Nico Christodoulou took a break from his regular season of the GB3 Championship in the UK this weekend, returning home to his native Toronto for a one-off return to USF2000 presented by Cooper Tires and taking an impressive victory for VRD Racing in the Cooper this morning Toronto Tires Grand Prix.
18-year-old Christodoulou took the lead with five laps to go on a damp track when pole sitter and championship leader Simon Sikes (Pabst Racing) made a minor braking error for Turn 3. Sikes held on to second, while Lochie Hughes took advantage of some last-lap shenanigans to complete the stage for Jay Howard Driver Development.
Overnight rain made the 1,786-mile temporary track at Exhibition Place, just a few miles from downtown Toronto, treacherously slippery as the 19 cars lined up for their race just after 8 a.m. ET. That was of no great concern to Sikes, who started as he finished yesterday’s race – at the front – after taking home his seventh Cooper Tires Pole Award of the season in a special qualifying session on Saturday morning.
A few one-car spins saw the first three laps completed behind the pace car, after which Sikes took off confidently in the lead.
Sikes was helped when Evagoras Papasavvas (Jay Howard Driver Development) made a mistake in turn 1 outside the front row and polesitter on Saturday, although it wasn’t long before Christodoulou loomed large in his mirrors. Christodoulou, who was fifth on the grid, was the first to take advantage when VRD teammate Nikita Johnson experienced a mechanical problem before the start. He then capitalized on Papasavvas’ mistake before slipping past Sikes’ teammate Jacob Douglas on the first lap of racing with a green flag.
The pace picked up steadily as the 20 lap race progressed and the track slowly began to dry up, although Sikes seemed to have things under control despite the close attention of both Christodoulou and his compatriot Mac Clark (DEForce Racing), born in Toronto. But on lap 16, the leader stopped braking just a little too late in turn 3 and went a little wide. Christodoulou didn’t need a second bid. He instinctively dove in and slipped through to the lead.
A short caution period due to a one-car incident at the rear of the field was released in time for a one-lap sprint to the black and white checkered flag. Christodoulou, who had competed in a handful of USF2000 races in 2020 before heading to Europe, rose to the challenge and took the win by just over 1.5 seconds.
“When I came here I knew the track would be quite wet. Racing in England, pretty much all you get is wet weather racing and I was delighted to take advantage of that,” said Christodoulou. “In the race I stayed second most of the time. In the end Simon made a mistake and I took the lead. We had a safety car restart and I kept the lead and just pulled away. I really loved racing this weekend. The team put a great car together for me and all the sponsors and my family were here, so it was a really good weekend.”
Clark had made an attempt to overtake Sikes on the outside at Turn 1, but after running side-by-side for nearly the entire length of Lake Shore Boulevard, he was instead attacked by Sikes’ teammate Max Garcia. Unfortunately, the contact in turn 3 sent Clark spinning. In the chaos that followed, Hughes jumped from fifth to third, ending his poor run of results, while Jorge Garciarce (DEForce Racing) collected the Tilton Hard Charger Award after moving from 11th on the grid had moved up to fourth, equaling his best result of the race. season.
A delighted Dan Mitchell claimed the PFC Award as the winning car owner.
Second place for Sikes, his 11th podium finish of the season, means he now has a commanding 69-point lead over Hughes in his quest for a $433,200 Discount Tire Driver Development Scholarship to ensure he is on the next step of the ladder. USF Pro 2000 Presented by Cooper Tires, in 2024.
In the teams’ championship, a once clear advantage for Jay Howard Driver Development has now been reduced to just one point over Pabst Racing. The outcome of both titles will be determined in the tripleheader final at Portland International Raceway on September 2-3.
Provisional championship points after 15 of the 18 races:
1.Simon Sikes, 368
2.Lochie Hughes, 299
3. Nikita Johnson, 289
4. Mac Clark, 274
5. Evagoras Papasavvas, 265
6. Haunt Gardner, 193
7. Sam Corry, 191
8. Jorge Garciarce, 186
9. Max Garcia, 173
10. Jacob Douglas, 158
Story originally appeared on Racer