Kirkwood Dominates on Oval Debut in Cooper Tires Freedom 75
BROWNSBURG, Ind. – Up until recently, Kyle Kirkwood claimed to be not much of a fan of oval racing. His tune changed somewhat following his first left-turn-only test at Memphis Motorsports Park last week, and the 18-year-old from Jupiter, Fla., took full advantage of that positive experience this evening at Lucas Oil Raceway as he sped to a dominant victory for Cape Motorsports in the Cooper Tires Freedom 75, Round Seven of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
Kaylen Frederick, 15, from Potomac, Md., finished second in a race that was cut from 75 to 58 laps due to time constraints following a couple of lengthy full-course cautions. Pabst Racing rookie teammate Rasmus Lindh, 16, from Gothenburg, Sweden, rounded out the podium in third.
Kirkwood took full advantage of the fact his team had tested its Tatuus-Mazda USF-17 on the challenging 0.686-mile oval last year in the hands of close friend and 2017 series champion Oliver Askew. The points leader with two wins already under his belt this season, Kirkwood qualified on the pole with a two-lap average of 98.505 mph.
Kirkwood took off confidently in the lead and soon began to stretch away from Lindh, who also impressed on his oval track debut by qualifying alongside on the front row of the grid.
Kirkwood’s primary championship rival, Alex Baron, made up ground quickly after a mistake in qualifying left his locally based Swan-RJB Motorsports car only eighth on the grid. Baron drove around the outside of several cars in Turns Three and Four to vault up to third on the opening lap, although he was unable to make much of an impression on the two cars in front of him.
By Lap 25, Kirkwood held a comfortable advantage of around 3.5 seconds over Lindh, with Baron another 1.6 seconds behind in third, struggling to hold off the attentions of Pabst teammates Lucas Kohl, from Brazil, and Frederick. Next up in sixth was Irishman Keith Donegan (ArmsUp Motorsports), enjoying by far his best run of the season thus far after winning the Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200k Scholarship Shootout last fall.
Four laps later, the caution flags waved for the first time when Baron, still in third place, tangled with the lapped car of Russell McDonough (BN Racing) in Turn Three. Baron’s car ended up parked heavily against the wall. Neither driver was injured. Moments earlier, Frederick had completed a timely pass on Kohl for what now became third place.
The green flags waved again with 40 laps in the books, but only briefly before Julian Van der Watt (Team Pelfrey) and Greenfield, Ind., native Zach Holden (Newman Wachs Racing) tangled between Turns One and Two. Cue another round of waved yellow flags.
The final restart came at the beginning of Lap 50, but once again Kirkwood had no difficulty in keeping the rest at bay. In his wake, an aggressive restart by Frederick saw him sweep past Lindh into second place in Turns One and Two. The Swede tried his best to redress the balance in the closing stages, but it was to no avail as Kirkwood took the win by 1.2695 seconds, and Frederick held Lindh at bay for third.
Kohl finished just off the podium in fourth, and was chased across the line by Jose Sierra (DEForce Racing), Donegan and Igor Fraga (Exclusive Autosport) after a protracted battle for position.
Darren Keane finished eighth for Newman Wachs Racing, followed by Guyanan Calvin Ming (Pabst Racing) and Mexico’s Manuel Cabrera, who rose from 15th on the grid to tenth to secure his third successive Tilton Hard Charger Award.
Kirkwood’s third win of the season brought yet another PFC Award for the winning car owners, Dominic and Nicholas Cape, and enabled him to extend his championship lead to a whopping 45 points, 139-94, as the series heads next to Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., for the next two races on June 23-24.
Kyle Kirkwood (#8 Firstex/SAFEisFAST.com/Bell Helmets/Sparco-Cape Motorsports Tatuus-Mazda USF-17): “This is amazing – it’s a great feeling. To win here in Indianapolis, on this day, I really couldn’t have dreamed of it. Because I have a karting background and have never driven an oval in my life, I was never really a fan of oval racing. In my mind, it was all just turning left. But my perspective on it has totally changed after this weekend, after I learned how much strategy was involved and how technically it actually was. Getting the car setup right is huge. I love it now – that was the most fun I’ve had with all the passing, both in practice and in the race. We had a good setup for traffic, which meant we could run the high line and the low line. I was very confident in the car, in being able to get by guys quickly.”
Kaylen Frederick (#24 Pilot ONE Racing-Pabst Racing Tatuus-Mazda USF-17): “It’s about time. It’s been a struggle this season. I’ve had some bad luck with some unavoidable contact. I’ve been quick, but we don’t have anything to show for it. But in this race, I had a good start, made my way forward and got onto the podium. The whole race was about looking where you could find clean air and make a move, adjusting to what guys ahead of you were doing. I have experience on an oval from last season, but this is such a different track – here you’re just running around on the outside. Passing on the inside isn’t that easy. But I hope this ends our bad luck streak and we get back on track with podium finishes.”
Rasmus Lindh (#23 Chicago Pneumatic-Pabst Racing Tatuus-Mazda USF-17): “I thought it would be easier than it was, but there is more to it than you would think. I watched the Indy cars a lot this month, with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, just to see how it works, and how to work with a spotter. I listened to how they worked together. But at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, they’re full throttle the whole way around and I was thinking this would be easy but here, you have to release and be careful with the throttle so you don’t unsettle the car. You don’t have an apex point here so you have to let the car go. It was a good experience – this is my first season of open-wheel racing and I want to learn everything.”
About USF2000: The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda debuted in 2010 and is a continuation of the highly-regarded USF2000 series which ran from 1990 through 2006, launching the careers of many of today’s top drivers. Sanctioned by INDYCAR and managed by Andersen Promotions, the series is the first official step on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder system. The top driver in the Championship class will earn a scholarship package from Mazda to advance to the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires the following year. Additional information can be found at www.usf2000.com and at RoadToIndy.Info.
About Mazda, Mazda Motorsports: Mazda Motorsports boasts the most comprehensive auto racing development ladder system of any auto manufacturer in the world. The Mazda Road to 24 program offers a number of scholarships to advance drivers up the sports car racing ladder, beginning with the Global MX-5 Cup series and culminating with the Mazda Prototype team. The Mazda Road to Indy is a similar program that includes Mazda-powered categories of USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. In grassroots road racing, more Mazdas race on any given weekend in North America than any other manufacturer. Follow all of the latest news at MazdaMotorsports.com, @MazdaRacing on Twitter, and MazdaMotorsports on Instagram and Facebook.
About Cooper Tire & Rubber Company: Cooper Tire & Rubber Company is the parent company of a global family of companies that specializes in the design, manufacture, marketing and sale of innovative, great-performing tires that you can count on to last for thousands of miles, getting you where you need to go, and back again. Cooper is proud to be the spec tire for all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, a development program within the Verizon IndyCar Series. Cooper tires can also be seen on the track as a sponsor of the Americas Rallycross and short course off-road racing. Headquartered in Findlay, Ohio, Cooper, with its subsidiaries, has manufacturing, sales, distribution, technical and design operations in more than one dozen countries around the world. To connect with Cooper, visit www.coopertire.com, www.facebook.com/coopertire or www.twitter.com/teamcoopertire.