An early gamble to switch from wet-weather tyres to slicks earned Simon Sikes victory in the first USF2000 race in Toronto.
Pre-race rain meant everyone started on the grooved tyres, with Evagoras Papasavvas on pole ahead of Nikita Johnson, Jacob Douglas and Max Garcia.
However the track was all-but dry when the race began. On lap one Johnson passed Papasavvas at turn three, then Elliot Cox lost his front wing before ploughing into the turn five barriers with a broken car.
The top two went side-by-side through turns six and seven before a caution period was called, and Nico Christodoulou and Maxwell Jamieson – who had started 10th and 15th respectively – took the initiative to pit for slick tyres.
On the next lap Sikes, Mac Clark, Jorge Garciarce, Gordon Scully, Logan Adams and Avery Towns did the same, and Sikes returned to track in 11th place. When racing resumed on lap four there were three seconds covering the lead group, with Christodoulou slightly further back and Sikes 12 seconds behind the leader.
Papasavvas reclaimed the lead from Johnson on the restart lap, while Christodoulou, Jamieson and Sikes actually lost time. Johnson got back in front at turn three on lap five, and Christodoulou passed Al Morey for eighth.
Behind Sikes was Clark, who set a fastest lap over two seconds quicker than anyone else and continued to hold a substantial pace advantage over the rest of the field through the next laps.
Christodoulou jumped another two spots on lap six, while Clark moved ahead of Sikes, then on lap seven both Jacob Douglas and Al Morey had car-damaging contact. That lifted Clark into the top 10, and Christodoulou was making even better progres as he took fifth from Chase Gardner into turn one and then was third by the start of lap nine.
Clark passed Jamieson for seventh as they started that lap, and by the end of it Clark was in fourth but 6.9s behind Christodoulou who was several seconds behind Johnson and Papasavvas.
There was another twist in the race when a Gordon Scully crash at turn 11 prompted the race to be under a caution period on lap 11. That not only closed the gaps up front, but also prompted more drivers to pit including Papasavvas.
Johnson pitted the lap after, and he returned to track in 12th. Papasavvas was in 10th, and Christodoulou led Clark and Sikes up front. But now it was those behind who had the tyre advantage.
Racing resumed on lap 14 and the top three went three-wide into turn three. Sikes took second, Logan Adams went from sixth to fourth and Papasavvas behin jumped up to eighth.
On the next lap Sikes passed Christodoulou for the lead, with Clark also managing to get through, and at turn eight Jorge Garciarce crashed out of fifth place. The pace car was back out on the next lap, with Papasavvas and Johnson now sixth and seventh.
Racing resumed on lap 18 of 20, and everyone kept it clean. On lap 19 the battles erupted again though, with Max Garcia going from fifth to second and Clark going the opposite way.
Clark took fourth from Christodoulou on the last lap but was now struggling with pace and a huge queue of cars formed behind him. Avery Towns was among the gaggle and spun exiting turn five, with everyone else avoiding him, and up front Sikes held off Garcia for a points lead-extending fifth win of 2023.
Race result (20 laps)
|1||Simon Sikes||Pabst Racing||32m13.4719s|
|2||Max Garcia||Pabst Racing||+0.1833s|
|4||Mac Clark||DEForce Racing||+3.0343s|
|8||Chase Gardner||Exclusive Autosport||+4.4873s|
|10||Maxwell Jamieson||DEForce Racing||+14.4071s|
|11||Avery Towns||Exclusive Autosport||+29.5620s|
|12||Al Morey||JHDD||+1 lap|
|13||Jacob Douglas||Pabst Racing||+2 laps|
|Ret||Jorge Garciarce||DEForce Racing|
|DNS||Joey Brienza||Exclusive Autosport|
|Fastest lap: Clark, 1m14.2422s