LEXINGTON Ohio – A flawless Friday positioned Oliver Askew within reach of clinching the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda season title this weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, but a post-race penalty to the Cape Motorsports pilot dampened the day’s feats.
By winning the pole for Race 1 Friday morning, leading the most laps in the 45-minute race and snatching the fastest lap on his way to winning, Askew scored maximum points and put himself in position to wrap up the championship in Race 2 today.
However, the Floridian was penalized 10 points after the race for jumping the start of the race. He now has a 19-point lead over Rinus VeeKay heading into the second race today. The last USF2000 race of the season is at Watkins Glen International in September.
“A ton of pressure, for sure,” said Askew after notching his seventh USF2000 victory of the season, but prior to the penalty being handed down. “We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing, keep our heads down like we have all season. Cape Motorsports gave me a fantastic car; of course, they’ve dominated here. I knew I was going to have a fast car and we definitely did today.”
Askew appeared to be on cruise control after the first handful of laps, building a steady lead over Parker Thompson and VeeKay, but a caution on Lap 17 bunched the field for a crucial restart.
“I was prepared for it,” Askew said. “It’s hard to pass (at Mid-Ohio), so as long as I could get through Turn 1 clean, then we would be fine after that.”
Pulling away from Thompson and VeeKay on the Lap 18 restart, Askew went on to win by a margin of 1.3282 seconds over Thompson.
For Thompson, the dream of a USF2000 championship was mathematically eliminated on Friday, despite his third consecutive top-two finish after sweeping the Toronto weekend two weeks ago.
“I think what we did today was pretty fantastic,” said the driver for the new Exclusive Autosport team. “We had a shot for pole this morning and we had a shot for a race win there, so I think as a team we’ve done a fantastic job.”
USF2000 returns to the track at 8 a.m. ET today to qualify for Race 2, which goes green at 12:10 p.m. The race streams live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.
Martin tightens Pro Mazda championship with win
As the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires kicks off its second half of the 2017 season, Anthony Martin and Victor Franzoni continue their tight championship battle. Martin landed the first blow Friday by winning the first of a tripleheader race weekend.
Team Pelfrey’s Carlos Cunha scored his first career pole for the race, but Martin made a daring pass for the lead on the opening lap. Franzoni also cleared Cunha on Lap 1, but despite stalking Martin for the remainder of the race, could not overtake the Australian.
Martin held on for his fourth win of 2017 and fourth win in a row at Mid-Ohio, after he swept the USF2000 tripleheader in 2016.
“At the start, man, it was really crazy,” said Martin, who cut his deficit to Franzoni (Juncos Racing) to just three points. “I saw the gap and I went for it. It was really close. Probably a tighter gap than the car was made for and I think the right sides were probably in the grass. Went in there with four wheels locked up and I was able to come out up front. It was really crazy, but I was able to hold position for the rest of the race.”
Despite the great result, Martin (Cape Motorsports) knows there is plenty of racing remaining. In addition to the two Mid-Ohio races, the series races on the oval at Gateway Motorsports Park in August and concludes with a doubleheader at Watkins Glen in September.
“Long ways to go,” Martin said. “It feels like we’re three-quarters of the season through, but we’re only halfway today. It’s pretty crazy to think about that, but there is a long way to go and there’s a lot of races left and a lot of points. ’ve got to get every championship point I can and just focus forward.”
Pro Mazda returns for Race 2 qualifying at 8:35 a.m. today. The race starts at 1:05 p.m. and will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. Race 3 is at 10:20 a.m. Sunday.
Urrutia claims first pole of season
The 2017 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season has been difficult for Santi Urrutia, but the Uruguayan started the home stretch of the championship strong on Friday by earning his first pole of the season for Race 1 of the Mid-Ohio weekend doubleheader.
Despite five podium finishes, Urrutia is mired in sixth in points with five races remaining. But having swept the Indy Lights weekend at Mid-Ohio in 2016, the Belardi Auto Racing driver is looking to repeat that feat this weekend.
“It’s slippery (on track), and I love when it’s slippery,” Urrutia said, “so I think that helps a little bit with my style to drive. Otherwise, the team gave me a great car. With this car, I can win the race (today) if I have the same car. I’m pretty happy about everything and how it went.”
Indy Lights will conduct qualifying for Race 2 of the weekend at 9:10 a.m. today. Race 1 starts at 3:35 p.m. and will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.