SPEEDWAY, Ind. – A pair of Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires races today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix road course saw honors shared between Russian Artem Petrov (Exclusive Autosport ) and Denmark’s Christian Rasmussen (Jay Howard Driver Development).
Petrov was chased home this 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, from Miami, Fla., 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 this 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 (Juncos Racing), from Grand Cayman Island, 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, with Petrov claiming a well-deserved first win of the year and Eves having to be content with second ahead of Simpson and Gold.
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 today’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 0.6399 of a second.
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.
Next stop for the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires is the always exhilarating annual visit to the Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis on Friday, May 28, for the Cooper Tires Freedom 90.
Provisional championship points after 7 of 18 rounds:
1. Braden Eves, 171
2. Christian Rasmussen, 168
3. Artem Petrov, 144
4. Reece Gold, 137
5. Hunter McElrea, 125
6. Enaam Ahmed, 100
7. Colin Kaminsky, 91
8. Manuel Sulaiman, 90
9. Kyffin Simpson, 88
10. Jacob Abel, 88
Artem Petrov (#42 Road To Success/Bell/226ers-Exclusive Autosport Tatuus PM-18): “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. 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.”
Christian Rasmussen (#1 JHDD/CSU – One Cure/Lucas Oil-Jay Howard Driver Development Tatuus PM-18): “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. 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.”
Braden Eves (#91 Cambridge/CCFI/Huston Insurance/MDRN Livery-Exclusive Autosport Tatuus PM-18): “In race one, I went for it in Turn One. I thought there was no way Reece would overshoot it two times in a row, but he overshot it worse than he did in race one yesterday. I knew there was no chance – if I’d tried to make it, I would have crashed us both out. So I aborted that, went through the cut-through and came back out in fifth. After that I was just slicing through cars left and right, I felt as though I was so fast straight out of the gate. I got to P2 quickly but Artem did a great job, making it hard on me, as both our cars were super fast. But with Rasmussen finishing further back, I didn’t want to risk anything. In race two, I lost second and ended up fourth, and it’s so hard to pass here with the aero wash, so I pressured Ahmed to see if he would make a mistake, and he did, so I’m happy to get on the podium for the points bump – it’s a good birthday gift for my engineer, John Hayes.
“I’m happy overall. I can’t be disappointed with three podiums, but we could have had so much more. We’ve had a great season so far and I feel as though I’m coming back even stronger than before, and definitely even more determined. We need to keep the momentum going, we’re not even halfway through the season.”
Kyffin Simpson (#21 Simpson Race Products/GoPro/SpY-Juncos Racing Tatuus PM-18): “This is pretty cool. We’ve been trying to come here to watch a race for a long time, so to finally get here and to earn a podium is fantastic. The first three laps were pretty crazy. I got a good start and was lucky enough to get to the front after a bit of a mistake by the pole sitter. I tried to control the race from there, but on the restarts they had me better going into the first turn. Toward the end of the race, it was just survival with Reece right behind me. I had to hit all my marks to hang onto the podium.”
Reece Gold (#55 The Ticket Clinic-Juncos Racing Tatuus PM-18): “That was a good start, even though I ended up losing a spot. I kind of made the apex, so I’m happy with that. It was a good first lap and I’m happy with the race. I was able to close the gap to Christian but not close enough to make a move. It’s hard because there are some corners where you get so much aero that you lose the gap. We weren’t able to get it today, but hopefully we’ll get that win in the coming races.”