By Steve Wittich – TSO Ladder
For the eighth time in 2020, the Road To Indy starter waved the twin-checkered flags over Christian Rasmussen when he was the first to cross the start/finish line.
The win is the Jay Howard Driver Development sophomore’s 11th in his two seasons of Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship action. It increases his championship lead over Reece Gold (Cape Motorsports), who finished sixth to 50 points with three races remaining.
DEForce Racing’s Cameron Shields’ was never more than a second behind Rasmussen, but couldn’t quite get close enough to make a pass attempt for the lead. It’s the 19-year-old’s best finish of 2020, his second podium of the season, and fourth in his Road To Indy career. The second-place finish moved Shields up to spots into sixth place in the championship fight.
Finishing just behind Shields was Race #1 winner Eduardo Barrichello. The third-place finish is Barichello’s seventh podium of the season, and while still third in the championship standings, the second generation driver has moved to within two points of Gold.
Coming home in fourth place was New York state resident, Michael d’Orlando (Cape Motorsports). It’s the 18-year-olds ninth top-five finish of the season.
Rounding out the top five was Yuven Sundaramoorthy. The fifth-place finish is the second year driver’s best this season.
Jay Howard Driver Development sophomore Nolan Siegel pitted halfway through the race for fresh Cooper Tire and was able to turn the quickest lap of Race #2, earning him the pole for Sunday afternoon’s final race.
The command to fire the 18 Elite Engine prepared 2.0L engines in the back of the USF2000 drivers race car was given at 11:55 am.
The ambient temperature was 69F, and the skies were getting darker as the front row of Rasmussen and Shields brought the field to the green flag on the front straight of the Thunderbolt Raceway at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
Pole sitter Rasmussen got a good jump on Shields and quickly got to Turn 1 alone. Behind him, the drivers were two-wide. The field could get cleanly through the first lap, and the running order to complete Lap 1 was.
Rasmussen, Sheilds, Barrichello, Michael d’Orlando (Cape Motorsports), Reece Gold (Cape Motorsports), Yuven Sundaramoorthy, Jack William Miller (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports), Matthew Round-Garrido, Josh Green (Cape Motorsports), Christian Brooks (Exclusive Autosport), Josh Pierson (Exclusive Autosport), Prescott Campbell (Exclusive Autosport), Christian Bogle (Jay Howard Driver Development), Kent Vaccaro (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports), Nico Christodoulou (DEForce Racing), Kyle Dupell (Cape Motorsports), Nolan Siegel (Jay Howard Driver Development) and Wyatt Brichacek (Jay Howard Driver Development).
Rasmussen had a one-second lead at they started lap four. Behind the front four, Sundaramoorthy was able to get around gold for fifth, and Brooks could get past fellow rookie Green for tenth.
With six laps complete, Shields did not allow Rasmussen to get away, staying within a second of the race leader.
Shields was facing pressure from Barrichello, who had a slight gap of 1.3 seconds to d’Orlando. The gap back to Sundaramoorthy in fifth place was 3.3 seconds.
Shields set his quickest lap of the race on Lap 8, closing the gap to Rasmussen to 0.8 seconds. The front four were covered by only 2.3 seconds.
Further back, Sundaramoorthy had five drivers backed up in a nose to tail train of USF-17s.
At the halfway point of the 20 lap race, Rasmussen’s lead over Shields was 1.1 seconds. The Aussie’s gap to Barrichello was a slim 0.4 seconds. The rest of the top ten were d’Orlando, Sundaramoorthy, Gold, Miller, Round-Garrido, Brooks, and Green.
On Lap 11, Siegel came to pit road to bolt on a fresh set of Cooper Tire slicks to attempt to set a quick lap. The grid for Race #3 is set by the fastest race lap in Race #2, making this a sound strategy for a driver running near the back of the pack.
On lap 15, Siegel set the quickest lap of the race to that point, turning the only lap under 78 seconds to that point.
On the next lap, Christodoulou employed the same strategy, coming to pit road for sticker Coopers.
Rasmussen’s lead to start Lap 13 was just under a second. Shields was still under immense pressure from Barrichello.
On Lap 14, Round-Garrido was penalized for blocking Brooks. The second-year driver had to serve a drive-thru penalty. That changed the Englishman’s strategy, and he came to pit road on the next lap for fresh Cooper Tire slicks.
Round-Garrido set his quickest lap of the race on his final circuit, but it wasn’t fast enough to knock Siegel off the pole for Race #3.
Rasmussen’s lead was only 0.7 seconds over Shields with four laps remaining, with the top four covered by only 1.9 seconds.
Further back, Brooks was able to get around Miler for seventh.
With three laps left, the lead was 0.6 seconds. Shields had his mirrors full of Barrichello and d’Orlando.
To start the penultimate lap, Rasmussen’s lead was only 0.4 seconds, and when he took the white flag, his lead was back up to 0.8 seconds.
Rasmussen was able to hang on for a vital win. It wasn’t easy, though, with the top four separated by only 2.1 seconds.
The biggest mover in the race was Brooks, who moved from 13th to seventh.
The Andersen Companies USF2000 Grand Prix Race #2 unofficial results
|1||6||Christian Rasmussen||Jay Howard Driver Development||20 laps|
|2||10||Cameron Shields||DEForce Racing||-0.8323|
|3||22||Eduardo Barrichello||Pabst Racing||-1.5745|
|4||4||Michael d’Orlando||Cape Motorsports||-2.1308|
|5||21||Yuven Sundaramoorthy||Pabst Racing||-10.8438|
|6||3||Reece Gold||Cape Motorsports||-11.1339|
|7||44||Christian Brooks||Exclusive Autosport||-12.8373|
|8||40||Jack William Miller||Miller Vinatieri Motorsports||-15.8804|
|9||2||Josh Green||Cape Motorsports||-16.5702|
|10||16||Josh Pierson||Exclusive Autosport||-16.8595|
|11||1||Prescott Campbell||Exclusive Autosport||-17.7825|
|12||7||Christian Bogle||Jay Howard Driver Development||-20.5973|
|13||8||Kyle Dupell||Cape Motorsports||-24.1918|
|14||41||Kent Vaccaro||Miller Vinatieri Motorsports||-45.597|
|15||5||Wyatt Brichacek||Jay Howard Driver Development||-1 LAP|
|16||11||Nico Christodoulou||DEForce Racing||-1 LAP|
|17||23||Matt Round-Garrido||Pabst Racing||-1 LAP|
|18||9||Nolan Siegel||Jay Howard Driver Development||– 6 LAPS|
The final Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship race of the weekend is scheduled to get the green flag at 3:45 pm.