By Steve Wittich
Christian Rasmussen had a doubly terrific day at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, winning his seventh race of the season and all but clinching the $718,065 scholarship. As a result, the Dane heads into his final Indy Pro 2000 race with an insurmountable – as long as he starts the race – 27 point lead.
On the Independence Day weekend, Rasmussen won the first race in the series first visit to the 2.258-Mile, 13-Turn Mid-Ohio Road Course. It is his ninth win across the F4 United States Championship USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 series at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
The win is the 19th in the career of “Raz,” moving him to third on the all-time list, trailing only Spencer Pigot (24 wins) and Kyle Kirkwood (31 wins).
“This is such a relief! It’s been such an intense season – there are so many good drivers out there, and the series is so competitive. I didn’t get a perfect start today; Braden got a good run, and I think we touched wheels, so it’s good that we all got through cleanly. It’s hard to pass here, so I just waited for an opportunity. Petrov slowed into Turn One and I grabbed the spot and I cruised from there.
“I knew the championship was about done. I rarely get emotional, but this one got me a little bit. Winning in my rookie season with a rookie team is a huge accomplishment. I’m so happy for (team owner) Jay (Howard). We’ve been together for so long, and to go back-to-back shows how much of a team sport this really is. But for me, winning the scholarship is huge, life-changing. We’re so grateful to have the chance to earn these scholarships; you don’t see that anywhere else in the world. It gives drivers like me the chance to keep racing.”
Rasmussen was able to fight off pole-sitter Artem Petrov, who was comfortably on the way to his third win of the season when electrical gremlins robbed him of that accolade. All was not for naught for the 22-year-old, though. His 16th career Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires podium moved him to within one point of Reece Gold (Juncos Hollinger Racing) in fourth and Hunter McElrea (Pabst Racing) in third on the points table.
It was the fifth time that Exclusive Autosport teammates Petrov and Braden Eves have shared a podium in 2021 and the team’s 17th and 18th podiums this season, giving them the Indy Pro 2000 team championship (more on that at a later time).
The 2019 USF2000 champion, Eves, came into the finale with a shot to win his second Road To Indy championship, only a year after a scary crash on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. The 22-year-old got beside championship rival Rasmussen in the first corner of the first lap but had to settle for third place, his 19th career Road To Indy podium.
“Tough race, said Eves after the 25-lapper. “This is a very physical track, and pushing from behind makes it even more so. It’s a bummer, but we’ll rebound and try to finish the season on a high note tomorrow and pick up a win in the rain.
“It’s been a tough season; a lot of things didn’t go our way. But Christian did an incredible job, so congratulations to him.
“The entire Cambridge Exclusive Autosport team did an incredible job all year, and the team championship is very deserving. But all things considered, it’s been a good year, coming back after last year. Second place isn’t all that bad. I’m proud of our accomplishments. Hopefully, I can put something together for next year.”
Gold, who scored his 12th top-five of his rookie Indy Pro 2000 season, pressured Eves for most of the race.
Coming home fifth, in his first-ever Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires race, was Exclusive Autosport’s Christian Brooks, who held off more experienced drivers behind him.
Rob Howden, the Voice of the Road To Indy, gave the command to fire the dozen Elite Engine 2.0L engines at 2 pm. The skies were sunny, and the temperature was a comfortable 73F.
The field, led by Petrov and Rasmussen, got the green flag after one lap behind the Road To Indy pace car.
Petrov got a great jump, easily beating Rasmussen to Turn 1 and allowing Eves to get beside the Dane in the fast left-hander. That compromised the Eves exit, allowing Rasmussen, Gold, and Brooks to get past him on the long uphill run to Turn 2. After that, the Ohian could get back around everybody but Rasmussen, slotting back into where he started, third.
Behind the front five, the action in the Keyhole was three-wide, with the No. 40 of Jack William Miller pushed wide at the corner exit and going for a bouncy ride through the grass.
After one lap, Petrov’s lead over Rasmussen was 1.3 seconds, with Eves slotting into the final spot on the podium. The remainder of the running order was Gold, Brooks, Able, McElrea, Ahmed, Brichacek, Roe, Missig, and Miller.
After five laps of action, Petrov’s lead over Rasmussen was steady at 1.1 seconds. Eves was 2.2 seconds behind the driver he’s fighting for the championship and had Gold in his mirrors.
Further back, newcomer Brooks was in the fifth spot but had his mirrors full of Abel and McElrea.
