LEXINGTON, Ohio – Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda rookie Oliver Askew was under a lot of pressure as he arrived at the challenging Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for a pair of races this week that could well determine the outcome of the championship and a Mazda Scholarship worth almost $400,000 which will assist in graduation to the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, the next level on the Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel development ladder, in 2018.
The 20-year-old from Jupiter, Fla., in his first full season of car racing, had seen his once comfortable 60-point advantage whittled away to just 18 markers over fellow rookie Rinus VeeKay (Pabst Racing), from Hoofddorp, The Netherlands, with only three races remaining in the season. Today, Askew qualified Cape Motorsports’ Soul Red Tatuus-Mazda USF-17 comfortably on pole position, then led throughout the 30-minute race to secure his seventh win out of 12 races.
USF2000 veteran Parker Thompson, from Red Deer, Alb., Canada, who scored the first two victories for the Exclusive Autosport team just two weeks ago on the streets of Toronto, continued his excellent form by finishing a strong second ahead of title aspirant VeeKay.
Subsequently, Askew, who had on probation for previous start violations, was adjudged to have accelerated before the prescribed marker at the initial start and was assessed a 10-point championship penalty. He now leads VeeKay by 19 points with only one more race tomorrow and the season finale at Watkins Glen International in early September remaining.
Askew led from Kohl at the start, with Thompson and VeeKay anxiously looking for a way past. Thompson made his move for second place stick on the third lap, while VeeKay followed suit next time around. The trio traded fastest laps as they pulled well clear of Kohl, who in turn was under no pressure from teammate Calvin Ming, from Guyana, South America.
Just when it looked like Askew had the race under control, an incident between Kaylen Frederick (Team Pelfrey), from Potomac, Md., and Moises de le Vara (DEForce Racing), from Guadalajara, who were battling mightily over seventh place, ended with contact at Turn Five, which necessitated a full-course caution. The restart came with less than five minutes remaining, and Askew was up for the challenge as he made an exemplary getaway to cement his advantage over Thompson and VeeKay.
Askew took the checkered flag 1.3282 seconds in front of Thompson, with his constant shadow VeeKay – on his very first visit to Mid-Ohio – right behind in third.
Kohl held on for fourth ahead of Ming and David Malukas (BN Racing), from Chicago Ridge, Ill., who earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award following his impressive drive from 17th on the grid. Frederick, Kory Enders (DEForce Racing), from Warwick, N.Y., who snagged the Staubli Award, and Darren Keane (Newman Wachs Racing), from Parkland, Fla., also were in close attendance at the finish line.
The Cape brothers, Dominic and Nicholas, claimed another PFC Award as the winning team owners.
Oliver Askew (#3 Mazda Motorsports/MC Racing-Cape Motorsports): “The penalty doesn’t change my mindset. The focus is to just keep on winning races and the championship will come in the end. We have the speed to qualify on pole and that’s huge here because it is quite difficult to pass. There was a ton of pressure going into this weekend and that pressure is still there. Cape Motorsports has dominated here the past few years, winning every race, so I know I'll have a fast car again tomorrow and can go for the pole and the win again.”
Parker Thompson (#91 Exclusive Autosport Openhwy): “I’m going to try to get as many wins for Exclusive Autosport as I can and when the dust settles on the championship, then it settles. I knew going in that I had a mathematical shot at the championship but realistically, it was going to be pretty hard to close that gap up. We had a shot for pole and for a win and that’s great. We ran old tires in the race today so that we would have new tires for qualifying and Race Two tomorrow, which puts us on a different strategy than everyone else so that’s going to be interesting!”
Rinus VeeKay (#21 Jumbo Supermarkets The Netherlands/Total-Pabst Racing): “It was tough after qualifying. I had a pretty good session but I had a two-position grid penalty which put me in P4 and I was not so happy with that. I went into the race not sure what was going to happen, but focusing on just running hard. Third was the best spot I could get but it wasn’t enough to catch Oliver. We are going to go back now, watch videos, look at a lot of data and try to learn as much as possible. Hopefully we’ll have a super qualifying and win tomorrow to take some of these points back.”