By Steve Wittich
After missing out on their annual trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) road course with the NTT INDYCAR® SERIES in May, the bottom rung of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires returns for a stand-alone triple-header with the Indy Pro 2000 and Mazda MX-5 Cup Series.
The 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course has become a reliable predictor of championship success. With the eventual champion winning at least one race in five the six seasons, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship has competed on the IMS Road Course.
Throughout the first three events, Jay Howard Driver Development sophomore Christian Rasmussen has built up a substantial 85 point lead in the chase for the $328,000 advancement scholarship.
That’s what happens when you win the first six races of the year.
The Dane’s six wins in a row to start the season are equal to the six wins his team owner Jay Howard won to start the 2005 USF2000 season.
If Rasmussen were to win on Thursday afternoon, he would tie J.R. Hildebrand, who started the 2006 USF2000 season by winning seven in a row.
Kyle Kirkwood’s 11 straight wins (not to start the season) in 2018 is the record.
His competitors will need to go a similar tear of wins, or for Rasmussen to have some unfortunate luck. Rasmussen could only manage a season’s worst 20th, and an eighth-place finish in his two races on the IMS Road Course last year.
“Indy last year was so early in the season and we were still figuring things out,” said Rasmussen, “so it was one of my worst results. But in the Chris Griffis Memorial Test in October, we led every session. We’ve got the speed there so the plan is to just keep doing what we’re doing. It’s just head down now – I want to win as many races as possible. We’re on a great path so I don’t want to change anything. It would mean a lot to win here, especially since Indy is home for the team. IMS is such a special place, with all the history, and it’s great that we have the opportunity to race there.”
With only 35 points separating Michael d’Orlando in second and Exclusive Autosport rookie Christian Brooks in seventh, the competition for a spot in the top five should be entertaining.
The pilot that makes the fewest mistakes among that bunch that includes d’Orlando (Cape Motorsports), Reece Gold (Cape Motorsports), Eduardo Barrichello (Pabst Racing), Matthew Round-Garrido (Pabst Racing), and Brooks, will have the best chance to put pressure on Rasmussen.
So far, that driver is d’Orlando, who has one podium, five top-fives, and a tenth place finish. He has also completed all 159 possible laps to start the season.
Gold, from Miami, Fla. is the group’s hottest, standing on four straight podiums and going from 12th to third in points in the last four races. The 15-year-old has also had one of the three quickest laps of the race in five straight races.
The Cape Motorsports teammates have both made a pair of starts on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course but have no finishes inside the top ten.
Second-generation driver Barrichello started the season well with two podiums in his first three races, but the last three races, while not horrible, have not been what was expected with Barrichello’s pre-season pace. The Brazilian had an impressive fifth-place finish in the second race in 2019, so he will have that result to build confidence from.
In the season-opening event at Road America, Team USA scholarship winner Josh Green was the best driver not named Rasmussen, but a 17th place finish in the first race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course followed by a string on upper mid-pack results.
Outside of a first lap disappointment in the third race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, sophomore Round-Garrido has been the picture of consistency, finishing in the top five four times.
Currently trailing Green by 10 points as the highest-scoring rookie so far in 2020, Brooks put a DNF at Road America behind him and has only been outscored by Rasmussen, Gold, and d’Orlando in that stretch of races.
The third tier of drivers is led by the fourth member of the Cape Motorsports squad, Kyle Dupell, and includes Yuven Sundaramoorthy (Pabst Racing), Jack William Miller (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports), and Cameron Shields.
Miller, who has moved from 18th to 10th in the last two races, in which he scored his best two career finishes, is the home town driver looking for an advantage.
“We’re just trying to keep the momentum going, keep on improving and get three good results this week,” said Miller. “That’s the biggest thing, to get consistent results to move us up in the championship. The season started out pretty rough, so we need to claw our way up in the title chase. We’ve had some bad luck but things are coming together now, with a new engineer. I’m looking forward to the racing at Indy – I’ve been there so much growing up and at last year’s race weekend and Chris Griffis Test. I’m hoping for another good weekend.”
Shields, an Australian sophomore, will be switching from Legacy Autosport to DEForce Racing this weekend to partner with Kiko Porto.
2020 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship standings
|5||Josh Green – R||101|
|7||Christian Brooks – R||91|
|10||Jack William Miller||70|
|13||Prescott Campbell – R||54|
|14||Bijoy Garg – R||52|
|17||Max Kaeser – R||36|
|18||Wyatt Brichacek – R||32|
|19||Ayrton Ori – R||31|
|20||Josh Pierson – R||25|
|21||Nico Christodoulou – R||14|
Legacy Autosport has two entries for a pair of newcomers.
