LEXINGTON, Ohio – Kyle Kirkwood needed only a modest few results from this weekend’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda triple-header at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to put the championship crown beyond the reach of his rivals. The 19-year-old from Jupiter, Fla., did rather better than that. Kirkwood qualified comfortably on pole position – for the fourth time this season – and was never remotely under threat as he cruised to a dominant seventh consecutive victory for Cape Motorsports to lock up the $325,000 Mazda Scholarship which will allow him to graduate onto the next level of the Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel development ladder, the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, in 2019.
Teammates Lucas Kohl, from Santa Cruz do Sul, Brazil, and Calvin Ming, from Georgetown, Guyana, locked out the podium for Pabst Racing to move the Wisconsin-based team ahead of Cape Motorsports in the battle for the coveted Team Championship with four races remaining – including one apiece on Saturday and Sunday.
Behind, there was all sorts of mayhem as a variety of incidents led to much of the 20-lap race being run under full-course caution. The drama started on the opening lap when the two other Pabst Racing entries, driven by Kaylen Frederick, from Potomac, Md., and Rasmus Lindh, from Gothenburg, Sweden, who had qualified second and third fastest, collided at Turn Four. Frederick’s hopes of scoring an elusive maiden victory were ended as he lost a lap before rejoining, while Lindh, who continued in second place, was obliged to serve a drive-through penalty for “avoidable contact” immediately after the restart, which dropped him to the back of the field.
Kohl took advantage of the fracas to slip into second place ahead of Ming, while a bold move by Irishman Keith Donegan (BN Racing) catapulted him from seventh on the grid to fourth at the end of the first lap ahead of Englishman James Raven, making an impressive debut for DEForce Racing, and Mexican teammate Jose Sierra.
A series of additional full-course cautions for a variety of incidents failed to trouble Kirkwood, who on each occasion was able to jump clear of his rivals at the restarts. He took the checkered flag a comfortable 1.8275 seconds clear of Kohl to clinch the eighth PFC Award of the season for brothers Dominic and Nicholas Cape. Kirkwood’s performance also ensured a record-extending eighth straight USF2000 title – and remarkable 12th since 2000 – for Cape Motorsports.
Raven looked set for fourth until being adjudged to have jumped one of the mid-race restarts. The requirement of a drive-through penalty relegated him to an unrepresentative 18th at the finish. Donegan, who was struggling with a mis-handling car, salvaged fifth after a masterful display of defensive driving, while 2017 South African F1600 champion Julian Van der Watt claimed another fifth-place finish for Team Pelfrey.
Dakota Dickerson, from San Diego, secured the Tilton Hard Charger Award for ArmsUp Motorsports by leaping from 24th and last on the grid (due to a non-functioning transponder in qualifying) to sixth ahead of Singapore’s Danial Frost (Exclusive Autosport), and 17-year-old Michael d’Orlando (Team BENIK), from Hartsdale, N.Y., who qualified a strong fifth but fell far down the order due to a mistake on the opening lap. Kory Enders (DEForce Racing), from Sugarland, Texas, and a recovering Lindh completed the top 10.
Kyle Kirkwood (#8 Firstex/SAFEisFAST.com/Bell Helmets/Sparco-Cape Motorsports Tatuus-Mazda USF-17): “The championship hasn’t begun to sink in, I don’t even know what to think. It’s very unexpected to get it this early – I’d hoped to clinch it here but I didn’t think it would be in the first race. Oliver (Askew)’s goal was to win it here last year and couldn’t, so now I’ve been able to do it! We’ve known each other for so long, so to follow up his championship last year with the eighth in a row for the Capes is a great feeling. I’m so excited to think that I’ll be carrying the Soul Red colors for Mazda next year.”
Lucas Kohl (#22 Bellko Trading/Kohltrade/IVI Vision-Pabst Racing Tatuus-Mazda USF-17): “I knew I could keep up with Kyle but we were just a tiny bit slower and I couldn’t make a move on the restarts, so we’ll try to make it a bit faster for tomorrow. I knew I had the car to keep it in front of the guys behind, we just had to keep it on track. Especially after our problems in Toronto, when I made some mistakes and we had to play catch up, I’m happy to bring this result home for the team. They’ve worked so hard to get us back on track, give us a good car that we were able to fight at the front with, so it means a lot for me to be on the podium.”
Calvin Ming (#21 Mings Products and Services(MPS)/APAN-Pabst Racing Tatuus-Mazda USF-17): “The race was crazy from Lap One. I got pushed off in Turn One on Lap One, so I had to go through the grass and I lost at least four or five positions. I was happy not to have damage, so once I realized I was okay, I had to work forward from there. I had to make some aggressive moves because everyone was driving very defensively. We had hoped to bring home positions two through five for Pabst Racing, but it’s not a good result when teammates have a situation like we did today. We have the cars and have the pace so hopefully we can come back tomorrow with a better result. We’ll go to the books and see what we can come up with for Kyle in the opening laps.”