This weekend’s triple-header Cooper Tires Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix at New Jersey Motorsports Park provided three different race winners. But the most joyous of the threesome was series veteran Sting Ray Robb, from Payette, Idaho, who stood on all three steps of the podium for Juncos Racing. It was enough for the 19-year-old to clinch the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, as well as a scholarship valued at over $600,000 to graduate into Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the final step of the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder, in 2021.
Robb scored a dominant victory in the first of two races today. Later in the afternoon he cruised to a third-place finish, which, allied to a similar result earlier in the day for Juncos Racing teammate Artem Petrov, was enough to secure a third successive Team Championship for Argentinean-born Ricardo Juncos’ Indianapolis-based organization.
“I’m happy to get a podium finish to put the final stamp on the championship,” said Robb. “We had every condition this weekend and I’m happy with our performance. I had some wheel spin on the start in the rain and lost a few positions so I’m happy we were able to come back and take a podium.
“I really can’t wrap my head around the championship right now, it’s still settling in. We hope to win the Indy Lights championship eventually and get into the NTT IndyCar Series, but we’re just starting that process. We’re getting to where we want to be and I’m so happy with everything we’ve done the past few years to get to this point. I’m so grateful to the team, and to my mom and dad – I’m so thankful to be able to share this with them!”
Mexico’s Manuel Sulaiman shone in the wet conditions to win the weekend closer for DEForce Racing, chased home by first-time podium finisher Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing) from Homer Glen, Ill. Sulaiman’s teammate, Canadian Parker Thompson, completed the podium celebrators by chasing home Robb in the earlier race run in dry conditions.
Robb began his day in qualifying by claiming his third Cooper Tires Pole Award of the year by a relatively comfortable margin of 0.3135 of a second over Thompson. His superiority was even more apparent in the race as he immediately romped into a lead of more than six seconds before throttling back and cruising to victory, his sixth of the season.
Robb’s title aspirations received an additional boost when his closest challenger, and yesterday’s winner, Italian-Canadian Devlin DeFrancesco (Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport) locked up his brakes at Turn One on the opening lap and caromed into Sulaiman. Both cars headed to the pits for repairs. DeFrancesco also was required to serve a drive-through penalty for initiating the contact.
Thompson maintained second place throughout, despite the best efforts of Petrov, from Saint Petersburg, Russia, who in turned was chased home by New Zealander Hunter McElrea (Pabst Racing) and Singapore’s Danial Frost (Turn 3 Motorsport).
Jacob Abel (Abel Motorsports), from Louisville, Ky., claimed the Tilton Hard Charger Award after rising from 10th on the grid to sixth.
Congratulations to the Race 3 podium –
— Indy Pro 2000 (@IndyPro2000) October 11, 2020
Farther back, several drivers took the option of making pit stops for a fresh set of Cooper tires. The ploy worked perfectly for McElrea’s teammate, Kaminsky, who returned to the track and posted the fastest lap of the race to secure the coveted pole position for the final race of the weekend.
A mid-afternoon rain shower ensured that everyone required wet-weather Cooper tires for the final race. Kaminsky held his own during the opening stages, edging away a little from DeFrancesco, who dodged past a conservative Robb at the start but instead found himself under strong pressure from Sulaiman and then Petrov, who had quickly made up ground from sixth on the grid.
Petrov steamed past Sulaiman on the fifth lap, but then made contact with DeFrancesco at Turn Six as he attempted to wrest away second position. Both cars were out on the spot. Cue the Pace Car for its only appearance of the weekend.
The demise of his two closest title rivals elevated Robb to fourth place, which was all he required to wrap up the championship comfortably in advance of the final two races of the season.
Up front, Kaminsky continued to lead at the restart but was no match for Sulaiman, who sailed around the outside under braking for Turn One on the 12th lap, then pulled away inexorably. He eventually took the checkered flag a comfortable 10.7528 seconds to the good.
McElrea struggled in the conditions, slipping from second at the restart to a disappointed fifth behind both the jubilant Robb and Thompson.
While Juncos Racing and DEForce Racing shared the two PFC Awards as the winning car owners, DEForce Racing’s Kory Enders, from Sugar Land, Texas, also took home the final Tilton Hard Charger Award after moving up from 11th on the grid to sixth at the checkered flag.
Robb has already put the championship beyond the reach of his rivals, but DeFrancesco, Petrov, Frost, McElrea, Thompson and Sulaiman all hold mathematical chances of finishing second in the points table, which will be decided in conjunction with the NTT INDYCAR SERIES at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Fla., on October 23-25.
Provisional championship points after 15 of 17 rounds:
1. Sting Ray Robb, 385
2. Devlin DeFrancesco, 312
3. Artem Petrov, 292
4. Danial Frost, 282
5. Hunter McElrea, 270
6. Parker Thompson, 266
7. Manuel Sulaiman, 261
8. Colin Kaminsky, 215
9. Antoine Comeau, 181
10. Braden Eves, 163