Johnson and Sikes Share USF Pro 2000 Honors at Indianapolis
 May 11, 2024| 
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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – VRD Racing’s Nikita Johnson and Pabst Racing’s Simon Sikes both stood on the top step of the podium in the final two rounds of the VP Racing Grand Prix of Indianapolis tripleheader. This was the fifth win of the season for Johnson, of Gulfport, Fla., who also stood atop the podium yesterday at the Indianapolis Grand Prix road course. For Sikes, from Augusta, Ga., the victory marked the reigning USF2000 champion’s first since graduating to USF Pro 2000.

This morning’s podium was a déjà vu of yesterday with New Zealand’s Liam Sceats (TJ Speed Motorsports) finishing second ahead of Australian Lochie Hughes (Turn 3 Motorsport).

Johnson stretched his already considerable USF Pro 2000 Presented by Continental Tire points lead by chasing Sikes home in second place in the final race of the weekend as Hughes once again took third.

Johnson had continued his recent dominance this morning with another emphatic victory. Once again he started at the front, courtesy of his second fastest lap during the lone qualifying session on Friday which secured another Continental Tire Pole Award, although it was outside front row qualifier Sceats who stole a march at the start by snatching the lead at the first turn. It didn’t last for long.

Sceats immediately came under pressure from Johnson, who drafted alongside the New Zealander on the long front straightaway leading into Turn One. Sceats did his best to defend, holding a tight inside line, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Johnson from executing a textbook “over-under” maneuver by tucking back to the right as Sceats ran a little deep into the braking zone and then slicing past cleanly before they reached Turn Two.

Job done. Johnson then put his head down and rapidly extended his lead. The 15-year-old never relaxed his pace, even posting a new fastest lap of the race just two laps before the finish to ensure himself of the maximum 33-point score.

Sceats maintained second position for the remainder of the all-green 25-lap race, despite intense pressure throughout from Hughes, who finished third for the second straight race.

Fourth place was taken by local resident Jace Denmark (Pabst Racing), who provided one of the drives of the race by rising from 13th on the grid to claim the Tilton Hard Charger Award.

Starting positions for the final race were set according to either each driver’s second fastest lap in qualifying or their best lap time set during Race Two this morning, whichever was faster. Johnson duly claimed a sweep of the Continental Tire Pole Awards, thanks to his time from Friday, while Sikes finally gained a glimmer of light after a disappointing couple of days when his best lap from earlier today proved good enough to secure an outside front row starting position.

Hughes started fourth but lost no time in making his presence felt as he grasped the lead on the opening lap. Johnson, though, fought back immediately, taking the lead on the second lap, while Sikes followed through into second next time around.

The two leaders traded fastest laps as they inched away from Hughes in third until, as the 25-lap race neared its halfway mark, Johnson managed to eke out his advantage to over a second.

Shortly afterward, however, in stark contrast to the previous two races, Johnson abruptly lost some pace, which allowed Sikes to close in once more.

On lap 19, Sikes drew alongside Johnson as they sped toward Turn One, then grasped the lead with a move around the outside.

Once in front, Sikes was never able to extend much of a lead, but there was no way back for Johnson, who had to be content with second. Hughes also finished hot on Johnson’s tail.

The scrap for fourth place was all about TJ Speed Motorsports, with Hunter Yeany, from Virginia Beach, Va., slipping past Sceats to claim the position with four laps remaining.

Mexico’s Ricardo Escotto pocketed the Tilton Hard Charger Award after rising from 14th on the grid to ninth, as VRD’s Dan Mitchell of VRD and Augie Pabst shared the PFC Awards as the winning car owners.

A brace of official tests at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, in Lexington, Ohio, and Road America, in Elkhart Lake, Wis., are up next for the USF Pro 2000 regulars, followed by a return to the Indianapolis area for the only oval race of the season, the Continental Tire Freedom 90 at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park on May 23/24.

Provisional championship points after 8 of 18 rounds:
1. Nikita Johnson, 235
2. Hunter Yeany, 147
3. Lochie Hughes, 141
4. Liam Sceats, 130
5. Christian Brooks, 122
6. Jace Denmark, 120
7. Simon Sikes, 112
8. Nicolas Baptiste, 96
9. Ricardo Escotto, 92
10. Frankie Mossman, 91

Nikita Johnson (#17 409A Direct/AnyDesk/Labrador Primary Care-VRD Racing Tatuus IP-22): “It was an amazing day. In Race 2 we took the win. Unfortunately, I had to use the tires from before where Simon and other people had new tires, so we struggled a little bit with tire deg toward the end of Race 3. I had a pretty comfortable lead and was expanding my lead and then I had some shifting problems and then a back marker blocked me. Simon came up to me and I couldn’t battle with him too much because I couldn’t downshift. I was trying to hunt him down but every time I had a shift problem. Overall, a great points haul – two wins and a second place. I am really looking forward to the oval.

Simon Sikes (#18 USF Pro Championships/Mockett/Bell Racing/Sabelt-Pabst Racing Tatuus IP-22): “Well, it’s a comeback story. The whole weekend was. We didn’t get a single lap in qualifying, so I spent the first two races playing around at the back of the field. I finally managed to start at the front for Race 3, a little late in the weekend but we will take it where it comes. It was a chaotic start. I managed to survive and came out running third and it was just about running down Lochie and got him. Nikita was super tough; he had a lot of pace. Late in the race the pace came back to us and we were able to go and hunt him down. I made a pass around the outside of Turn 1 that really sealed the deal. It was amazing to finally get it done here in Pro 2000. It felt like it has been a long time coming. I am super thrilled for everyone that has been supporting me – Mockett, USF Pro Championships and the Pabst Racing team.”

Liam Sceats (#Tony Quinn Foundation/Omega Rental Cars-TJ Speed Motorsports Tatuus IP-22): “The race was kind of the same as yesterday. I got into the lead in Turn One which was good. I was aggressive, but early in the race I just didn’t have the pace for Nikita. I struggled a bit on cold tires and probably didn’t maximize the limited grip I had. I made some minor mistakes which cost me a little bit of time, even for him to get in the tow and drive by me. Once he was past me, honestly he was too quick. Lochie kept the pressure on the whole race. It was nice to have no cautions but at the same time, I would have liked to have a shot at the win. Thanks very much to the TJ Speed Motorsports group. The car is very fast and has the potential to win. The driver has to do better, but I am super stoked to be on the podium.”

Lochie Hughes (#44 Turn 3 Motorsport Tatuus IP-22): “It was a pretty good day. P3 in the first race and I was kind of stuck behind Liam just with aero wash. I couldn’t really do anything. The second race today started off really good. I went from fourth to first at the start and then really struggled with the grip. I didn’t feel like I had much grip those first few laps. It was so easy to make a mistake and I made a bit of one and Nikita passed me and then Simon pretty quickly after that. We were all in a group after that. I got close to Nikita at the end but as soon as I got close, I had too much understeer.”

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