The floodgates have well and truly opened for Sting Ray Robb. At the end of July, the youngster from Payette, Idaho, arrived at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course without a victory to his name after 48 previous starts in the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.
Fast forward six weeks and Robb, who recently celebrated his 19th birthday, now has five wins to his name for Juncos Racing and a commanding lead in the championship with just five races remaining this season. At stake is a scholarship valued at over $600,000 to cement graduation to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the final step on the world-renowned Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder, in 2021.
“I’m so happy with how the weekend went,” said Robb. “I thought we did a great job of adapting to all the changing conditions. We started out with an okay car. I was happy to qualify fourth and finish fourth yesterday. It helped us extend the points lead. Going out in the rain this morning was crazy, every lap just kept getting worse. I remember going into Turn Nine on the pace lap and there was a huge puddle. We decided to play it safe through the first few corners and that was all we needed to do to start up front on the restart. Parker was really fast, he made me work for it.
“We know we have a good points lead now but this doesn’t change our strategy: We need to stay at the front of the pack all the time. Thanks to all the Juncos boys, they had their work cut out for them this weekend – and a huge thank you to all my supporters. It would be great to win that scholarship so they don’t have to work so hard next year.”
Parker Thompson, from Red Deer, Alb., Canada, finished second for DEForce Racing, followed by Abel Motorsports’ Jacob Abel, from Louisville, Ky., who secured his first-ever Road to Indy podium.
Today’s second leg of the Surgere Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio actually required most of the day to complete. The race began a little behind schedule this morning following a heavy rain shower, but then had to be stopped and restarted after the NTT INDYCAR SERIES headline event due to a variety of incidents and unsafe on-track conditions.
Mexico’s Manuel Sulaiman originally started on pole position for DEForce Racing by virtue of claiming his third Cooper Tires Pole Award in qualifying on Friday. Unfortunately, moments after the green flag waved following a couple of exploratory laps behind the Pace Car, Sulaiman slid off the road and into the gravel trap at Turn One. Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing), from Homer Glen, Ill., and former points leader Devlin DeFrancesco (Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport), from Toronto, Ont., Canada, also fell victim to the treacherous conditions, leaving officials with little choice but to display the red flag. And with the clock ticking prior to NTT INDYCAR SERIES qualifying, the decision was made to reschedule the race until later in the afternoon, with the starting lineup determined by positions as they stood after one lap.
Congratulations to the Race 2 podium –
— Indy Pro 2000 (@IndyPro2000) September 13, 2020
Robb, who initially had lined up second, duly inherited pole position for the rolling restart, flanked by Thompson. Row two of the grid was populated by Robb’s teammate Artem Petrov, from Saint Petersburg, Russia, and Abel.
The weather at the second time of asking was perfect, sunny and warm and with all cars reshod with dry-weather Cooper tires. Robb made an exemplary start to lead the field into Turn One, and even though he remained under pressure from fellow Road to Indy veteran Thompson for the entirety of the remaining 20 laps, the American youngster made not the hint of a mistake. Robb’s victory also brought a seventh PFC Award of the season for Ricardo Juncos as the winning team owner.
For Thompson, second place was bittersweet. He had seemed set for a long overdue first win of the season yesterday, only to be sidelined by an engine failure. Instead it was DEForce teammate Sulaiman who took the checkered flag. With a fresh engine installed in his No. 9 car, Thompson tried his darnedest to complete a weekend sweep for the Texas-based team before ultimately having to settle for second.
A bold move on the opening lap saw Abel displace Petrov from third place, and even though he was unable to match the pace of the two leaders, Abel protected his third position all the way to the finish line, narrowly ahead of Petrov, Singapore’s Danial Frost (Turn 3 Motorsport), Kaminsky and Sulaiman, who set the fastest lap of the race as he charged up from eighth on the reformed grid.
Abel also claimed the Tilton Hard Charger Award after having originally qualified 13th.
Robb’s recent rich vein of form has catapulted him into a commanding 49-point lead over DeFrancesco, who finished a disappointing 11th, as the contenders head next to New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, N.J., for another triple-header event on October 10/11.
Provisional championship points after 12 of 17 rounds:
1. Sting Ray Robb, 306
2. Devlin DeFrancesco, 257
3. Artem Petrov, 243
4. Danial Frost, 242
5. Hunter McElrea, 219
6. Parker Thompson, 203
7. Manuel Sulaiman, 197
8. Braden Eves, 163
9. Colin Kaminsky, 161
10. Moises de la Vara, 142