The traditional Carb Night Classic this Friday evening, August 21, at Lucas Oil Raceway will kick off a momentous racing weekend in the Indianapolis area. Postponed from its usual Memorial Day weekend date, in common with the Indianapolis 500 due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, this year’s riday night event will feature the Cooper Tires Freedom 90 and Cooper Tires Freedom 75, Round 6 for both the Road To Indy’s Indy Pro 2000 and USF2000 series, plus the Dave Steele Classic USAC Silver Crown Series race.
Mere hours after the nearby Indianapolis Motor Speedway host’s Carb Day practice in preparation for Sunday’s 104th edition of the Indianapolis 500, the next generation of stars will be plying their trade at the famed 0.686-mile LOR oval, just a 15-minute-drive west from the Brickyard. No fewer than 23 starters from this year’s Indy 500 field of 33 forged their careers in the RTI series which this season will distribute over $1.27 million in scholarships and awards.
Oval racing fans also will revel in the “Night Before the 500″ at Lucas Oil Raceway on Saturday, featuring sprint cars and midgets, while the USAC Silver Crown contenders will compete again on Sunday evening – after the 500 – in the Hoosier Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
Indy Pro 2000: Pick ’em
The battle for a scholarship worth in excess of $600,000 that guarantees graduation into a rejuvenated Indy Lights series in 2021 could hardly be more finely poised. Four different winners have emerged from the five Indy Pro 2000 races held so far this year, and the top five in the championship standings are separated by just 13 points.
Friday’s race is one of only two oval events on the 17-race schedule, and offers a 50 percent points bonus in comparison to the “regular” road course events, with 45 points to the winner, in addition to the usual single points for pole position, fastest race lap and most laps led.
Ironically, the only driver in the top five who has yet to win is the current points leader, Devlin DeFrancesco. Perhaps crucially, he is also the only major contender who has absolutely zero previous oval racing experience. But, after displaying his talents in Europe for the past few years, the talented young Canadian remains undaunted as he heads to Lucas Oil Raceway with Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport, which guided Malaysian Weiron Tan to Victory Lane on its most recent visit to the track in 2015.
“We did a test day at Toledo Speedway, so I have one day of experience on an oval,” noted DeFrancesco, who came within a few inches of winning on his RTI debut at Road America last month and finished on the podium in two of the three most recent races at Mid-Ohio. “No racing, no other cars of course, but I was able to get up to speed. But I’ve always been good on the high-speed tracks. It’s one of my strengths — always has been.
“Some of the driving style translates over, depending on the kind of balance you have. I am new to this discipline, so having an engineer like Doug (Zister), who has a great deal of experience on ovals, really helps – as does everyone on the team. I’m able to rely on them and use their suggestions to make adjustments very quickly.
“My mindset is the same as the other two race events: it’s about making sure you’re in the front and bringing points home. The points are a consequence of the work we do on the race weekend, and that’s how you win championships.”
The Juncos Racing pair of Sting Ray Robb and Artem Petrov currently lie second and fourth in the points table. Robb claimed a long overdue maiden victory in the most recent race at Mid-Ohio, and last year finished a strong second at Lucas Oil Raceway. Teammate Petrov did not compete in this corresponding event during a partial rookie season, but is currently the only driver with two victories to his credit this year.
If either are to win again, they will need to beat Danial Frost who dominated the proceedings in 2019. This time Frost will drive for Turn 3 Motorsport, aiming to rebound from a slightly disappointing outing at Mid-Ohio after winning handsomely at Road America.
“It was such a perfect weekend last year,” reflected Frost. “I really enjoyed racing there, and the biggest enjoyment was being at the front quite comfortably. The team gave me a great car and that enabled me to have the confidence to really push myself, to find the speed very quickly. Sometimes I may be pushing the limits, but that’s the only way to really find that speed – and it paid off last year.
“The key [to the championship] is to be consistent, to not make any mistakes. It will come down to the very end of the season, so we need to capitalize on every opportunity.”
That notion will be shared by Braden Eves, who finished fifth at LOR last year en route to claiming the USF2000 championship and a scholarship valued at over $300,000 to graduate into Indy Pro 2000 with Exclusive Autosport which provided Frost’s dominant car last year.
The winner at Lucas Oil Raceway in 2018, Parker Thompson, will spearhead a strong four-car lineup for DEForce Racing alongside Kory Enders who claimed his first podium finish at World Wide Technology Raceway in 2019, and Mexicans Moises de la Vara and Manuel Sulaiman.
