Darren Keane has been knocking on the door of Victory Lane all the way through the opening half of this year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship season. Finally, in today’s Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Toronto Presented by Allied Building Products, the 19-year-old from Boca Raton, Fla., beat down that door by passing Danish pole sitter Christian Rasmussen and holding off repeated attempts at a repass to shake the monkey off his back and secure a sixth PFC Award of the year for Cape Motorsports.
Rasmussen finished a strong second for the Jay Howard Driver Development team, with Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Award winner Hunter McElrea rounding out the podium for Pabst Racing.
“This weekend has been such a roller coaster,” commented McElrea. “I made a mistake in practice and only got two laps and went into qualifying with no real laps around here under my belt and put it P3. I was very happy with that, considering everything that had happened and the fact that I’d made another mistake and tagged the wall slightly late in the session.
“I just wanted to finish the race and have a clean run. We were battling for the win for a while and it was crazy out there. Everyone was bouncing off the walls, rubbing wheels. But it’s like that on street races – everyone gets a little crazy and it’s always full on. To get a podium and close the gap to Braden is a positive.”
An exciting 20-lap race around the unforgiving Exhibition Place street circuit just a short distance from downtown Toronto was interrupted only briefly in the late stages when Lucas Oil Raceway winner Cameron Shields (Newman Wachs Racing) found the wall in Turn Eight. Prior to that, after securing his first pole position, Rasmussen seemed to be in command during the opening stages, although he was unable to shake off the attentions of Keane.
Finally, on Lap 11, Keane glimpsed his opportunity under braking for Turn Three. Once into the lead he set a new fastest lap of the race but Rasmussen remained close behind with McElrea also in the mix and looking for a way past. McElrea and Rasmussen exchanged second place a couple of times in Turn Three, the second occasion coming only moments before the full-course caution made necessary by Shields’ incident.
The cleanup was effected efficiently by the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team, leaving time for a one-lap dash to the finish. Keane kept calm, focused forward and hit his marks perfectly on the final lap to ensure there was no opportunity for Rasmussen to make a move. And unlike in the second race of the season at St. Petersburg, where a mistake by Keane while attempting to hold off the Dane at the final corner ended disastrously for both, this time there was no such drama as Keane crossed the line just over one second clear of his rival.
McElrea, from Gold Coast, Australia, also was close behind in third, earning his seventh podium in just eight races, despite grazing the wall a few laps from the end, while points leader Braden Eves, from New Albany, Ohio, finished a circumspect fourth for Cape Motorsports.
Zach Holden, from Greenfield, Ind., drove an impressive debut race for Legacy Autosport, rising from 13th on the grid to finish a strong fifth. He also took home the Tilton Hard Charger Award.
Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing), from Homer Glen, Ill., fell from fifth on the grid to ninth on the opening lap before recovering well to sixth at the flag ahead of Mexico’s Manuel Sulaiman (DEForce Racing) and Englishman Matt Round-Garrido (BN Racing). Also in close contention at the finish were fellow rookies Jack William Miller (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports), from Carmel, Ind., and Christian Bogle (Jay Howard Driver Development), from Covington, La., who both recorded their first top-10 finishes.
Provisional championship points after eight of 15 races:
- Braden Eves, 223
- Hunter McElrea, 185
- Darren Keane, 153
- Colin Kaminsky, 146
- Cameron Shields, 118
- Manuel Sulaiman, 119
- Christian Rasmussen, 110
- Alex Baron,92
- Reece Gold, 92
- Bruna Tomaselli, 89
The green flag for Round Nine of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship will fly tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m., with Keane perfectly poised to continue his banner weekend after posting the fastest time during a separate qualifying session earlier today.