There are few drivers who have been as dominant in their series this year as Christian Rasmussen. The 20-year old from Denmark has been a force of nature in USF2000, winning the first five races as he is gunning for a seat in the NTT IndyCar Series a few years from now. In other words, it was about time F1 Feeder Series sat down with him for a chat.
It must be a bit of a culture shock. Born and raised in Copenhagen, the sprawling and vibrant metropolis that is the Danish capital, the young man on the other end of the phone line tells me how he is now spending his days in America’s Deep South, in a small town just outside New Orleans in Louisiana. Talking about a difference between day and night.
He, of course, is Christian Rasmussen, the 20-year old racing prodigy who is seemingly running away with the USF2000 championship this season and has won the first five races of the season. But no matter how big the difference between his native country and his newly adopted home, he is enjoying every minute of it. “It’s definitely very different, and of course I sometimes miss home because all my friends and family are there,” he explains. “But I really like living in America. There is such a very big culture around racing and it has a huge following here. I really enjoy it.”
He has found a home with the family of team mate Christian Bogle, and adds warmly that the Bogle family have made him feel like he is one of their own. But before embarking on a career in the US a little over two years ago, Rasmussen spent his time in European racing as so many others of his generation. A karting champion at every level, he graduated to Danish Formula Ford in 2016 and then to Danish Formula 4 in 2017. Wins and poles came quickly, but he just missed out on the championship in each series: vice champion in the Fords, third overall in F4.
Having arrived at a crossroads, he decided to try his luck in the United States. “I had some offers in Europe, but I felt that the scholarships available in the US were a better way to climb the ladder,” says Rasmussen. “There is a lot of opportunity over here for young race car drivers that don’t have crazy amounts of money. Budget is so important, so if you don’t have a rich daddy or a rich uncle, you have to climb the ladder on skill and the US ladder is a great opportunity. The rest of the world should look at the US as an example I think.”
The American connection was made quickly for the young Dane and he landed with Jay Howard Driver Development (JHDD), the team run by the eponymous former IndyCar driver. “My engineer in Danish F4, where I drove with Magnussen Racing Experience, knew Jay from early on and had been engineering for him back in the days,” he explains. “So that contact was made easily. We reached out to Jay, did a test with him and we really liked the team and Jay. So we signed with them and just kept going from there!”
A well-oiled machine
It was indeed the start of a long and fruitful relationship between Rasmussen and JHDD. The first season of their partnership, the 2018 Formula 4 United States championship, was an immediate success as Rasmussen racked up five wins, eight podiums and two poles on his way to third in the standings. While getting to grips with the American racing scene and a range of new tracks and competitors, he tested his mettle against the likes of Braden Eves, Eduardo Barrichello and Joshua Car – and often got the better of them.
As a result, the team and its driver decided to try something new for 2019, and graduated to USF 2000, the first of three ladders on the Road to Indy. “Yeah, it was the first year for me and for the team in USF,” Rasmussen says, “so obviously we had some stuff to figure out during the first few race weekends. But during the second half of the season, things really came together and we really got some success. And we continue that this season, all our hard work during the off-season is really paying off.”
That is something of an understatement. Earlier this year, I marked out Rasmussen as one of my favourites for the USF2000 title, but his performance this season has been something else. And while five wins in five races is impressive in itself, it is the dominant way in which he has racked up those victories that must really worry the competition. “It is definitely something else!” he laughs. “We knew we were going to be fast and strong, but I don’t know if I could ever have hoped to win five races in a row. It has been amazing.”
One advantage he has over his rivals is continuity and experience. Eduardo Barrichello and Reece Gold switched to Pabst Racing and Cape Motorsports respectively over the summer, while Michael d’Orlando is a rookie for Cape. Rasmussen, meanwhile, is a sophomore driver who is in his third year with the same team and crew. “It’s definitely a well-oiled machine now. I work very well together with Jay Howard and my engineer Louis d’Agostino,” he explains. “They trust my ability behind the wheel and I trust their ability with the car. We have developed a strong bond over time.”
If he wins the USF2000 title, it would be the first time since 2011 that it is not won by a Cape or a Pabst driver. Rasmussen is very aware of that record. “Cape and Pabst have been doing an awesome job, basically this last decade. It would be very cool to knock them off their throne and if we can be the first team and driver to do so, that would definitely be an achievement,” he says. It would also be a vindication of Howard’s approach. “He is very involved on the driver coaching side and has a lot of knowledge that he shares with us young guys. I am just getting better and better as a driver.”
Eyes on the IndyCar prize
Just like in every other series, the coronavirus pandemic has shaken up the schedule in USF2000 quite a bit. For example, rounds in Toronto, Portland and Laguna Seca have been scrapped, while the drivers will now have to tackle New Jersey Motorsports Park instead. But Rasmussen says he takes every turn as it comes. “You know, I just focus on the next race. Working out as much as I can and doing all the stuff that I’m supposed to be doing. I wouldn’t say my preparation is changing because of the whole thing. I guess I just get more time to prep when races are cancelled!”
While he wisely doesn’t count his chickens before they are hatched (“I am fully focused on winning the title now”), it seems likely that Rasmussen will have another decision to make by the end of this year. The logical step would be to take his USF2000 scholarship funds to Indy Pro 2000, but this is not a given. “The goal is definitely to stay on the Road to Indy,” he says. “Indy Lights is a possibility, Indy Pro 2000 is a possibility. We do have a plan that we follow, but it’s not 100 per cent set. We just see what opportunities come my way and take it from there.”
What he will say is that the ultimate goal is the NTT IndyCar Series. “Oh yes. My ambition is absolutely to go to IndyCar and the goal is to get there by 2022 or 2023.” That would make him the first Dane in IndyCar since Ronnie Bremer back in 2005, an illustration of how rare his career trajectory is. “It was a special move,” he admits, “but I don’t regret it. I really think it was the right move for me. We will see in a couple of years if it was!”