Evagoras Papasavvas secured a narrow USF2000 Presented by Cooper Tires victory ahead of Jay Howard Driver Development after a thrilling climax to Friday afternoon’s opening stage 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), of Augusta, Georgia, and even briefly lost his lead on the final lap before securing his first-ever auto race win with a third of a second.
Sikes’ eighth podium finish of the season enabled him to regain the championship lead from Papasavvas’ teammate, Lochie Hughes, of Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, who finished fourth behind Canada’s Mac Clark (DEForce Racing).
It was Sikes who set the pace during the two test sessions on Thursday and during official practice earlier this morning. However, in the waning moments of the only qualifying session, Papasavvas stepped up his game to beat Sikes to claim the first Cooper Tires Pole Award of his fledgling career. That was the good news. The bad news was that Papasavvas accidentally missed the black and white checkered flag and completed an extra lap before returning to the pit lane. The mistake carried an automatic penalty of two grid positions and led to him finishing third in the running order behind title contenders Sikes and Ethan Ho of Los Angeles, California, who recorded his best-ever qualifying result for DC Autosport.
A determined Papasavvas lost no time trying to regain that ground. He brushed past Ho at the first corner and then raced wheel-to-wheel with Sikes through the keyhole and down the length of the main road before slipping into the lead at turn 4.
A few tentative periods interrupted the first half of the 20-lap race, and Papasavvas had to do his job to keep Sikes at bay after the final restart with nine laps in the books.
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Sikes poked his nose next to Papasavvas a few times in the closing stages, and on the final lap he seemed to turn the tables as he moved forward into Turn 4. But Sikes slid a little wide on the exit giving Papasavvas one last chance . to reclaim the benefit. Side by side they raced over the top at Turn 5, then it was Papasavvas who was favored in the next right-hander at Turn 6, and he was back in the lead.
There was no more story available for Sikes, who had to settle for second place. Clark and Hughes were also closely involved in the black and white checkered flag, while one of the race’s highlights was produced by another 15-year-old, Nikita Johnson (VRD Racing), of Gulfport, Florida, who moved from sixth to the 18th dropped. in the early skirmishes before moving on to an impressive fifth at the finish.
‘I have no words for it,’ said Papasavvas. “I was on it the whole race. I couldn’t make a mistake every lap and that’s what I love about racing. You absolutely have to be on the limit every round. It’s one of those ways to win and against competition like this, it’s really something else. And at a level like this, with IndyCar here and all the fans, it’s great. I am really grateful to God and everyone who supports and helps me and works as hard as I do.”
Ho followed in sixth, well clear of Sam Corry (VRD Racing), of Cornelius, NC, and Jorge Garciarce (DEForce Racing), of Guadalajara, Mexico.
Former F1600 champion Thomas Schrage, of Bethel, Ohio, showed excellent speed in testing on his USF2000 debut with Exclusive Autosport, but was forced to start at the back of the field after an alternator failed in qualifying. Schrage jumped from 22nd to 15th on the first lap and eventually crossed the line in 13th to claim the Tilton Hard Charger Award.
Papasavvas’ win secured a fifth PFC Award of the season for Jay Howard as the winning car owner.
Two more races will complete the event on Saturday with the green flags set for 11:00 AM and 4:30 PM EDT.
Story originally appeared on Racer