Evagoras Papasavvas scored a narrow USF2000 Presented by Cooper Tires victory for Jay Howard Driver Development following a thrilling climax to Friday afternoon’s opening leg of the Discount Tire Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio tripleheader. The 15-year-old from Loveland, Ohio, came under intense pressure from title contender Simon Sikes (Pabst Racing), from Augusta, Ga., and even lost his lead momentarily on the final lap before securing his first-ever car racing win by a third of a second.
Sikes’ eighth podium finish of the season allowed him to regain the championship lead from Papasavvas’ teammate, Lochie Hughes, from Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, who finished fourth behind Canadian Mac Clark (DEForce Racing).
It was Sikes who had set the pace during the pair of test sessions on Thursday as well as official practice earlier this morning. In the waning moments of the lone qualifying session, however, Papasavvas stepped up his game to edge Sikes and claim the first Cooper Tires Pole Award of his young career. That was the good news. The bad news was that Papasavvas inadvertently missed the checkered flag and completed an extra lap before returning to the pit lane. The error brought an automatic penalty of two grid positions and led to him lining up third in the starting order behind title contender Sikes and Ethan Ho, from Los Angeles, Calif., who recorded his best-ever qualifying result for DC Autosport.
A determined Papasavvas lost no time in regaining that ground. He scythed past Ho at the first corner, then raced wheel-to-wheel with Sikes through the Keyhole and along the length of the main straightaway before slipping through into the lead at Turn 4.
A couple of caution periods punctuated the first half of the 20-lap race, and Papasavvas had his work cut out to keep Sikes at bay following the final restart with nine laps in the books.
More USF Pro Championships!
Zendeli and TJ Speed team claim first wins in USF Pro 2000
D'Orlando finally snatches maiden USF Pro 2000 win at Road America
Sikes, Hughes share USF2000 wins on turbulent day at Road America
Sikes poked his nose alongside Papasavvas a couple of times in the closing stages, and on the final lap he appeared to have turned the tables when he edged ahead at Turn 4. But Sikes slid a little wide at the exit which allowed Papasavvas one last chance to reclaim the advantage. Side by side they raced over the crest at Turn 5, whereupon it was Papasavvas who had the preferred line into the next right-hander at Turn 6, and he was back into the lead.
There was no further recourse available to Sikes, who had to be content with second. Clark and Hughes also were in close attendance at the checkered flag, while one of the drives of the race was produced by another 15-year-old, Nikita Johnson (VRD Racing), from Gulfport, Fla., who slipped from sixth to 18th in the early skirmishes before scything through to an impressive fifth at the finish.
“I don’t have any words,” Papasavvas said. “The entire race, I was on it. I couldn’t make a mistake every single lap and that is what I love about racing. You have to be on the limit absolutely every lap. It is such a way to win and against competition like this, it is really something else. And at a level like this, with IndyCar here and all the fans, it’s great. I am really thankful for God and everyone who supports me and helps me and works as hard as I do.”
Ho followed in sixth, well clear of Sam Corry (VRD Racing), from Cornelius, N.C., and Jorge Garciarce (DEForce Racing), from Guadalajara, Mexico.
Former F1600 champion Thomas Schrage, from Bethel, Ohio, showed excellent speed in testing on his USF2000 debut with Exclusive Autosport, only to be forced to start at the tail of the field following an alternator failure in qualifying. Schrage vaulted from 22nd to 15th on the opening lap and eventually crossed the line in 13th to claim the Tilton Hard Charger Award.
Papasavvas’s victory secured a fifth PFC Award of the season for Jay Howard as the winning car owner.
Two more races will complete the event Saturday with the green flags set for 11:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. EDT.