With the oval track portion of the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires season now in the books, both the Indy Pro 2000 and USF2000 series return to road course action with the tripleheader Cooper Tires Indy Grand Prix on the 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix circuit in Speedway, Ind.
The racing will take place this Thursday and Friday, September 3-4, the RTI features run alongside a pair of races for the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX-5 Cup, which, in common with the Road to Indy, is administered by Andersen Promotions.
Indy Pro 2000: DeFrancesco returns to his roots
After a standout karting career followed by five years of racing cars both in Europe and Asia, Devlin DeFrancesco has switched his focus toward a future in the NTT IndyCar Series. The 20-year-old Italian-Canadian joined Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport for his rookie campaign in Indy Pro 2000, marking a return to the series for the Indianapolis-based squad following a four-year hiatus. The combination has lost no time in making its mark.
DeFrancesco qualified on pole for his debut at Road America, then led virtually the entire race until being overhauled just a few yards before the finish line. He moved into the points lead on the back of a pair of podium finishes at Mid-Ohio, then, perhaps unexpectedly, extended his advantage following a strong fourth-place finish in his very first oval race at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis and an emphatic first victory last Saturday at World Wide Technology Raceway.
The Canadian now holds a 25-point lead in his quest for a scholarship worth over $600,000 which will enable the Indy Pro 2000 champion to graduate to a team of his choice in what is expected to be a rejuvenated Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires in 2021.
The next five contenders, however, are blanketed by just seven points with half of the season remaining.
Indy Pro 2000 veteran Sting Ray Robb currently is the closest challenger to DeFrancesco’s supremacy. Robb, now in his fourth season at this level, has high expectations this week after finishing second at Indy in 2019 and notching a long overdue maiden victory last month at Mid-Ohio. He will benefit, too, from the speed of teammate Artem Petrov who lies fifth in points as the only driver to have won more than once this year.
“IMS has been a good track for Juncos Racing, so while I know we’ll have a good setup, it seems this year that having historically fast setups is not good enough,” said Robb. “We have to keep investing in and developing the car all season, given all the teams that are right there with us. It’s been fun, to adapt and learn new things about the car on the engineering side, and it’s been good to have a fast teammate.
“It’s so tight at the front, but that makes it fun. Every week, you don’t know where you’ll be, since there are six teams at the front of the pack. We just need to take it to the next level to beat Devlin. He’s been so consistent, so we have to work on getting the wins – that’s what it’s going to take to win this championship.”
After sweeping the USF2000 races at Indy last year en route to winning the championship, Braden Eves also is expected to shine for Exclusive Autosport.
“I’m ready to get back to Indy,” said Eves. “It’s one of my best tracks historically, so I’m very excited for the week. The racing is always good and with three races, there’s an opportunity to make a huge dent in the championship standings. Devlin’s been so consistent but our pace on road courses has been so good. I was quickest in a couple of sessions last year at the Chris Griffis Test in this car, so I’m feeling good.”
Danial Frost also has won a race this year for Turn 3 Motorsport, in addition to claiming another pair of podium finishes.
DEForce Racing perhaps is poised for a breakthrough with its four-car team comprising Road to Indy veteran Parker Thompson, Kory Enders and Mexicans Manuel Sulaiman (who already has two pole positions to his credit) and Moises de la Vara.
Pabst Racing, meanwhile, is looking for redemption after a difficult race last week at World Wide Technology Raceway for Hunter McElrea, who had finished second in the two previous races, and Colin Kaminsky.
Jacob Loomis is set to return for BNRacing with Team Benik after posting some strong performances on the road courses prior to skipping the two recent oval races.
This week’s schedule will begin with 30 minutes of practice at 9:45 a.m. EDT on Thursday, Sept. 3, and the first of two separate qualifying sessions at 12:45 p.m. Race 1 will take place later in the afternoon at 3:35 p.m. A second period of qualifying at 9:45 a.m. Friday will set the grid for Race 2 at 1:00 p.m., after which each driver’s fastest lap will determine the starting line-up for Race 3, starting at 4:00 p.m.