Behind the wheel of the Marotti Autosport/Medi-Share sponsored No. 20, will be Simon Sikes.
The 19-year-old is currently leading the F1600 Championship Series after 12 of 18 rounds. The Georgian has won six times and has nine podiums.
“This is the biggest opportunity of my life,” said Sikes. “I’m honored to work with such a determined and inspired man such as Will. I have always wanted to race in USF2000, and now we have set our minds to figuring out how we can run the full season together next year.”
Joining Sikes will be Michael Myers, an 18-year-old, who will pilot the Heavy Right Foot Coffee Company/Myers Garage sponsored No. 24.
Myers, from Lizton, Ind. made a move from ATV racing to formula car racing. The Team USA Scholarship finalist won the Lucas Oil Formula Car Winter Series and was the runner-up in the 2019 Lucas Oil Formula Car series, collecting three wins and seven podiums.
“Being a new driver to the USF2000 series is a welcoming and empowering feeling,” said Myers. “Coming from off-road ATV racing, I have never experienced this level of teamwork and camaraderie before as that sport is very individualized between the rider and mechanic. Having Legacy Autosport to work with is an amazing experience and provides me the confidence that I will always have a solid team to trust and work with.
“The USF2000 cars are different from what I am used to driving, but I feel as if the previous steps I took in my transition to the road-side of motorsports have properly prepared me for the Road to Indy series. As I have had no karting experience, my background is significantly different from most in this sport. As off-road racing is a very brutal yet intimate sport between the driver and the machine, the feeling I have in the race car is unique. I believe this will greatly benefit me in the long run as I develop as a driver.”
Some quick facts:
- Ten of the 12 winners have come from the pole.
- The average starting position of the winner is 2.1.
- Pabst Racing’s Will Owen won from the 13th starting spot during a wet first race in 2014, the lowest starting spot of any winner.
- Cape Motorsports leads all teams with nine USF2000 wins on the IMS road course.
- The average finishing position of the pole sitter is 1.3.
- Florian Lattore, the pole sitter for the first race in 2014, has the worst finishing position of any pole sitter, a fourth-place finish.
- Cape Motorsports has started on pole in 11 of the dozen races, including all six since the introduction of the USF-17.
- Cape Motorsports has 17 total podiums on the IMS road course, the most of any team.
- With 163 laps led, Cape Motorsports has led 148 laps more than any other team, and 119 laps more than all other teams combined.
- The qualifying track record is held by Braden Eves, who turned a lap at 84.5396 seconds last year.
- With a lap timed at 84.7740 seconds set last year, Braden Eves holds the race track record.
- The closest finish occurred in Race #1 last year when Braden Eves beat Hunter McElrea to the line by a slim 0.2998 seconds.
- Will Owen made the correct call on when to move to Cooper Tires slicks during a damp race, beating Jake Eidson to the checkered flag by 15.9994 seconds, the largest margin of victory.
- Only two of the USF2000 races on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course have gone without a yellow flag.
- Three of the 12 races have had a first lap caution.
- Five races have had more than one caution.
Previous Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship winners on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course
|2019 Race #2||Braden Eves||Cape Motorsports|
|2019 Race #1||Braden Eves||Cape Motorsports|
|2018 Race #2||Alex Baron||Swan-RJB Motorsports|
|2018 Race #1||Kyle Kirkwood||Cape Motorsports|
|2017 Race #2||Oliver Askew||Cape Motorsports|
|2017 Race #1||Oliver Askew||Cape Motorsports|
|2016 Race #2||Parker Thompson||Cape Motorsports with /WTR|
|2016 Race #1||Anthony Martin||Cape Motorsports with /WTR|
|2015 Race #2||Nico Jamin||Cape Motorsports with /WTR|
|2015 Race #1||Nico Jamin||Cape Motorsports with /WTR|
|2014 – Race #2||Adrian Starrantino||JAY Motorsports|
|2014 – Race #1||Will Owen||Pabst Racing|
Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Schedule (all times EDT)
Thursday, September 3, 2020
- 8am – 8:30am – USF2000 Practice
- 11am – 11:30am – USF2000 Qualifying #1
- 2pm – 2:45pm – USF2000 Race #1 (15 laps)
Friday, September 4, 2020
- 8am – 8:30am – USF2000 Qualifying #2
- 11am – 11:45am – USF2000 Race #2 (15 laps)
- 2:45pm – 3:30pm – USF2000 Race #3 (20 laps or 50 minutes)