Other contenders will include the Pabst Racing pair of Hunter McElrea and Colin Kaminsky (who finished second in last year’s USF2000 race after starting from the pole), plus Jacob Abel, who makes his return to Indy Pro 2000 after finishing fifth in 2019.
Two days of activity will begin with three 30m sessions on Thursday, Aug. 20, followed by single-car qualifying at 8:10 p.m. EDT. After a final 20m warmup at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, the evening’s Cooper Tires Freedom 90 will go green at 7:50 p.m.
Qualifying and the 90-lap race will be featured on worldwide live streaming on the Road to Indy TV App, RoadToIndy.TV and indypro2000.com.
USF2000: Who can challenge Rasmussen?
Christian Rasmussen has taken a stranglehold on this year’s USF2000 title-chase and the quest for a scholarship valued at over $320,000 which guarantees graduation next year into Indy Pro 2000. Unbeaten in five races with Jay Howard Driver Development, Rasmussen seeks to benefit from his experience in the only oval race of the 2019 season when he overcame a poor qualifying position, 15th, to forge through to a fifth-place finish.
“I’m excited for the oval,” says Rasmussen. “I qualified toward the back last year so I’m ready to go back and get a better starting position for the race. I earned the Tilton Hard Charger award last year because in between qualifying and the race we really figured a few things out to go quicker. We’ll keep developing that and hopefully we’ll be able to challenge up front.
“It’s just so different from what I’m used to, which is mostly road courses. Your driving technique on an oval is just completely different. Ovals are much more car-dependent than road courses so the feedback the driver gives to the team is so important, to get the car where it needs to be. It’s very different but I really enjoyed it – it was surprisingly fun, turning left that much.”
Even with its current win streak, Jay Howard Driver Development, which also fields cars for Christian Bogle and rookies Bijoy Garg and Wyatt Brichacek, is only tied for the lead of the Team Championship with Cape Motorsports, which is on a remarkable streak of winning nine consecutive driver championships.
The Cape team, which relocated to Brownsburg, Ind., during the winter break, will field front-running cars for Reece Gold, who broke through to claim his first podium – in fact, three of them – during the most recent event at Mid-Ohio, alongside Michael d’Orlando, Josh Green and Kyle Dupell.
Pabst Racing, on a streak of its own after winning three straight Team titles, also should be strong after claiming the pole position last year. Eduardo Barrichello, Matt Round-Garrido and Yuven Sundaramoorthy all will fly the Pabst flag.
Only seven of the 19 starters from 2019 will return for this year’s Cooper Tires Freedom 75. Prime among them will be Australian Cameron Shields (Legacy Autosport), who romped to a dominant maiden USF2000 victory.
“After last year’s success on the oval, I have been looking forward to this race for a long time,” says Shields, 19, who hails from the same small town — Toowoomba — as 2018 Indy 500 champion Will Power.
“Legacy Autosport came in second to me last year so I am confident we will have a good car to start with come Thursday practice. The team and I have been working incredibly hard to ensure we are in the best position possible for a great result and for that I want to thank them.
“To repeat the race win will be incredibly hard. The field is closer than ever and with no pre-season testing for myself or the team, it will make it that much harder to win. However, if we remain focused and execute our plan right from the beginning, I believe we have just as good of a chance as anyone else to win on Friday night.”
The Legacy team, run by Mike Meyer, great-grandson of the first three-time Indy 500 winner, Louis Meyer, also showed its paces during the recent iRacing sim series, winning one of the two races at Lucas Oil Raceway.
The other iRacing sim race at LOR was won by another teenager, Max Kaeser, who will make his real-life oval debut with Miller Vinatieri Motorsports alongside Indiana native Jack William Miller, who earned a career-best fifth-place finish last month at Mid-Ohio.
Other highly rated oval rookies will include Kiko Porto (DEForce Racing), and the Exclusive Autosport trio of Christian Brooks, Prescott Campbell, and Josh Pierson, from Wilsonville, Ore.
The 20-car field will gain valuable experience during three 30m sessions on Thursday prior to single-car qualifying at 7:30 p.m. EDT. A 20-minute practice at 3:55 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 21, will set the scene for the curtain-raising Cooper Tires Freedom 75 at 6:45 p.m.
Like Indy Pro 2000, qualifying and the 75-lap sprint will feature worldwide live streaming on the Road to Indy TV App, RoadToIndy.TV and usf2000.com.