Kyle Kirkwood wrapped up the title of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda on Friday with a flag-to-flag win in the opening race of a weekend tripleheader at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Driving the No. 8 Cape Motorsports Mazda/Tatuus USF-17, Kirkwood defended numerous restarts to lead all 20 laps. With the win – his seventh in a row and eighth in a dominant season – the 19-year-old Floridian has accumulated enough points to be the champion no matter what happens in the last four races on the schedule.
“Honestly, I didn’t know what to think,” Kirkwood said. “It was an amazing race.”
Kirkwood also becomes the eighth consecutive driver to capture the USF2000 championship for Cape Motorsports. USF2000 is the first of three levels on the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, the official development ladder sanctioned by INDYCAR.
The title picture become clear early in Friday’s race after primary contender Kaylen Frederick (No. 24 Pabst Racing) fell victim to contact with teammate Rasmus Lindh (No. 23 Pabst Racing) at the entry to Turn 4 on the opening lap around Mid-Ohio’s 2.258-mile permanent road course. Ultimately, Frederick would retire after completing just five laps. Lindh was ordered by series officials to serve a pit-lane drive-through penalty for avoidable contact and finished 11th.
It was relatively smooth sailing from there for Kirkwood. He avoided the carnage that continued behind him. Including the incident involving Frederick and Lindh, there were four full-course cautions that consumed 40 percent of the laps.
“Unfortunately, a lot of it was under caution, but I was able to get a good restart each time and get that gap and I knew that they couldn’t pressure me,” said Kirkwood, who will be presented a $325,000 Mazda scholarship at season’s end to advance next season to the middle rung of the MRTI latter, the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires.
“I’m just so ecstatic right now. I’m speechless, honestly, to be able to win the championship this early. Big thanks to Mazda, Cooper tires, Dan Andersen, Andersen Promotions (and) my sponsors Firstex, Bell Helmets, Cape Motorsports. I’m just so happy right now.”
Pabst Racing teammates Lucas Kohl and Calvin Ming dodged the on-track to finish second and third, respectively. The most impressive showing came from Dakota Dickerson (No. 9 ArmsUp Motorsports), who started last in the 24-car field but battled his way through to finish seventh.
Saturday’s activities for USF2000 begin with qualifying for the second race, which starts at 8:45 a.m. ET. The green flag for the Race 2 is set for 12:35 p.m. ET and it will stream live on racecontrol.indycar.com.
VeeKay nabs pole for Pro Mazda opening race
Rinus VeeKay (No. 2 Juncos Racing Mazda/Tatuus PM-18) scored his fourth pole of the Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tires season after an electrifying run in qualifying for the opening race of a weekend doubleheader at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
The 17-year-old Dutchman turned a lap at 1 minute, 15.4461 seconds (107.743 mph), shattering the previous Pro Mazda track record by more than three seconds, set by Nico Jamin in 2016.
David Malukas (No. 79 BN Racing) came across the line 0.1485 of a second behind VeeKay and will start alongside on the front row, while championship leader Parker Thompson (No. 90 Exclusive Autosport) qualified third.
The first Pro Mazda race of the weekend begins at 4:10 p.m. ET on Saturday. Qualifying for the second race will start at 11 a.m. ET also on Saturday. Both events will stream live on racecontrol.indycar.com.