The next two weeks could be pivotal for the Road To Indy title contenders with no fewer than 11 races – five for the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and six for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship – will be held at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio.
On Wednesday and Thursday of this week, July 29-30, the two open-wheel development series will be featured in a tripleheader stand-alone event: the Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio Presented by Cooper Tires Honoring First Responders. The following week, teams and drivers will return for two more Indy Pro 2000 races and another USF2000 tripleheader in support of the NTT IndyCar Series, August 7-9.
As was the case when the 2020 season finally began recently at Road America following a delay of almost three months, strict protocols for social-distancing and PPE once again will be observed.
Indy Pro 2000: Frost leads the way
At the turn of the year, after winning twice and placing fifth in points in his rookie season of Indy Pro 2000, Danial Frost was contemplating graduation to Indy Lights for 2020. The pandemic changed all of that. Instead, he has reset his sights and is now chasing a scholarship which will enable the Indy Pro 2000 champion a guaranteed season in the rejuvenated Indy Lights series with the team of his or her choice in 2021.
The 18-year-old from Singapore endured a roller coaster ride during the season-opening pair of races at Road America. After posting the fastest time in qualifying, Frost’s Turn 3 Motorsport Tatuus PM-18 was banished to the back of the grid due to a technical infraction. Undeterred, he posted a sensational drive through the field, drafting past rookie Devlin DeFrancesco on the final uphill run to the checkered flag.
“It didn’t make me worried, to start from the back at Road America,” reflected Frost, who added a third-place finish in Race Two to maintain the early championship lead. “I was calm and I knew I could move forward. I’ve worked on my overtakes a great deal during the down time, to make sure they were less risky, compared to last year when I would just go in and hope it would stick. I’m playing the long game this year, so I have to be more focused on how I approach each car and more calculated in my moves.
“But my plan for Mid-Ohio is the same as it will be every weekend this year. I know the car will be fast so I have to work toward being the most confident and the most prepared driver out there. We’ve done a good job of that so far so we have to put the results in and hopefully we’ll still be the points leader at the end of the weekend.”
DeFrancesco also impressed at Road America during his first foray into American racing after competing in a variety of open-wheel series in both Europe and Asia in recent years. The 20-year-old Canadian-Italian from Toronto trails Frost by only six points after making a decision to join Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport on its return to Indy Pro 2000.
Series veteran Sting Ray Robb (Juncos Racing) lies third in the points table following a fifth and a second from the opening weekend, with teammate Artem Petrov also in close contention following an emphatic Race 2 victory.
An extremely competitive field also will include 2019 USF2000 champion Braden Eves, who secured a pair of top-five finishes at Road America for Exclusive Autosport; and two of the drivers who pushed him closest last year, Pabst Racing teammates Colin Kaminsky and Hunter McElrea.
Texas-based DEForce Racing hopes to bounce back from a difficult opening weekend during which preseason favorite Parker Thompson failed to finish either race. Mexicans Manuel Sulaiman and Moises de la Vara both displayed promise and will be joined this week by Texan Kory Enders.
The 17-car field will be completed by promising BNRacing with Team Benik rookies Jacob Loomis and Sabré Cook, plus veterans Bob Kaminsky aboard a third Pabst entry alongside his son Colin, and New Yorker Charles Finelli (FatBoy Racing).
An intense two days of action will begin with 30 minutes of practice at 11:15 a.m. on Wednesday, July 29, followed by qualifying at 2:15 p.m. and Race 1 at 5:30 p.m. A second qualifying session at 8:45 a.m. on Thursday will set the grid for Race 2 at 12:30 p.m., after which the fastest race laps will determine the starting order for Race Three at 4:15 p.m. All times are EDT.
USF2000: Rasmussen in command
Christian Rasmussen demonstrated why he is a red-hot favorite for USF2000 honors this season by claiming a pair of dominant victories for Jay Howard Driver Development at Road America. The 20-year-old Dane now holds a commanding 19-point advantage over his nearest challenger as the 21-car field heads to Mid-Ohio.
“Race wins are always the goal, but the main focus right now is to extend the points lead and continue being consistent and winning races,” said Rasmussen, who secured a win and a second at Mid-Ohio last year. “We are thinking championship, so that’s the most important thing right now. Mid-Ohio has always been good to me: I won there in F4 and won there again last year. It’s a very technical, flowing track, and I love that. And the team has always been strong there so I’m looking forward to keeping the winning streak going. I need to keep my head down and keep doing what I’m doing.
“The team is doing a good job, and I’m doing everything I can away from the track to stay fit, ready and sharp. We’re on the right path and we want to stay that way.”
Wyatt Brichacek, Christian Bogle, Nolan Siegel and Bijoy Garg also will drive for the team run by former USF2000 and Indy Lights champion Jay Howard.
A stacked field will include several other multi-car teams, including four from Cape Motorsports, which has won the last nine USF2000 championships in a row, and a trio from Pabst Racing, which has won the past three Team Championships and is still chasing that elusive first drivers’ title.
The Cape pair of Josh Green and Michael d’Orlando proved to be the closest challengers to Rasmussen at Road America, with their teammates Reece Gold and Kyle Dupell not far behind.
Brazilian Eduardo Barrichello, whose father Rubens was a prolific F1 race winner for Ferrari, and Englishman Matt Round-Garrido finished both Road America races in the top-five for Pabst Racing, which also includes top-10 runner Yuven Sundaramoorthy.
Fastest during one of the Mid-Ohio preseason test sessions, Jack William Miller intends to carry that form into this week with Miller Vinatieri Motorsports teammate Max Kaeser.
Other contenders will include the Legacy Autosport pair of Cameron Shields and Ayrton Ori; Exclusive Autosport’s rookie trio of Prescott Campbell, Christian Brooks and Josh Pierson; and the DEForce Racing duo of Nico Christodoulou and Kiko Porto, a race winner last year at Mid-Ohio in F4 who is anxious to make his USF2000 debut after being unable to enter the country in time for the Road America season openers.
The USF2000 contenders will follow a similar schedule to their more experienced cohorts in Indy Pro 2000, starting with practice on Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. Qualifying at 1:30 p.m. will set the grid for the first of three 45-minute races at 4:30 p.m. Thursday will kick off with a second qualifying session at 8:00 a.m. followed by two more races at 11:30 a.m. and 3:15 p.m. EDT.