On Lap 7, the No. 42 slowed on the front straight, allowing Rasmussen to get the lead. The Russian was able to get back up to speed.
“The start was good, and the early part of the race was going great; I made no mistakes,” explained the driver of the Exclusive Autosport No. 42. “But, then suddenly, my systems turned off completely and I was stuck in gear, and that happened three times during the race. A bit unlucky, but we secured the team championship, and I’m very happy about that. It was a hard year for me, with some bad luck, but I’m just trying to enjoy the last race weekend with the Exclusive team.”
On Lap 10, Abel was running sixth and facing pressure from McElrea. The Crosley/Abel Construction/Bell Helmets No. 51 dropped his left side tires at the exit of Turn 9 but somehow kept the car pointed in the right direction and held McElrea behind him.
When the starter showed the crossed flags to signify the halfway mark of the 25-lap race, all three spots on the podium were under competition.
Petrov was back up to speed and within a half-second of the leader. Behind those two, Gold was on the gearbox of
Eves, for the final spot on the podium.
Petrov was 0.6 seconds behind Rasmussen with ten laps remaining, and Gold was only 0.3 seconds behind Eves.
With five laps remaining, Rasmussen had gapped Petrov by 1.8 seconds, comfortably.
Rasmussen got the white flag and yellow flag at the same time after an incident involving Roe and Miller in Turn 2, giving the reigning Indy Pro 2000 champion the win and his second straight Road To Indy championship.
Roe ended up in the gravel, and Miller came to a stop on the driver’s right at the corner exit. Race control requested that Miller meet with race director Johnny Unser after the race. As a result of that meeting, the second-generation driver was given an avoidable contact penalty and will have to serve a two-grid place penalty for race #2.
VP Racing Lubricants Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio Presented by Cooper Tires Race #1 results
|1||1||Christian Rasmussen||Jay Howard Driver Development||25 LAPS|
|2||42||Artem Petrov||Exclusive Autosport||0.4290|
|3||91||Braden Eves||Exclusive Autosport||1.3866|
|4||55||Reece Gold||Juncos Racing||2.0908|
|5||44||Christian Brooks||Exclusive Autosport||3.2536|
|6||51||Jacob Abel||Abel Motorsports||4.0697|
|7||18||Hunter McElrea||Pabst Racing||4.8290|
|8||22||Enaam Ahmed||Juncos Racing||5.4623|
|9||5||Wyatt Brichacek||Jay Howard Driver Development||5.8981|
|10||19||Jordan Missig||Pabst Racing||6.4411|
|11||3||James Roe||Turn 3 Motorsport||-2 Laps|
|12||40||Jack William Miller||Miller Vinatieri Motorsports||-2 Laps|
2021 Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires points table with one race remaining
|1||Christian Rasmussen – r||Jay Howard Driver Development||423|
|2||Braden Eves||Exclusive Autosport||396|
|3||Hunter McElrea||Pabst Racing||362|
|4||Reece Gold – r||Juncos Hollinger Racing||356|
|5||Artem Petrov||Exclusive Autosport||355|
|6||Jacob Abel||Abel Motorsports||279|
|7||Kyffin Simpson – r||Juncos Hollinger Racing||230|
|8||Manuel Sulaiman||Juncos Hollinger Racing||214|
|9||James Roe – r||Turn 3 Motorsport||210|
|10||Wyatt Brichacek – r||Jay Howard Driver Development||199|
|11||Jack William Miller – r||Miller Vinatieri Motorsports||189|
|12||Enaam Ahmed – r||RP Motorsport||113|
|13||Colin Kaminsky||Pabst Racing||91|
|14||Hunter Yeany – r||Velocity Racing Development||79|
|15||Cameron Shields – r||DEForce Racing||43|
|16||Flinn Lazier – r||Legacy Autosport||37|
|17||Nolan Siegel||DEForce Racing||26|
|18||Enzo Fittipaldi – r||RP Motorsport||20|
|19||Kory Enders||DEForce Racing||18|
|20||Christian Brooks||Exclusive Autosport||17|
The remainder of the Indy Pro 2000 weekend schedule is as follows:
Sunday, October 3
- 9:30am – 10am – Indy Pro 2000 Qualifying #2
- 1:10pm – 2pm – Indy Pro 2000 Race #2
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- live timing – Road To Indy TV – Indy Lights – Pro Mazda – USF2000 – IndyCar Race Control
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