LEXINGTON, Ohio – Cape Motorsports teammates Michael d’Orlando and Reece Gold each claimed a victory during a pair of Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship races Saturday at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Gold and Brazilian Eduardo Barrichello shared the second-place finishes, while Nolan Siegel and Australian Cameron Shields also made visits to the podium after finishing third.
It’s game-on in the quest for a scholarship valued at more than $328,000 to graduate onto the next step of the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder, the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, in 2021. Just more than one week ago, Denmark’s Christian Rasmussen held a commanding 85-point lead in the standings following a dominant run of six consecutive wins to start the season, including a triple-header sweep at Mid-Ohio in July.
That huge advantage has been whittled down to three points over Gold, who has gone on a tear of his own with eight podium finishes, including two wins, in his last nine starts. Six races remain this season, beginning tomorrow morning with the final leg of this weekend’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio.
Rasmussen bounced back Friday from a disappointing event last week on the Indianapolis Grand Prix circuit by scorching to his sixth Cooper Tires Pole Award of the year.
The rapid Dane duly made an exemplary start to lead the ultra-competitive 21-car field around the opening lap, only to overcook the entry to the tricky, uphill Turn 11 and run wide onto the grass at the exit. Rasmussen’s out-of-control Tatuus USF-17 then careened across the race track and into the tire barriers at the Carousel, handing the lead to d’Orlando, who had out-muscled Cape Motorsports teammate Gold at Turn Four.
Rasmussen was fortunate to be able to extricate his car from the tire wall and continue, albeit at the back of the field. His predicament was helped by the fact the Pace Car was deployed following a separate incident between Kyle Dupell and Jack William Miller, which ended with Dupell’s car embedded in the gravel trap at turn eight.
D’Orlando, who had qualified third, put his head down at the restart and narrowly held off the attentions of Gold for the remainder of the 20-lap race to claim a well-deserved maiden victory. The margin between them at the checkered flag was a hair over half a second.
After starting sixth, Rasmussen’s teammate, Siegel, jumped to third on the opening lap. The 15-year-old maintained his position throughout, despite the best efforts of fellow Californian Christian Brooks, who maintained his strong recent form by working his way impressively from 13th on the grid after a disappointing run Friday in qualifying. Brooks also was the top rookie finisher. Behind, fellow rookie Josh Green was involved in an entertaining tussle for fifth with Australian Cameron Shields.
Several other performances also were noteworthy. Rasmussen limited the damage to his title hopes by rising to 14th at the finish, and looked set to claim an additional championship point for the Ticket Clinic Fastest Lap Award until being pipped on the final lap by Brazilian Kiko Porto. Porto finished seventh but had been closing rapidly on the battle between Green and Shields.
Barrichello was similarly impressive. After forging his way into title contention by winning twice last week at Indianapolis, the unfortunate Brazilian had to start at the back of the field for this morning’s race following a technical problem yesterday in qualifying. A fired-up Barrichello posted the drive of the race as he rose to 10th at the finish.
For Race two, Gold maintained his recent rush of form by snagging his first Cooper Tires Pole Award during a separate qualifying session on Friday afternoon. He duly led away from the start, chased by Barrichello and Shields. Rasmussen, after qualifying sixth, moved up a couple of positions on the opening lap, but his miserable run of luck continued on lap two when a clash of wheels led to a puncture, which in turn caused him to run off the road and into a spin at turn four.
The good news for Rasmussen was that he was able to continue, once again at the back of the pack. This time, though, he was two laps down to the leader, although he did gain a valuable consolation by claiming the Ticket Clinic Fastest Lap Award which in turn guaranteed him pole position for what will be a crucial third race of the weekend Sunday.
Gold and Barrichello, who shared the victory spoils at Indianapolis, remained locked together at the front of the field throughout the 20-lap race. Try as he did though, Barrichello could find no chink in Gold’s armor, and it was the 16-year-old American who held on for the win. Gold ensured a clean sweep of the day’s PFC Awards for brothers Dominic and Nicholas Cape as the winning car owners.
Green looked set for a fine third place finish until sliding off the road at turn four on the final lap, gifting the position to Shields. Brooks thereby once again finished as the top rookie in fourth, chased home by Englishman Matt Round-Garrido and Miller, who rebounded well from a difficult morning.
Saturday’s morning winner, d’Orlando, drove another fine race, albeit this time having to work his way through the field from 15th on the grid following an accident yesterday in qualifying. He clawed his way to seventh at the finish.