Kyle Kirkwood needed only a modest few results from this weekend’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda triple-header at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to put the championship crown beyond the reach of his rivals. The 19-year-old from Jupiter, Fla., did rather better than that.
For race one, Kirkwood qualified comfortably on pole position – for the fourth time this season – and was never remotely under threat as he cruised to a dominant seventh consecutive victory for Cape Motorsports.
The victory locked up the $325,000 Mazda Scholarship which will allow him to graduate onto the next level of the Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel development ladder, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, in 2019.
“The championship hasn’t begun to sink in, I don’t even know what to think,” said Kirkwood after race one. “It’s very unexpected to get it this early – I’d hoped to clinch it here but I didn’t think it would be in the first race. Oliver (Askew)’s goal was to win it here last year and couldn’t, so now I’ve been able to do it!
“(Oliver and I have) known each other for so long, so to follow up his championship last year with the eighth in a row for the Capes is a great feeling. I’m so excited to think that I’ll be carrying the Soul Red colors for Mazda next year.”
Teammates Lucas Kohl, from Santa Cruz do Sul, Brazil, and Calvin Ming, from Georgetown, Guyana, locked out the podium for Pabst Racing to move the Wisconsin-based team ahead of Cape Motorsports in the battle for the coveted Team Championship with four races remaining.
Behind, there was all sorts of mayhem as a variety of incidents led to much of the 20-lap race being run under full-course caution. The drama started on the opening lap when the two other Pabst Racing entries, driven by Kaylen Frederick, from Potomac, Md., and Rasmus Lindh, from Gothenburg, Sweden, who had qualified second and third fastest, collided at Turn Four.
Frederick’s hopes of scoring an elusive maiden victory were ended as he lost a lap before rejoining, while Lindh, who continued in second place, was obliged to serve a drive-through penalty for “avoidable contact” immediately after the restart, which dropped him to the back of the field.
Kohl took advantage of the fracas to slip into second place ahead of Ming, while a bold move by Irishman Keith Donegan (BN Racing) catapulted him from seventh on the grid to fourth at the end of the first lap ahead of Englishman James Raven, making an impressive debut for DEForce Racing, and Mexican teammate Jose Sierra.
A series of additional full-course cautions for a variety of incidents failed to trouble Kirkwood, who on each occasion was able to jump clear of his rivals at the restarts. He took the checkered flag a comfortable 1.8275 seconds clear of Kohl to clinch the eighth PFC Award of the season for brothers Dominic and Nicholas Cape.
Kirkwood’s performance also ensured a record-extending eighth straight USF2000 title – and remarkable 12th since 2000 – for Cape Motorsports.
Race two would see much of the same, but only after an exciting first lap sequence that saw pole-sitter Kaylen Frederick outbrake himself at Turn 2.
Overshooting his marks, Frederick relinquished the lead to Kirkwood, who started second and never looked back.
Lucas Kohl, from Santa Cruz do Sul, Brazil, salvaged second place for Pabst Racing for the second straight day, while Japanese-born Brazilian Igor Fraga fought his way past Pabst Racing’s Rasmus Lindh, from Sweden, at half-distance to complete the podium for Exclusive Autosport.
Once Frederick had lost another opportunity to claim a long overdue maiden victory, teammates Kohl and Lindh, from Sweden, exchanged places on the opening lap with Kohl, who started fourth, sneaking past Lindh to emerge in second position.
Fraga tucked in behind, followed by Michael d’Orlando, from Hartsdale, N.Y., who once again displayed good speed for Team BENIK.
After an early caution to recover Oscar DeLuzuriaga’s Newman Wachs Racing car following a spin at the Carousel and then another to remove the stricken cars of Sabre Cook (Team BENIK) and Frederick – who had been attempting to fight his way back through the field – Kirkwood once again took off into the lead.
His eventual margin of victory was a comfortable 5.7167 seconds for Kirkwood. The result earned winning car owners Dominic and Nicholas Cape their ninth PFC Award of the season in just 11 races.
Fraga made his move on Lindh on Lap 10, shortly after the restart, to secure his third podium of the year, although Lindh’s fourth-place finish was enough to maintain a one-point advantage over Fraga for second place in the championship with three races remaining.
