By Aaron Bearden, Contributing Writer
Kyle Kirkwood ended his first Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the place young drivers dream of reaching.
Kirkwood dominated early and held on through two late restarts to claim a wire-to-wire win in Sunday’s Royal Purple Synthetic Motor Oil Grand Prix of Indianapolis. The result was his second victory in four 2018 starts, allowing him to keep the points lead.
Despite leading from start to finish, the Cape Motorsports star claimed the race was more challenging than it may have appeared.
“It definitely was not easy,” Kirkwood told Motorsports Tribune. “The only reason I pulled some a big gap in the beginning is because these guys were fighting. If it wasn’t for that, we probably all would have been fighting. Fortunately I got a good start, pulled that gap. On the restarts once again I got a little bit of a gap to where they were able to fight and I wasn’t involved in it.
“It wasn’t that it was that easy, everything just worked in my favor, to be honest. I’m glad we were able to come away with a win.”
Kirkwood had a relatively simple race from the front, but behind him the event proved chaotic.
The chaos started early, when contact between Jamie Caroline and Alex Baron led to a spin for Baron, miring the championship hopeful back in 24th.
“He turned into me,” Caroline said of the incident. “He just closed the door while I was alongside him. Unfortunate.”
With Baron trapped in the pack, a group of contenders including Caroline, Rasmus Lindh and Kaylen Frederick began to battle for a finish on the podium.
The resulting racing was intense, with three and even four-wide battles, but it led to ruin on Lap 11 when an intense battle led to a crash that eliminated Caroline and forced a full-course yellow when Frederick’s machine became stuck in the gravel trap in Turn 4.
“Four into one doesn’t work,” Caroline said of the shunt. “It was four-wide there, and no one gave enough room. Two of us made contact, and I think another car did as well. Tough deal.”
The run allowed the field to close up to Kirkwood, who had built a six-second advantage. It also allowed Baron to close back up to the lead group – a result that led to one of the strongest drives of the year.
Kirkwood held serve with ease up front on the ensuing restart, and Baron set upon stealing the show. The Swan-RJB Motorsports ace battled his way through the field and into third, with only Lindh separating him rom leader Kirkwood.
When the caution flag flew for a stalled David Osborne in the Turn 4 gravel trap, Baron again closed up on the leaders. But the cleanup left just one lap to contest under green, and the field fell short of completing the entirety of the circuit after Bruna Tomaselli was involved in a crash coming to the restart.
“We were on the yellow flag, just one lap to the end,” Tomaselli told Motorsports Tribune. “In Turn 12 somebody hit my rear while we were still on the yellow flag. I couldn’t do anything because my rear-end was crashed.”
Baron had only half a lap to contest, but he made the most of it, surging past Lindh to claim an impressive second-place finish.
“The second place is bittersweet,” Baron said. “I think it could have been better than that, to be honest. Unfortunately I had the first lap incident where I stalled and had to start last. But at the same time I was lucky enough to have two safety cars, take advantage of that and show basically what I’m made of, and what the team is made of. ”
After apologizing for his run-in with Caroline, Baron recapped his 22-position climb over the final 15 laps.
“I did a couple two-car passes under braking and stuff like that,” he said. “But I didn’t get over-excited about it. I just needed to get the job done, so I didn’t really think about it. Just dig deep and put the head down.”
Lindh made the most of the attrition-filled race to claim the final position on the podium. The run was solid, but felt bittersweet after coming to the final restart within range of the leader.
“I can improve a little bit, to be more ready after the yellow flag,” Lindh said. “That’s what I need to work on for the next races coming up.
“I think the race was a little bit lucky on my side. You need luck sometimes, and with all the contact that they made gave me a little bit of an advantage. I think it was quite a good race.”
Darren Keane and James Roe rounded out the top five, with Kory Enders, Lucas Kohl, Julian Van der Watt Manuel Cabrera and Max Peichel completing the top 10.
Next up for the USF2000 paddock is a May 24 test at Lucas Oil Raceway, followed by a race on the .686-mile oval on May 25.
- Kyle Kirkwood
- Alex Baron
- Rasmus Lindh
- Darren Keane
- James Roe
- Kory Enders
- Lucas Kohl
- Julian Van der Watt
- Manuel Cabrera
- Max Peichel
- Keith Donegan
- Russel McDonough
- Oscar DeLuzuriaga
- Sabre Cook
- Michael d’Orlando
- Colin Kaminsky
- Igor Fraga
- Mathias Soler-Obel
- Calvin Ming
- David Osborne
- Kaylen Frederick
- Bruna Tomaselli
- Kyle Dupell
- Jamie Caroline
- Zach Holden
- Jose Sierra