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Johnson doubles up in USF Pro 2000 at Mid-Ohio

Nikita Johnson thrust himself back into the USF Pro 2000 Presented by Continental Tire championship chase by scoring an emphatic double victory in Saturday’s Tatuus Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio. The 16-year-old from Gulfport, Fla., led throughout the morning’s 30-lap race but had to come from behind to complete the clean sweep later this afternoon for VRD Racing.

Jace Denmark, from Brownsburg, Ind., also enjoyed a strong day for Pabst Racing with a pair of runner-up finishes as teammate Christian Brooks, from Santa Clarita, Calif., and Turn 3 Motorsport’s Danny Dyszelski, from Belmont, N.C., shared the third-place honors.

After a challenging weekend last time out at Road America, early season points leader Johnson laid down a marker by breaking his tie with points leader Lochie Hughes (Turn 3 Motorsport), from Gold Coast, Australia, and snagging his fourth Continental Tire Pole Award of the season during the lone qualifying session on Friday.

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Johnson continued his bounce back to prominence by leading throughout the morning’s 30-lap race. Denmark remained hot on his heels in the early stages, with teammate Brooks also in close contention.

After starting sixth, Hughes gained a position at the start on Exclusive Autosport’s Braden Eves, from Gahanna, Ohio, but also lost one to fast-starting Canadian Mac Clark (DEForce Racing), who muscled his way through in a bold three-wide maneuver at Turn 4. Hughes, though, was quickly into his stride, overtaking both Clark and Pabst Racing’s Simon Sikes, from Augusta, Ga., on lap four to move into fourth position.

The five leaders – Johnson, Denmark, Brooks, Hughes and Sikes – remained in the same positions throughout the 30-lap race, but there was plenty of intrigue as the perfect racing conditions, with a clear blue sky and reduced humidity, allowed them to circulate faster than in qualifying and effectively set the starting grid for race two later in the day, which would be determined according to either each driver’s second-fastest lap in qualifying or their fastest lap in race one.

Ultimately, it was Sikes who claimed that honor, narrowly ahead of Denmark, Hughes, Brooks and race winner Johnson. All five were bracketed by a little more than a tenth of a second, setting the stage for another intriguing contest later in the day.

“The race went very well,” Johnson said. “We started on pole, managed the lead, kept the gap and extended it. The car was on rails today. I can’t thank the VRD boys enough, all of my sponsors, my dad for taking me here and my mother and brother watching back home – everyone in North Carolina and Florida watching. It means a lot and it is great to be back on the top step of the podium. We haven’t had this since Indy. It is good to get back our points and just win again.”

For the second time in as many races, Canada’s Nico Christodoulou earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award, working his way from 18th on the grid following a major mechanical failure in qualifying to finish in 10th.

Sikes took advantage of his second Continental Tire Pole Award of the season by leading away from the start in race two, but was unable to shake off Denmark, who remained seemingly glued to his rear wing as the two leaders edged away from Brooks and Johnson in third and fourth.

The latter pair exchanged places on lap four, shortly before the day’s first full-course caution due to a clash between New Zealander Liam Sceats (TJ Speed Motorsports) and Frankie Mossman (Jay Howard Driver Development), from Newport Beach, Calif.

The complexion of the race totally changed soon after the restart when Sikes chose to negotiate the ultra-quick Turn 1 in fifth gear, rather than shifting down to fourth, and was surprised when the car bogged down on the exit. Denmark and Johnson immediately drove around him, but it was Johnson who had the better momentum which carried him from third to the lead by the time the pair braked for Turn 2.

Worse was to come for Sikes at the end of the back straightaway when he tangled with Hughes as they sped toward the apex. The collision sent Sikes spearing onto the grass and left Hughes spinning into the path of Brooks, whose day ended on the spot. The other two continued, with Hughes managing to salvage valuable points in seventh position and Sikes just one place behind after another tangle with Mexico’s Ricardo Escotto (BN Racing).

The various incidents elevated the privately run Comet/NCMP Racing entry of Logan Adams, from Greenfield, Ind., into a third place, which he maintained impressively until being passed by Dyszelski with eight laps remaining.

Adams held on for a fine, career-best fourth, well clear of Escotto, who had started 18th and staunchly resisted myriad attempts from a variety of rivals to find a way past. Fifth position was his reward, along with the Tilton Hard Charger Award.

“We started P5 but the car was amazing. It was on rails,’ Johnson said. “We got past Lochie in the very beginning and Brooks, which took a few laps. I did a crossover in the braking zone and got him. After the caution, I benefitted from Simon and Jace fighting in Turn 1. I backed up at the corner and just got a very good exit and passed them both. We had a few more cautions after that but I just kept it in the lead and made sure to keep Jace in the aerowash. I can’t thank VRD enough.”

Johnson’s banner day bumped him back to second place in the point standings, just 26 markers shy of Hughes. Only four races remain in the chase for a scholarship valued at $681,500 to progress onto the next step of the ladder, Indy NXT, in 2025. Johnson also snagged two more PFC Awards for VRD Racing team principal Dan Mitchell.

Next up for the USF Pro contingent are a pair of races on the streets of Toronto, Ont., Canada in two weeks’ time, followed by the West Coast season finale at Portland International Raceway in Portland, Ore., on August 23-25.

RACE ONE RESULTS
RACE TWO RESULTS

Story originally appeared on Racer