The 2021 Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires season concluded this afternoon with a thrilling VP Racing Lubricants Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio Presented by Cooper Tires. The 18th and final race of the Indy Pro 2000 season was held in tricky, drying conditions and witnessed three different leaders before James Roe burst through to the front, then narrowly held off charging Enaam Ahmed (Juncos Racing) to claim a superb maiden victory. The day was even more memorable for Turn 3 Motorsport principal Peter Dempsey, who earlier had guided Josh Green to his – and the team’s – first Road to Indy win in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship finale.
The other major winner today was Christian Rasmussen (pictured above). The 21-year-old from Denmark needed only to start the final race of the season for the Jay Howard Driver Development team to add the Indy Pro 2000 championship to the USF2000 title he won in 2020. Rasmussen did much more than that, fighting through from the back to edge Artem Petrov (Exclusive Autosport) for third place by just over 0.02s at the line.
“I knew that as soon as I saw the green flag, I was the champion, so I had nothing to lose. I could just enjoy the moment and enjoy the race,” related Rasmussen. “And what a race it was! Coming from last to a podium is great. I thought I lost it there at the end, Petrov and I were side-by-side coming through that last corner.
“I’m so happy with how this season has gone. I’m a rookie in this series and I’m so proud of what I’ve accomplished, and what this team has accomplished, in such a short amount of time. Thank you to everyone from the Road to Indy – I’ve focused on finishing off this season strong and now I can start to think about 2022 and Indy Lights.”
Hunter McElrea started an eventful day by comfortably eclipsing the field in a wet qualifying session for Pabst Racing to claim his fifth Cooper Tires Pole Award of the season.
The track remained extremely damp at the start of the 25-lap race but the rain had stopped so it wasn’t long before a drier line began to emerge. After one additional lap behind the pace car for the drivers to gain a better understanding of the conditions, McElrea took off into the lead as Petrov immediately jumped ahead of Ahmed for second. The Russian continued his early charge by diving past McElrea on the downhill straightaway leading toward Turn 4, only to carry too much speed into the corner and run off wide into the gravel. A little farther back, debutant Jordan Missig (Pabst Racing) also made a mistake to bring out a full-course caution.
McElrea again led at the restart, but this time came under instant attack from Petrov’s teammate, Braden Eves, who again went for a pass in Turn 4. Unlike Petrov, Eves was able to make the move stick. Eves pulled out a lead of almost five seconds before another brief rain shower led him to skate off the track in Turn 2. Eves was fortunate to be able to resume in second, behind Ahmed, but at almost the same time, Missing, who had elected to change onto slick tires, also slid off into the gravel at the same turn. Cue another full-course caution.
Ahmed became the third different leader at the restart but soon came under increasing pressure from the flying Roe. The Irishman had overtaken Eves with a bold outside-line pass in Turn 4 on lap 12, then next time around repeated the maneuver on Ahmed, a former British F3 champion.
Roe eked out a lead of over three seconds before one final caution period on lap 19 erased the gap entirely and brought the chasing pack back together again for a four-lap dash to the checkers.
Now on a rapidly drying track, Roe managed his pace to perfection, holding off Ahmed by a scant 0.1412s at the finish line. Just behind, Rasmussen barely sneaked ahead of Petrov in an intense battle for third.
“We had a lot of work to do, starting sixth, but we made a change after qualifying to get us more traction and it paid off,” said Roe. “We had a lot of work to get tire temp early in the race and we knew those Cooper tires could only last so long so we really managed that toward the end. The car was phenomenal, I just had to focus and not make any mistakes.
“It’s such a relief to do this for myself and for the team. We’ve showed moments of brilliance this season, with a pole here and front row start there, but we could never tie it together – and to get two wins today for the team is just awesome. To end the year with a win is great. Huge thanks to my sponsors, this is for them.”
Dempsey hoisted a second PFC Award of the day as the winning car owner, while Rasmussen added to his championship title by claiming the Tilton Hard Charger Award.
Farther back in ninth, Jacob Abel rewarded his family-run Abel Motorsports team with The Ticket Clinic Fastest Lap Award after making the switch to dry-weather slick tires during the final caution period. Two or three more laps and he could well have been challenging for the win.
It was an exciting way to finish another excellent season of racing for the Road to Indy, which this evening will crown all its champions – and distribute more than $3.1 million in scholarships and awards – at the traditional end of season celebration.
Provisional final championship standings after 18 rounds:
1. Christian Rasmussen, 445
2. Braden Eves, 407
3. Hunter McElrea, 378
4. Artem Petrov, 374
5. Reece Gold, 366
6. Jacob Abel, 287
7. James Roe, 243
8. Kyffin Simpson, 231
9. Manuel Sulaiman, 214
10. Wyatt Brichacek, 214