Every racing season comes with its share of ups and downs. But few drivers experienced the kind of roller coaster ride that Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship driver Christian Rasmussen had this year driving for Jay Howard Driver Development. The 20-year-old native of Copenhagen, Denmark saw:
- A six-race winning streak to start the season that exploded his points lead to 84.
- A five-race mid-season downturn precipitated by mechanical issues and impatience that saw his lead shrink to four points.
- And finally, a weekend to remember in the season’s penultimate event at New Jersey Motorsports Park that saw him clinch the series championship – and the scholarship valued at $328,225 that will graduate him into the 2021 Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – with two races to spare.
The reality of winning the championship is only now beginning to sink in for Rasmussen, thankful for the scholarship that will help him continue his career – and for the title that begins to put him on an equal footing with his team owner.
“This means the world to me,” Rasmussen said. “We have sponsors but I don’t know if we had enough to go to Indy Pro 2000 by ourselves. Winning the scholarship will help me move up and continue to develop. And it is very cool for me to equal Jay’s series championship! We always compare how many wins we have in the series, so it is great to equal his series championship. And Jay is a former (NTT) INDYCAR SERIES driver, so he is a huge help to me, both on the track and in introducing me to NTT INDYCAR SERIES teams. It’s great to have a mentor like that and to know that people on that level know my name now.
“But I don’t think it’s going to sink in fully until I start at St. Pete and really feel what I got out of winning the championship.”
The young Dane progressed quickly through the Danish karting ranks, winning several championships, finishing second in the Danish Automobile Sports Union Racing Academy in 2014 and capturing several Danish and Nordic titles in 2015. Graduating to cars in 2016, Rasmussen finished second in the Danish Formula Ford Championship and third in the F4 Danish Championship in 2017, which earned him the nod as Motorsport Talent of the Year by the DASU.
Heading to the U.S. to further his career, Rasmussen finished third in the US F4 Championship Powered by Honda in 2018 and began to plan his next move. His Danish F4 engineer had worked with Jay Howard’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES team, so introductions were made and Rasmussen found a home. He went on to score three wins, a pole position and seven podiums in USF2000 last year – all in the final eight races. With the top three in the 2019 point standings moving up the ladder, Rasmussen became the de facto favorite for this year’s title, returning to Jay Howard Driver Development alongside Christian Bogle, Wyatt Brichacek and Nolan Siegel.
When the start of the season was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rasmussen raced to his home in Copenhagen. He dove right back into his pre-season prep routine, working out and staying sharp – and he believes that regimen helped him to hit the ground running when the season resumed at Road America in July.
“I’m grateful to everyone at INDYCAR and the U.S. government for helping to get all of the foreign drivers back into the country. Things were changing so fast, but we knew we had to be ready to go as soon as it was decided when the season would start. And how hard I worked during that time at home really showed in those first few races.”
Rasmussen got off to a flying start, capturing both victories and pole positions in the first two races. He went on to earn victories in the first six races (while securing all available points in four of those races) – a feat only eclipsed by JR Hildebrand, who won the first seven races in a row in 2006 on his way to the series championship. Rasmussen’s streak included his first oval victory at Lucas Oil Raceway two days before the Indianapolis 500.
“That first weekend gave me a huge confidence bump. Winning the first six races was a huge accomplishment, and we didn’t want to stop. It was just full-on, head down, concentrating on getting the job done and winning as many races as I could. I wanted to win every race – and I think that showed in my driving style, which came to hurt me.
“And winning at LOR was great, but for me, it was more about my progress, how I’ve developed as a driver. So many European drivers think it’s just about turning left, but it’s so much more than that. This was only my second oval race, so getting the win was a great achievement. We all want to go to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES so to get the opportunity to race on ovals really helps – it’s a completely different skill set.”
Heading to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in September with a 79-point lead, Rasmussen finished off the podium in the first two races while second and third in the title chase, Reece Gold and Eduardo Barrichello, split the three races. At the next event at Mid-Ohio, his desire to win got the better of him, as he experienced his first two DNFs of the season before rebounding to capture victory in the final race of the tripleheader.
As difficult as that stretch was, Rasmussen feels that in the long run, the lessons learned have improved him as a driver.
“I wanted to win so much. But I learned from my mistakes and have definitely taken some lessons from everything that’s happened – how to pull back and be patient. I hadn’t learned that lesson yet at Mid-Ohio, and as strange as it may be to say, I think it’s good that it happened. I know that I have to just settle in and calm down a little bit sometimes, let the race come to me. I have adapted and overcome, and I feel as though I have come back even stronger.”
Rasmussen took a 14-point lead to New Jersey and finished second to Barrichello in race one, while Gold finished a disappointing 15th. With Gold’s difficulties continuing, Rasmussen pounced, capturing two victories on Sunday to clinch the series championship. He credits Howard and the entire team for helping to create an environment on and off the racetrack to help make the dream a reality.
“We have an amazing team chemistry – between the drivers, with Jay, Louis (D’Agostino) our engineer, everyone. It’s a great bond, real friendships. We’re serious when we need to be, but it keeps things loose. For the team to earn a championship in only their second year is a huge achievement.”
What happens now? Rasmussen is in discussions with several Indy Pro 2000 teams, including JHDD, to position himself in the best way possible for 2021.
“We haven’t signed with a team yet; we’re looking at every opportunity. I need to do what’s best for me, so I’m having a look around. We want to start testing as soon as possible but we’d like to figure out where I’ll go first. So, stay tuned!”