SPEEDWAY, Ind. – A pair of Indy Pro 2000 Championship presented by Cooper Tires races Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course saw honors shared between Russian Artem Petrov and Denmark’s Christian Rasmussen.
Petrov was chased home Saturday morning by teammate Braden Eves, from New Albany, Ohio, who regained the championship lead after his closest rival, Rasmussen, was forced to start the race a couple of laps late after experiencing a spark plug problem on the pace laps.
But Rasmussen bounced back magnificently in Round Seven, rising from third on the grid to the lead at the first corner and going on to score his third win of the season.
Juncos Racing’s Reece Gold couldn’t convert any of his three pole positions this weekend into a maiden Indy Pro 2000 race win, but he did conclude with a strong second-place finish ahead of Eves Saturday afternoon.
The grid for the opening race this morning was set by each driver’s second-fastest lap from qualifying on Friday and once again saw Gold taking the Cooper Tires Pole Award.
Crisp, cool conditions resulted in officials wisely allowing drivers to take an extra pace lap to build some heat into their Cooper tires, although there was still plenty of drama in the opening stages – beginning at the first corner where Gold braked a touch too late while trying to defend from Eves, who had qualified on the outside of the front row.
Gold not only forced Eves to take to the escape road, costing him a few positions, he also ran wide onto the grass himself and promptly spun.
Kyffin Simpson took advantage of the shenanigans to vault from fifth on the grid to the lead before the caution flags flew due to Gold becoming stuck on the damp grass. Simpson was promptly passed at turn one following the restart by Petrov, with Exclusive Autosport teammate Eves immediately making up for his earlier excursion by following him through soon after another restart caused by a mid-pack incident.
Thankfully, the race then settled down with Petrov leading confidently from Eves and Simpson, with Gold quickly working through the field into fourth following his early dramas. The top four positions remained unchanged from there, with Petrov claiming a well-deserved first win of the year and Eves having to be content with second ahead of Simpson and Gold.
“I’m so happy to win at Indy! To be honest, I’m not even sure what happened in that first corner; I just kept my head down and went for whatever holes were there. I was able to get into second and then take the lead on the restart,” said Petrov. “At that point, I still had 20 laps to go, so I was very nervous because I had Braden filling my mirrors. It was great for us to finish one-two, it’s so important for the points.
“I’m so happy for the team and for Michael [Duncalfe, team principal]. Everyone did an awesome job.”
Also not far behind was Rasmussen, although the unfortunate Dane was two laps down to the field after the mechanical issue. Rasmussen nevertheless served notice of what might have been by taking the Ticket Clinic Fastest Lap Award and a valuable championship bonus point.
Gold had a third opportunity to capitalize on another Cooper Tires Pole Award in Saturday’s second race, only to be thwarted by an opportunist late lunge by Rasmussen at Turn One to take over the top spot.
Gold kept piling on the pressure throughout the 25-lap race but Rasmussen was up for the challenge, taking the victory by just .6399 of a second.
“In race one, the engine was misfiring on the pace lap and I came into the pits. It was the spark plugs, just one of those things that happens. It was a shame, it could have been a good finish. I’m just thankful that some of the other guys in the championship ended up in the back as well,” said Rasmussen. “I had the fastest race lap, so that showed our pace.
“In race two, I saw that Braden was going for the outside again around Reece, who was focused on him, and there was no way I could not try to capitalize on that. I overtook them both on the inside and built a consistent gap. At the end of the day, I have to be happy. I came into the weekend four points back and now I’m three points back.
“It’s a small step but considering the mechanical failure, I’m happy.”
Briton Enaam Ahmed also forced his way past Eves at the first corner for RP Motorsport USA. The former British Formula 3 champion capped his best performance to date since switching his attention to the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires by claiming the Ticket Clinic Fastest Lap Award on the penultimate lap, but even that wasn’t enough to prevent Eves from pulling off a fine pass on the final lap to wrest away third position.
Michael Duncalfe, of Exclusive Autosport, and Jay Howard each secured a PFC Award as the winning team owners.