LEXINGTON , Ohio – Last year’s winner of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, Denmark’s Christian Rasmussen, today took another big step toward winning a second Road to Indy title, this time in the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, by virtue of his fourth win in the last five races for Jay Howard Driver Development.
Artem Petrov, from Saint Petersburg, Russia, chased Rasmussen every inch of the way, finishing less than a second behind after a 25-lap race that comprised the opening half of the double-header Cooper Tires Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio. Jacob Abel (Abel Motorsports), from Louisville, Ky., overtook New Zealander Hunter McElrea with three laps remaining to cement the final podium position.
Rasmussen, who celebrated his 21st birthday earlier in the week, continued his rich vein of form in qualifying yesterday to secure his third Cooper Tires Pole Award of the season. He took off immediately into the lead at the start, chased by outside front row qualifier Petrov, while behind them Abel initially forged his way past McElrea for third.
Mexico’s Manuel Sulaiman (Juncos Racing) tried to follow suit at Turn Four, only to slide wide at the exit and onto the grass. Worse, his car became high-centered on the berm, causing the first two laps to be completed under the constraints of a full-course caution.
At the restart Rasmussen and Petrov quickly distanced themselves from the field, aided by the fact that McElrea had been able to repass Abel in what was to become a race-long battle for third.
The two leaders appeared to be very closely matched, turning almost identical lap times during the opening stages until Rasmussen began to inch clear. His advantage grew as high as 1.9 seconds, only for Petrov to fight back and reduce the deficit as the race drew toward its conclusion. But Rasmussen had matters in hand, easing off on the final lap to secure his sixth victory of the season by a margin of 0.9675 of a second.
After already snagging an extra championship point by virtue of taking The Ticket Clinic Fastest Lap Award, Rasmussen also earned one more PFC Award for Jay Howard as the winning car owner.
McElrea and Abel continued to fight over third, with McElrea holding sway until Lap 23, when Abel managed to sneak alongside in Turn Four. McElrea resumed in fourth after a grassy moment, and still finished clear of local driver Braden Eves (Exclusive Autosport), from New Albany, Ohio, who now trails Rasmussen by 34 points in the championship with only seven races remaining.
Ireland’s James Roe claimed the Tilton Hard Charger Award for Turn 3 Motorsport after rising from 11th on the grid to eighth, hot on the heels of a train of cars led by Eves and Juncos Racing teammates Reece Gold, from Miami, Fla., and Kyffin Simpson, from Grand Cayman Island.
After a disappointing end to his race, McElrea will have an opportunity to bounce back in tomorrow’s second race of the weekend, which he will start from pole position after posting the fastest time during a separate qualifying session earlier this morning. The green flag is slated for 9:00 a.m. EDT.
Provisional championship points after 11 of 18 rounds:
1. Christian Rasmussen, 289
2. Braden Eves, 255
3. Reece Gold, 235
4. Artem Petrov, 225
5. Hunter McElrea, 199
6. Manuel Sulaiman, 179
7. Jacob Abel, 172
8. Kyffin Simpson, 154
9. James Roe, 117
10. Wyatt Brichacek, 116
Christian Rasmussen (#1 JHDD/CSU – One Cure/Lucas Oil-Jay Howard Driver Development Tatuus PM-18): “I thought I got away pretty well at the start but the early turns weren’t perfect so that let the other guys get a chance. I held them off the best I could, but I did a better job on the restart. From there, it was a matter of hitting my marks and focusing forward. We know how hard it is to overtake here. It was a good race, well managed, and a great job by the team. They gave me a great car. We start P3 tomorrow so hopefully we can do something from there. This gives us a little bit of a cushion with some of our championship rivals finishing down in the order, so this was a good day.”
Artem Petrov (#42 Road To Success/Bell/226ers-Exclusive Autosport Tatuus PM-18): “I knew there would be only one opportunity, since it’s so hard to pass here. I tried to make a few moves but he defended well. On the restart, there was no way to try anything. But it’s good points. The team gave me a great car and getting another podium is a good result. We’ll go back, take a look at everything and try to get the win tomorrow.”
Jacob Abel (#51Abel Construction/Bell Helmets-Abel Motorsports Tatuus PM-18): “Hunter was quick all race and didn’t make many mistakes, but I finally got a good run with a few laps to go. I went to the outside and I had the grip because I was on the racing line – I think he tried to match me and since he was on the dirty track, he spun and lost it. It was a hard race so it was nice to be able to force that mistake in the end and get another podium. Momentum is everything in racing so we’re pushing for wins now instead of just podiums.”