend fifth and sixth. Ming hasn’t had the outright pace of his teammates and only one podium finish in his sophomore season. Frederick has endured a boom-or-bust sophomore season, in a switch to Pabst from Team Pelfrey. He had a run of four straight podium finishes in the middle of the year but has been hurt by five finishes of 19th or worse. A nightmare Mid-Ohio weekend dropped him from runner-up contention in the title chase, and the Maryland teenager will look to bounce back this weekend.
Braden Eves, one of the Team USA Scholarship hopefuls will be making his Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires debut this weekend with Newman Wachs Racing.
“I could not be happier to announce that I will be driving with Newman Wachs Racing at Portland,” Eves enthused. “Brian (Halahan) and all the members of the team have taken me in and have made me feel at home, they run an extremely professional program, and I am very excited to make my Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 debut with them!”
The 19 year-old has made 14 starts in the F4 United States Championship Powered By Honda with Jay Howard Driver Development over the past two years and has collected one win, and six podiums.
Eves, who hails from Columbus, Ohio also took part in his first F1600 Formula F Championship Series race weekend earlier this month, winning twice and finishing second in the other race.
For the second straight race event, Exclusive Autosport will be adding a stand out Formula F/F1600 driver to their USF2000 roster.
Kellen Ritter, who drivers for the Exclusive Autosport team in the Toyo Tires F1600 Championship, will make the step up for the USF2000 series finale at Portland International Raceway.
The 17-year-old is nearing the end of an outstanding first season in cars, winning the Formula 1600 Super Series (four wins and eight podiums) and leading the Toyo Tires F1600 Championship (seven wins and 13 podiums) with three races to go. The North Vancouver, B.C. based driver has also contested three F1600 Formula F Championship series events, standing on the podium all three times.
Other entry list changes
The USF2000 field this weekend also sees the return of Max Peichel in the second ArmsUp Motorsports entry. He hasn’t raced since Road America.
Two full-season participants, BN Racing’s Keith Donegan and Newman Wachs Racing’s Darren Keane, drop off in advance of the season finale. Donegan sits seventh in points, Keane 13th entering the weekend.
There are six other drivers (David Osborne, Jacob Abel, Michael d’Orlando, Sabre Cook, Yuven Sundaramoorthy and James Raven) that raced last time out at Mid-Ohio that have not made the trip to Portland.
This leaves 14 of the 25 drivers that started the St. Petersburg season opener as having competed in every USF2000 race this year.
The “other Kyle” has hometown race
Team Pelfrey’s Kyle Dupell enjoys a home race this weekend. The Portland native concludes his rookie season and will look to match or improve on his best finish this year of ninth, achieved on two occasions.
Dupell drives the No. 81 Opal Creek Capital/Pro Race Management entry as teammate to Julian van der Watt and Bruna Tomaselli in the other two Pelfrey cars. South African rookie Van der Watt (three fifth place finishes) has the best results for the team this year and enters the weekend eighth in points; Brazilian sophomore Tomaselli has yet to return to the top-10 since a career-best seventh place at St. Petersburg’s opener.