ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship drivers staged an enthralling second leg of the Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Road America Powered by Elite Engines this morning as Canadian rookie Thomas Nepveu (Cape Motorsports) emerged triumphant by just 0.0679 of a second over Legacy Autosport’s Simon Sikes, from Augusta, Ga. It was the first podium finish for both.
Josh Pierson, from Wilsonville, Ore., finished third for the locally based Pabst Racing team.
The 12-lap race around the classic 4.014-mile Road America venue began inauspiciously as a series of incidents on the opening lap necessitated a full-course caution. The hot-and-heavy action continued at the restart, but somehow the remainder of the race remained green.
After taking the championship lead by winning yesterday from the pole, Brazilian Kiko Porto had every intention of extending his advantage with a repeat performance today after once again gaining the Cooper Tires Pole Award for DEForce Racing. But there were 24 other young chargers who were equally intent upon stopping his win streak at one, including teammates Nolan Siegel, from Palo Alto, Calif., and Prescott Campbell, from Newport Beach, Calif., who had qualified second and third.
A pair of Cape Motorsports cars also were in the mix at the restart, and when the leading DEForce pair of Campbell and Porto exchanged positions at Turn One, Nepveu, from Oka, Quebec, also slipped past Siegel into third. Nepveu then managed to out-brake both Porto and Campbell in an audacious maneuver at Turn Five to lead a USF2000 race for the very first time.
Nepveu and Campbell traded places a couple of times over the next two laps, which allowed Sikes, up from 10th on the grid, to join in the lead battle.
An intense battle between Campbell and Sikes gave Nepveu the opportunity to eke out a little breathing room in front, but not for long. After Sikes managed to edge clear of Campbell, who unfortunately retired to the pits shortly thereafter, he homed in on Nepveu to commence one final push for the victory. Nepveu, though, was up for the challenge, driving some defensive lines and holding on impressively to score a well-deserved maiden victory.
Sikes had to be content with second at the checkered flag – and a bonus point for setting the fastest race lap – while 15-year-old Pierson enjoyed a relatively lonely run to third to pick up his fifth podium finish of the season.
More hectic squabbling in their wake saw Josh Green, from Mount Kisco, N.Y., emerge in fourth for Turn 3 Motorsport, followed by Porto who recovered nicely after falling as low as 10th in the middle stages. The result enabled Porto to extend his series lead to 15 points over local favorite Yuven Sundaramoorthy (Pabst Racing), from Delafield, Wis., who fought back magnificently from the back of the huge pack after being involved in an incident on the opening lap.
A little farther back in the field, rookie Billy Frazer, from Auckland, New Zealand, garnered his first Tilton Hard Charger Award after climbing from 22nd on the grid to 13th.
Finally, Nepveu’s effort ensured a second PFC Award of the season for winning car owners Dominic and Nicholas Cape.
Next up for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship is a triple-header weekend in concert with the NTT INDYCAR SERIES at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on the July 3/4 weekend.
Provisional championship points after 10 of 18 races:
1. Kiko Porto, 220
2. Yuven Sundaramoorthy, 205
3. Josh Pierson, 192
4. Michael d’Orlando, 191
5. Christian Brooks, 182
6. Prescott Campbell, 150
7. Spike Kohlbecker, 147
8. Josh Green, 142
9. Thomas Nepveu, 137
10. Jace Denmark, 118
Thomas Nepveu (#2 Cromwell/Karting Excellence/Home Hardware-Cape Motorsports Tatuus USF-17): “This is an amazing feeling, I really have no words. I’ve been working toward this since I joined the series and I didn’t think it would come this fast. The Cape guys gave me a great car, it was on rails today. It’s been good all week but I couldn’t put it together – but it all came together today. I had a great start, and that really set up the whole race. Then I had a great restart, going from fourth to third on the front straight and got the two other DEForce guys on the back straight. They’ve been so quick all week long. From there on, it was just about holding the position. Once I was able to get away a bit, I was just hitting my marks and focusing forward, and I had a good gap until Simon caught me. I saw him coming in my mirrors and once he got by Prescott, I knew it was going to be tough. I just had to focus and defend the best I could.”
Simon Sikes (#19 Metalloid/Sturgis Finishing-Legacy Autosport Tatuus USF-17): “That was a great battle – hard aggressive racing. We’ve been working all week to make this car faster. We started 16th and worked our way to seventh yesterday so we knew there was something in it, more than we’d shown. We had the car to do it today so it was just a matter of pushing forward. Once I got into second, I was trying to hunt down Thomas. I caught him but it was a tough battle to the end. I was attacking as hard as I could and got in front at one point. We raced to our limit and I’m so happy to get such a good result for Legacy Autosport. I can’t thank them enough for bringing me out here and giving me a car that was so fast.”
Josh Pierson (#24 TransUnion/iovation-Pabst Racing Tatuus USF-17): “What a race. It didn’t feel as though I had a good car in the beginning, I was struggling with rear grip. But these Pabst boys, they’re so good and the car really came in at the end. I managed to thread my way through all the carnage. I’m very pleased at how it went, and I can’t thank the team enough. It was great to get a podium for them at their home track – and for me, I dreamed about this kind of thing when I was a kid, even though I am kind of still a kid! It’s kind of unbelievable for me to be here, earning my fifth podium of the year. This is a dream come true.”