After a nearly month-long hiatus following the traditionally hectic May at Indianapolis, all three levels of the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder will return to action this weekend, June 21-23, at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. Indy Lights, Indy Pro 2000 and USF2000 championships all will feature a pair of races held in support of the NTT IndyCar Series at the super-fast and challenging 4.014-mile road course.
A variety of intriguing story lines highlight the Indy Lights Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Road America Powered by AER Engines doubleheader, which will complete the first half of the 18-race season.
Atop the list is the fierce battle for the championship and accompanying scholarship prize which guarantees entry for the series champion into a minimum of three NTT IndyCar races in 2020, including the 104th Indianapolis 500.
The battle approaching mid-season is finely poised between two extremely talented rookies. Andretti Autosport’s Oliver Askew, 22, from Jupiter, Fla., gained the advantage with a sensational last-gasp victory in the most recent race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But 18-year-old Dutchman Rinus VeeKay, driving for Juncos Racing, is just 11 points behind following his third-place finish there.
The pair of future stars have been vying for supremacy ever since both made the switch from karts to cars in 2017. Askew claimed the USF2000 championship that first year, although VeeKay held the upper hand at Road America by winning both races. VeeKay then won last year’s Indy Pro 2000 Championship, with Askew ending up third.
The pair have consistently run up front since graduating to Indy Lights. In addition to his Freedom 100 triumph, Askew won both races at the Circuit of The Americas road course (photo above), while VeeKay has scored victories on the streets of St. Petersburg and on the Indy GP road course.
Among a host of rivals looking to challenge the point leaders is Wisconsin native Aaron Telitz, who returns to the series with Belardi Auto Racing; David Malukas, from Chicago, Ill., and his BN/Team Pelfrey teammate Toby Sowery, who finished on the podium in each of his first two starts at St. Petersburg.
Another rookie, Robert Megennis, from New York City, also has tasted the fruits of victory this year with Andretti Autosport, winning Race 1 at the Indianapolis GP circuit and adding a pole position in the Freedom 100.
After a single 45-minute practice session on Friday morning, a pair of qualifying sessions – one on Friday afternoon and another on Saturday morning – will set the grid for the two races at 1:50 p.m. CDT on Saturday and 8:50 a.m. on Sunday.
INDY PRO 2000
Three different drivers have dominated proceedings during the first three events in this year’s newly rebranded Indy Pro 2000 series. Popular Canadian Parker Thompson, 21, from Red Deer, Alb., was the first to shine, claiming two wins and ensuring a spectacular debut for Abel Motorsports on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., in March.
Swedish rookie Rasmus Lindh was next to grab the headlines for Juncos Racing on the Indianapolis GP road course, also winning twice; while most recently it was the turn of Singapore’s Danial Frost to stake his claim to the title with an emphatic performance for Exclusive Autosport at the Lucas Oil Raceway oval in Brownsburg, Ind.
All three are currently separated by just 27 points heading into this weekend’s Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Road America Powered by Elite Engines, with Lindh’s Juncos Racing teammate, Sting Ray Robb, from Payette, Idaho, also in the thick of the battle after recording three podium finishes from the opening five races.
Meanwhile, Kyle Kirkwood, from Jupiter, Fla., used his Mazda Scholarship prize to graduate into Indy Pro 2000 with RP Motorsports USA and has already made his mark by claiming fastest lap in three of the five races, as well as a pair of second-place finishes. No one would be surprised to see either Kirkwood or Robb claim breakthrough victories this weekend.
Drivers representing six different teams have stood on the podium in the first five races of the Cooper Tires USF2000 season, but perennial front-runners Cape Motorsports and Pabst Racing remain at the top of the pile.
Florida-based Cape Motorsports, owned by expatriate English brothers Dominic and Nicholas Cape, have amassed an astonishing record in recent years, winning each of the last eight drivers’ championships. But they have been pushed virtually every inch of the way by Augie Pabst’s eponymous Oconomowoc, Wis.-based organization — especially at Road America.
This weekend the two teams will have a total of seven cars on the grid. Braden Eves, from New Albany, Ohio, is currently a clear leader in the championship points table for Cape Motorsports, having swept the first four races of the season. But Pabst’s Hunter McElrea, from Gold Coast, Australia, has run him close with four consecutive top-three finishes to begin his career in North America. Darren Keane (Cape), from Boca Raton, Fla., and Colin Kaminsky (Pabst), from Homer Glen, Ill., are separated by just a solitary point in third and fourth.
The Capes will field a third Tatuus USF-17 for 14-year-old Reece Gold, last year’s Lucas Oil Race Series champion who qualified an impressive third on the oval at Lucas Oil Raceway, while Pabst’s lineup will also comprise Brazilian Bruna Tomaselli, the only female in the field, and former F1600 race winner Yuven Sundaramoorthy, who lives in upstate New York but was born in Oconomowoc, Wis.
Three other teams have local connections. Legacy Autosport’s Alex Baron, who holds dual French and British citizenship – and was the only driver to beat Kirkwood last year – is now based in nearby Port Washington, Wis., while both Newman Wachs Racing and BN Racing are from the Chicago area.
The NWR team, founded by the late actor Paul Newman and fellow former racer Eddie Wachs, will field two cars for Australian Cameron Shields and 14-year-old Californian Nolan Siegel. BN will enter Venezuelan Anthony Famularo and newly recruited Englishman Matt Round-Garrido.
A strong field also will include Danish former karting star Christian Rasmussen (Jay Howard Driver Development); Eduardo Barrichello (Miller-Vinatieri Motorsports), whose father Rubens scored 11 Grand Prix victories during a stellar 19-year career in F1; and the DEForce pair of Manuel Sulaiman, from Puebla, Mexico, and 14-year-old Jak Crawford, from Houston, Texas.
The USF2000 schedule virtually mirrors that of Indy Pro 2000, with practice and qualifying on Friday and Saturday and a pair of races at 12:00 p.m. CDT on Saturday and 8:00 a.m. on Sunday.