Christian Rasmussen is one step closer to the INDY NXT by Firestone championship after enduring a close call and winning the OUTFRONT Showdown on Saturday night at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Championship leader Rasmussen earned his fourth victory of the season in the No. 6 HMD Motorsports with DCR car, outrunning the No. 26 Copart/USF Pro Championship car of Andretti Autosport rookie Louis Foster to the finish by 1.7805 seconds. Rasmussen has won three of the last four races in the INDYCAR development series to expand his lead to 50 points over Hunter McElrea of Andretti Autosport with three races remaining.
SEE: Race Results
Rasmussen, from Denmark, earned his sixth career INDY NXT by Firestone victory at an event that featured just 30 minutes of track time before the 75-lap race due to persistent morning and afternoon thunderstorms in the St. Louis area. Rasmussen led that short practice by more than 3 mph. The starting grid was set by entrant points after qualifying was rained out.
“What a race,” Rasmussen said. “It’s been kind of a weird weekend. It’s definitely been the weekend of my career where I’ve had the least amount of laps around the track before we go into the race. I think we did a great job in practice; we were super quick. But we were super sharp on the changes we made, as well.”
McElrea finished third in the No. 27 Smart Motors car, with Jacob Abel fourth in the No. 51 Abel Motorsports machine. Danial Frost rounded out the top five in the No. 68 HMD Motorsports with DCR car.
Rasmussen held a steady lead of around one second over fellow front-row starter McElrea for the first 30 laps of the 75-lap race. But Rasmussen lost grip and drifted high in Turn 2 on the 1.25-mile oval when trying to lap the No. 28 DHL car of Andretti Autosport rookie Jamie Chadwick on Lap 30, using his quick hands to avoid hitting the SAFER Barrier in an impressive display of car control. Still, that loss of momentum let McElrea pounce.
McElrea powered past Rasmussen in Turn 3 on that lap and started to pull away. But just five laps later, Rasmussen used the slower No. 76 Juncos Hollinger Racing car of Rasmus Lindh as a pick and passed McElrea for the lead. He didn’t trail thereafter and ended up leading 70 of the 75 laps.
But there still was drama in the final 25 laps. Rasmussen led McElrea by 4.2745 seconds on Lap 51 but was losing grip from his Firestone tires, and McElrea pulled to within just .8516 of a second on Lap 55.
A possible duel for the lead between the two drivers was doused by a caution on Lap 56 when James Roe hit the SAFER Barrier in Turn 2 in the No. 29 Topcon car fielded by Andretti Autosport. Roe was unhurt.
That caution period saved some further wear on Rasmussen’s tires, and he pulled away from the field on the restart on Lap 63. But McElrea made one more unsuccessful move to try to dive under Rasmussen for the lead on Lap 65.
From there, Rasmussen pulled away. Meanwhile, Foster passed teammate McElrea for second with nine laps remaining, with the top three holding station to the finish.
The next race is the INDY NXT by Firestone Grand Prix of Portland on Sunday, Sept. 3 at Portland (Oregon) International Raceway. The season ends with a doubleheader Sept. 9-10 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California.