LEXINGTON, Ohio – The Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires season concluded Sunday with a thrilling VP Racing Lubricants Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio Presented by Cooper Tires.
The 18th and final race of the Indy Pro 2000 season was held in tricky, drying conditions and witnessed three different leaders before Irishman James Roe burst through to the front, then narrowly held off charging Englishman Enaam Ahmed (Juncos Racing) to claim a superb maiden victory. The day was even more memorable for Turn 3 Motorsport principal Peter Dempsey, who earlier had guided Josh Green to his – and the team’s – first-ever Road to Indy win in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship finale.
The other major winner Sunday was Christian Rasmussen. The 21-year-old from Copenhagen, Denmark, needed only to start the final race of the season for the Jay Howard Driver Development team to add the Indy Pro 2000 championship to the USF2000 title he won in 2020. Rasmussen did much more than that, fighting through from the back to edge Russian Artem Petrov (Exclusive Autosport) for third place by just over two hundredths of a second at the line.
Hunter McElrea, from New Zealand, started an eventful day by comfortably eclipsing the field in a wet qualifying session for Pabst Racing to claim his fifth Cooper Tires Pole Award of the season.
The track remained extremely damp at the start of the 25-lap race but the rain had stopped so it wasn’t long before a drier line began to emerge. After one additional lap behind the Pace Car for the drivers to gain a better understanding of the conditions, McElrea took off into the lead as Petrov immediately jumped ahead of Ahmed for second. The Russian continued his early charge by diving past McElrea on the downhill straightaway leading toward Turn Four, only to carry too much speed into the corner and run off wide into the gravel. A little farther back, debutant Jordan Missig (Pabst Racing), from Channahon, Ill., also made a mistake to bring out a full-course caution.
McElrea again led at the restart, but this time came under instant attack from Petrov’s teammate, Braden Eves, from New Albany, Ohio, who again went for a pass in Turn Four. Unlike Petrov, Eves was able to make the move stick. Eves pulled out a lead of almost five seconds before another brief rain shower led him to skate off the track in Turn Two. Eves was fortunate to be able to resume in second, behind Ahmed, but at almost the same time, Missing, who had elected to change onto slick tires, also slid off into the gravel at the same turn. Cue another full-course caution.
Ahmed became the third different leader at the restart but soon came under increasing pressure from the flying Roe. The Irishman had overtaken Eves with a bold outside-line pass in Turn Four on Lap 12, then next time around repeated the maneuver on Ahmed, a former British F3 Champion.
Roe eked out a lead of over three seconds before one final caution period on Lap 19 erased the gap entirely and brought the chasing pack back together again for a four-lap dash to the checkers.
Now on a rapidly drying track, Roe managed his pace to perfection, holding off Ahmed by a scant 0.1412 of a second at the finish line. Just behind, Rasmussen barely sneaked ahead of Petrov in an intense battle for third.
Peter Dempsey hoisted a second PFC Award of the day as the winning car owner, while Rasmussen added to his championship title by claiming the Tilton Hard Charger Award.
Farther back in ninth, Jacob Abel, from Louisville, Ky., rewarded his family-run Abel Motorsports team with The Ticket Clinic Fastest Lap Award after making the switch to dry-weather slick tires during the final caution period. Two or three more laps and he could well have been challenging for the win.