Friday’s Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix Presented by Cooper Tires Honoring First Responders provided a thrilling start to the new Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires season as Singapore’s Danial Frost and Russian Artem Petrov shared the pair of race victories.
Frost produced a stunning comeback in the opener, fighting his way from last to claim a memorable first-ever win for Turn 3 Motorsport, while Petrov was equally impressive for Juncos Racing en route to snaring his maiden Road to Indy checkered flag later in the afternoon.
Devlin DeFrancesco also shone during his North American debut. After competing with distinction in Europe and Asia over the course of the past four years, DeFrancesco had to settle for second after leading virtually throughout the first race, then added a solid fourth-place finish in Race Two.
The action-packed day began with Frost posting the fastest time in the lone qualifying session held in damp but drying conditions. It came as no surprise after the second-year Indy Pro 2000 racer had led the way in testing yesterday and headed last week’s pre-season test at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. But his euphoria didn’t last long. Instead he was banished to the back of the 16-car grid after his car failed post-qualifying technical inspection.
Undaunted, Frost produced a mesmerizing performance as he blitzed his way into fourth position inside just three laps. Nor did he stop there. Road to Indy veteran Parker Thompson (DEForce Racing) was his next victim, after nine laps, whereupon he quickly dispatched Indy Pro 2000 debutant Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing) for second place next time around.
By this point DeFrancesco had opened up a seemingly unassailable lead of 3.6 seconds after inheriting the Cooper Tires Pole Award on his Road to Indy debut. But Frost wasn’t finished. The gap came down steadily, inexorably, until the leading pair were separated by only a few car lengths as they sped onto their final lap of the 4.014-mile gem of a race track that is known as “America’s Park of Speed.”
DeFrancesco clung onto his narrow lead through each of the 14 turns, only for Frost to make a perfect exit to the final corner to begin a drag race to the checkered flag. Frost timed his run to perfection, inching alongside as the two cars raced up the hill, then nosing ahead mere yards before the checkered flag to win by a scant 0.0556 of a second.
Frost secured the Tilton Hard Charger Award, in addition to snaring a first PFC Award for Peter Dempsey as the winning team owner.
Kaminsky rounded out the podium after the unfortunate Thompson retired with a mechanical problem in the closing stages. Last year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Champion Braden Eves battled some handling difficulties to finish fourth, just ahead of Indy Pro 2000 veteran Sting Ray Robb, who battled his way from 15th on the grid after an issue in qualifying.
Rookie Manuel Sulaiman rounded out the field in 16th after a mid-race pit stop to replace a damaged rear wing. Crucially, though, his DEForce team also took the opportunity to bolt on a set of fresh Cooper Tires, which Sulaiman used to excellent effect by posting the fastest lap of the race which also meant he would start Race Two from the coveted pole position.
Despite starting the year as one of the title favorites, Thompson’s day went from bad to worse as he was involved in an incident with New Zealander Hunter McElrea (Pabst Racing) just a few seconds after the start. Both were eliminated from the race, which was immediately neutralized by a full-course caution.
Frost, who started second, drafted past Sulaiman to take the lead at the restart. He was chased by Petrov, who also had hit problems during the opening race but started third for the second encounter.
Frost’s hopes of sweeping the opening day were dashed when Petrov drafted past into the lead, then began to edge clear. Sulaiman settled into third, with Robb completing a four-car train when the caution flags waved briefly again following a spin by FatBoy Racing’s Charles Finelli.
Petrov marshaled himself for the restart, timed it perfectly, and drove comfortably to the victory. This time it was Robb who provided the final flurry of activity, overtaking Frost with three laps remaining to match his career-best finish of second.
Frost followed by in third, narrowly ahead of DeFrancesco, who earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award after starting from ninth on the grid. Eves posted the fastest lap of the race in the closing stages as he wrested fifth position away from Kaminsky two laps from the finish. Sulaiman slipped down the order after spinning at Turn One.
Ricardo Juncos pocketed the final PFC Award of the day as the winning car owner.
After an extremely competitive first weekend of the season, next on the docket for the Indy Pro 2000 contenders is a triple-header event at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 29/30.