The result also enabled Pabst Racing to extend its Team Championship lead to nine points, 268-259, over Cape Motorsports.
Dakota Dickerson (ArmsUp Motorsports), from San Diego, made up four positions from 11th on the grid on the opening lap and then ran as high as fifth for much of the 20-lap race before being overtaken just two laps from the finish by Calvin Ming (Pabst Racing), from Georgetown, Guyana.
Dickerson was chased home by Colin Kaminsky (DEForce Racing), who earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award after fighting his way from 16th on the grid to seventh ahead of South African Julian Van der Watt (Team Pelfrey), Singapore’s Danial Frost (Exclusive Autosport) and Yuven Sundaramoorthy, 15, from Guilderland, N.Y., who continued to make strong progress during his maiden USF2000 weekend with Exclusive Autosport to complete the top 10.
As if there was any doubt who the USF2000 big man on campus was, Kirkwood would once again dominate in race three before securing a tripleheader sweep at Mid-Ohio.
Kirkwood even posted a new record fastest race lap for good measure on his final tour around the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
“I got a little bit of a jump on James after the green came out at the start and had the momentum going into Turn One,” Kirkwood explained post-race. “I had two tires onto the preferred line so I slid a little, but I was able to hang on and keep the lead. We have the sweep and the championship, so this is the best weekend of the year.
“I’m glad that I’m able to get in the car and forget everything happening outside of the car and focus on the moment. I think that’s why we’ve been able to do so well this year. There’s so much swirling around me now that could distract me, but it doesn’t. Honestly, it still hasn’t hit me. I need some time to absorb everything that happened this weekend.”
James Raven, from Portsmouth, England, capped an impressive first weekend in USF2000 by finishing second for DEForce Racing, while Swedish rookie Rasmus Lindh strengthened his grip on second place in the championship by finishing third for Pabst Racing.
Raven started on pole position by virtue of posting the fastest lap – fractionally slower than the existing USF2000 lap record set way back in 2012 by current Verizon IndyCar Series driver Spencer Pigot – during yesterday’s second of three races this weekend.
Raven’s hopes of translating that into a victory were thwarted on the drag race away from the start line when outside front row starter Kirkwood edged ahead into the first corner.
The English driver remained tucked underneath the newly crowned champion’s rear wing for the opening eight laps, only for Kirkwood to seemingly kick into another gear as he edged away to an eventual winning margin of 6.1014 seconds after 20 laps.
Kirkwood’s final lap at 1:21.2979, an average speed of 99.988mph, was fractionally quicker than Pigot’s previous mark of 1:21.328.
Raven finished well clear of Lindh, who shadowed Irishman Keith Donegan (BN Racing) for the majority of the race before pulling off a fine overtaking maneuver in Turns Four and Five with three laps remaining to snatch the final podium placing.
Mexican driver Jose Sierra ran fifth until serving a penalty for a jump-start. South African F1600 Champion Julian Van der Watt (Team Pelfrey) then held the position until he was punted into a spin at Turn Four by Kaylen Frederick (Pabst Racing) just after the halfway mark.
Frederick, who had charged up from a lowly 22nd starting position following two separate incidents in yesterday’s race, was obliged to serve a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact, dropping him once again to the tail of the field.
Brazilian Igor Fraga eventually emerged in fifth for Exclusive Autosport. He held onto the position despite the close attentions of Pabst Racing teammates Lucas Kohl, also from Brazil, and Guyanan Calvin Ming, plus Team BENIK’s Michael d’Orlando, from Hartsdale, N.Y. Ming claimed the Tilton Hard Charger Award after starting in the 16th position.
Exclusive Autosport teammates Danial Frost, from Singapore, and impressive 15-year-old rookie Yuven Sundaramoorthy, from Guilderland, N.Y., completed the top 10, narrowly ahead of Louisville, Ky.’s Jacob Abel (Abel Motorsport).
Although winning car owners Dominic and Nicholas Cape took home their 10th PFC Award of the season, the coveted Team Championship remains undecided. Pabst Racing currently holds a slender seven-point edge, 291-284, prior to the final two races of the season which will take place at Portland International Raceway, Ore., on September 1-2.
Images and content courtesy of the Mazda Road to Indy.