Qualifying and all three races will feature worldwide live circuit feed, commentary and Timing & Scoring on the Road to Indy TV App, RoadToIndy.TV and the series website, indypro2000.com.
USF2000: Rasmussen rolls on
Christian Rasmussen has become only the third driver in the history of USF2000 dating back to 1991 to win the opening six races of the season. Coincidentally, his current team owner, Jay Howard, was the first to achieve the feat in 2005, while J.R. Hildebrand went one better in 2006. Both, unsurprisingly, went on to win the championship, which this year offers a scholarship valued at over $328,000 to graduate to the next step of the Road to Indy ladder, Indy Pro 2000, in 2021.
This week at Indianapolis, Rasmussen, 20, will attempt to improve on those marks and perhaps even edge closer to the all-time consecutive win streak of 10 achieved two years ago by Kyle Kirkwood.
Rasmussen’s impressive run, allied to three more wins during his rookie campaign in 2019, has brought him to within striking distance of the all-time record of 13 USF2000 wins accumulated by current Chip Ganassi Racing engineer Chris Simmons between 1992 and 1994.
“Indy last year was so early in the season and we were still figuring things out,” said Rasmussen, “so it was one of my worst results. But in the Chris Griffis Memorial Test in October, we led every session. We’ve got the speed there so the plan is to just keep doing what we’re doing. It’s just head down now – I want to win as many races as possible. We’re on a great path so I don’t want to change anything. It would mean a lot to win here, especially since Indy is home for the team. IMS is such a special place, with all the history, and it’s great that we have the opportunity to race there.”
Rasmussen’s romp has taken him to a massive 95-point lead in the points table, although the battle for second place is finely poised with Cape Motorsports teammates Michael d’Orlando and Reece Gold separated by just two points. Top rookie Josh Green and Kyle Dupell also will fly the Cape Motorsports flag.
The Pabst Racing trio of Eduardo Barrichello, Matt Round-Garrido and Yuven Sundaramoorthy also can be expected to challenge at the front of the field, along with rookie Christian Brooks who has been inching closer and closer to his first podium finish for Exclusive Autosport.
Brooks’ Exclusive Autosport teammates Prescott Campbell and Josh Pierson, also rookies, are themselves hunting for podium finishes.
One young man who finally achieved that objective in the most recent race at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis was local driver Jack William Miller, whose fine charge to third place for Miller Vinatieri Motorsports backed up his previous career-best of fifth at Mid-Ohio.
“We’re just trying to keep the momentum going, keep on improving and get three good results this week,” said Miller. “That’s the biggest thing, to get consistent results to move us up in the championship. The season started out pretty rough, so we need to claw our way up in the title chase. We’ve had some bad luck but things are coming together now, with a new engineer. I’m looking forward to the racing at Indy – I’ve been there so much growing up and at last year’s race weekend and Chris Griffis Test. I’m hoping for another good weekend.”
A stacked field at Indianapolis will welcome two new USF2000 drivers for Legacy Autosport in Simon Sikes, who currently leads the F1600 Championship Series and has signed with Marotti Autosport; and former top Lucas Oil School Race Series contender Michael Myers. In addition, former Legacy representative Cameron Shields will drive a second DEForce Racing Tatuus USF-17 alongside Brazilian former F4 race winner Kiko Porto.
The Cooper Tires USF2000 Indy Grand Prix schedule will mirror that for Indy Pro 2000, beginning with 30 minutes of practice at 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, and qualifying at 11:00 p.m. to set the grid for Race 1 at 2:00 p.m. A second qualifying session at 8:00 a.m. on Friday will be followed by Race 2 at 11:00 a.m., and then a third race, the grid for which will be set according to fastest race laps from Race 2, at 2:45 p.m.
Qualifying and all three races will feature worldwide live circuit feed, commentary and Timing & Scoring on the Road to Indy TV App, RoadToIndy.TV and the series website, usf2000.com.