By Tony DiZinno
The field of 16 USF2000 Championship presented by Cooper Tires competitors in their Tatuus USF-22 chassis took the green flag at 8:54 p.m., 24 mins after the scheduled start of 8:30.
Additional infield temporary lighting helps to illuminate the 0.686-mile Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park as some of the taller floodlights aren’t fully lit.
The sun is setting as the race is about to get going. Ambient temp of 72 for race start.
Clark led the field away ahead of Papasavvas with Johnson up to third past Gardner, Hughes completing the top five.
Gardner making a run on the low line around Johnson. He completes the pass after Lap 6 at the start of Lap 7. Further back in the pack, Cox and Garcia are big movers up three spots apiece to eighth and ninth from 11th and 12th on the grid.
First full course yellow end of Lap 12 for Dyselzki stopped at pit in Turn 3. This wipes out a 1.6-second lead Clark had on Papasavvas.
Restart comes end of Lap 17 start of Lap 18 as Clark, who’s kept the No. 1 DEForce Racing entry up front since the start, leads away. Gardner and Johnson remain side by side for third a little further behind.
Sikes closing on Hughes for P5, inside going into T1 L26 and clear for P5 exiting T4 L26. Hughes trying him back on the next lap and the two title combatants remain side-by-side.
Clark has the gap on Papasavvas back to 1.6 seconds at L30.
He’ll also be closing on traffic in the next several laps; Scully in P15 is last car running. Clark clears him on L34, through T3 and T4. Gets Jamieson a couple laps later.
Halfway home in the Cooper Tires Freedom 75 – Lap 38 of 75 – and order is:
Clark, Papasavvas, Gardner, Sikes (now fourth after passing Johnson), Johnson, Hughes, Morey, Cox, Garcia and Garciarce in top 10 with Towns, Corry and Brienza on the lead lap, Jamieson and Scully lapped and Dyselzski out of the race.
The gap from Clark to Papasavvas is 1.966 seconds at half distance.
Johnson now back by Sikes for fourth in the battle for best of the rest outside the podium runners. Sikes regains the spot on Lap 44.
Clark has extended the gap to 3.381 seconds by Lap 47.
With 25 laps to go, the top 11 cars are on the lead lap. Garcia is now up to eighth past Cox on Lap 52.
Sikes has closed to mere hundredths on Gardner for third and completes the pass end of L63 exit of T4, after reeling him in. Gardner repossess him thought exit of T4 on the following lap in what has quickly blossomed into a great battle.
Ambient temp has dropped three degrees to 69F since race start as at 9:21, the track is completely lit.
The Sikes/Gardner battle rages for four more laps, but Sikes finally completes the pass after the exchange by the end of L68. Further back Garcia gains another spot, now up to P7.
Five to go on L70.
Clark brings it home after an authoritative flag-to-flag performance from pole. Papasavvas second and Sikes third, a smart drive that may pay dividends for him later this year.
“It feels great. I knew we had a strong car coming to the race and we put it together yesterday. To put it together with these boys… it’s been since Portland when we had a win. So it’s been a bit of a drought!” said Clark, referencing his most recent win in 2022. This is his second USF2000 win, first on an oval.
Talking championship aspirations for the rest of the year:
“For a Canadian reference… this is the TSN Turning Point of our season! We can fight for the championship. We have what, four rounds left? Lots of racing.
“Now it’s about being smart. We clawed back a little bit of ground. You can’t have a DNF, you can’t have a mechanical failure. It needs to be all brains from here.”
Any advice he received coming in?
“I got some good advice; well my dad taught me how to drive. Hinch was texting me before the race! He’s won big races before and he had a bit for me. It helped.
Cooper Tires Freedom 75 Unofficial Results
|1||1||Mac Clark||DEForce Racing||75||LAP 75|
|2||6||Evagoras Papasavvas||Jay Howard Driver Development||75||3.752|
|3||22||Simon Sikes||Pabst Racing||75||10.529|
|4||95||Chase Gardner||Exclusive Autosport||75||12.273|
|5||17||Nikita Johnson||VRD Racing||75||16.479|
|6||8||Lochie Hughes||Jay Howard Driver Development||75||17.880|
|7||24||Max Garcia||Pabst Racing||75||18.117|
|8||7||Al Morey||Jay Howard Driver Development||75||18.928|
|9||67||Elliot Cox||Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Dev||75||19.423|
|10||10||Jorge Garciarce||DEForce Racing||75||20.226|
|11||93||Avery Towns||Exclusive Autosport||74||1 LAPS|
|12||14||Sam Corry||VRD Racing||73||2 LAPS|
|13||12||Maxwell Jamieson||DEForce Racing||73||2 LAPS|
|14||91||Joey Brienza||Exclusive Autosport||73||2 LAPS|
|15||19||Gordon Scully||VRD Racing||72||3 LAPS|
|16||18||Danny Dyszelski||VRD Racing||9||Retired|
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