A new season for the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is under way. And how! A total of 56 drivers representing a dozen different nationalities took full advantage of perfect weather conditions today at Barber Motorsports Park as new qualifying lap records were established in all three series – Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship.
Remarkably, with a pair of qualifying sessions for each series, there will be no repeat pole winners when the racing action begins on the 2.3-mile road course tomorrow morning.
After setting the pace in Indy Lights at the Spring Training pre-season test last week, the new partnership between the Global Racing Group and HMD Motorsports continued to bear fruit as each of its drivers secured a maiden pole position. Highly rated rookie Linus Lundqvist, from Stockholm, Sweden, this morning shattered the old track record of 1:12.3865, set back in 2015, by winning the Cooper Tires Pole Award for Race One at a new record 1:11.5149, an average speed of 115.780 mph.
“It feels good to give this one back to the team, I know how hard they’ve worked this winter to make sure we have a good car,” said Lundqvist. “It was just up to me to do my job today, and it was enough to get pole. There are guys in the series who have a lot of miles in these cars so to be on top in my first qualifying is great, but from day one I’ve had the support and the knowledge from the team and the mechanics to come up to speed. It’s a very different car than anything I’ve driven before but I won here last year (in FR Americas) so it’s just about maximizing everything.”
HMD stablemate David Malukas, from Chicago, Ill., was just 0.1666 of a second slower in second, while Kirk Kirkwood (Andretti Autosport), from Jupiter, Fla., edged out the second GMG/HMD car of Benjamin Pedersen, from Seattle, Wash., for third.
Malukas, who finished sixth in the 2019 Indy Lights championship, gained his revenge later in the day by snagging the Cooper Tires Pole Award for Race Two. His best lap at 1:11.7021 edged out Lundqvist by a scant 0.0221 of a second.
“To be at the front of this field is outstanding, the team has come so far in two years. We led the one session we had last season so I felt some pressure to pick that back up, to come back strong, and we did. We were quick early and we made some changes – at my call – that sent us the wrong way, but I knew that I had to adapt and we pulled through at the end. This is a very tricky place and with the repaving, we carry so much more speed. It’s a hard track, but it’s one of my favorites so I hope I can bring home the win!”
A different Andretti Autosport representative, Robert Megennis, from New York, N.Y., will start third.
The two most recent USF2000 champions and scholarship winners, Braden Eves (Exclusive Autosport), from New Albany, Ohio, and Christian Rasmussen (Jay Howard Driver Development), from Copenhagen, Denmark, shared the Cooper Tires Pole Awards for the two Indy Pro 2000 races.
Eves, who was forced to sit out most of last season following a horrific crash at the Indianapolis Grand Prix Circuit, bounced back magnificently to claim pole for Race One by just 0.0747 of a second from Russian teammate Artem Petrov. Eves’ time of 1:16.1542, an average speed of 108.727 mph, narrowly eclipsed Parker Thompson’s qualifying lap record of 1:16.2968 set in 2018. The top 14 cars were separated by just over seven tenths of a second.
“That’s a perfect way to start the season, P1 in race one qualifying – especially after what happened last year, with our season getting cut short,” said Eves. “It’s a big confidence boost, to know that I’m right where I left off. The team did a fantastic job, giving me a car to put out front. To have the front-row lockout, we couldn’t have done better. I’m extremely happy with the car the Exclusive Autosport crew gave me and know we will have the pace tomorrow to have a successful day.”
Once again the afternoon session proved a little slower, and this time it was Rasmussen who emerged fastest with a best of 1:15.5270, just 0.1726 of a second ahead of New Zealander Hunter McElrea, who will start on the outside of the front row to back up his third fastest qualifying run this morning for Race One.
“We knew we were quick in the first qualifying session but we had a suspension failure that cut the session short,” said Rasmussen. “Our first flying lap in that second session really showed our pace, so if we hadn’t had the issue maybe we could have had both poles. But to have my first pole in only my second race in the series is amazing. Everyone in the series has tested here so much that everyone knows the track so well – and it’s such a competitive series so to be able to lead them from green will be great.
“And it means so much to me to be driving the scholarship car, with that amazing livery. To be No. 1, as the reigning USF2000 champion brings a lot of expectations so I’m very happy to get a new Cooper Tires pole winning hat. I can’t thank the team enough.”
The closest times of all were set in USF2000 as, remarkably, all 26 qualifiers eclipsed the old qualifying track record of 1:23.009 (99.748 mph) set way back in 2014. Fastest of all this morning was Pabst Racing’s series veteran Yuven Sundaramoorthy, from Delafield, Wis., who claimed his very first Cooper Tires Pole Award with a best lap of 1:21.1201, a new record average speed of 102.071 mph. Sundaramoorthy in fact managed two laps faster than everyone else, which was just as well because his best lap was disallowed for causing a red-flag stoppage due to a spin.
“This is amazing, especially with the spin I had this morning,” said Sundaramoorthy. “I’ve been at this for three years so to finally get a pole feels so good; I hope it means that there are more good things to come. This track is all about confidence: it’s all high-speed corners and long-duration corners, so you have to get the car perfect, which the Pabst crew did, and then me putting the lap together. I’m happy with pole but I’m looking to convert from first position. It’s so hard to pass here, so getting a good start will be key.”
Prescott Campbell (DEForce Racing), from Newport Beach, Calif., emerged second fastest, just ahead of fellow West Coast racer Josh Pierson (Pabst Racing) from Wilsonville, Ore. Even Michael d’Orlando (Cape Motorsports), from Hartsdale, N.Y., was within one tenth of a second of the pole time in fourth place!
Jace Denmark (Pabst Racing), from Scottsdale, Ariz., was the top rookie qualifier in fifth.
Impressively, times were even faster this afternoon. This time it was DEForce Racing’s Nolan Siegel, from Palo Alto., who posted a new lap record at 1:20.9794 (102.248 mph).
“We’ve done a lot of testing here and worked so hard on the car, and it felt amazing to take the pole,” said Siegel. “The car has handled perfectly all weekend, we nailed everything. The team is 1-2-3 to start race two so we’re really, really happy. All my teammates did well and if we can work together in the race, we’ll have a good shot to be on the podium together. I’ve never raced here so I’m looking forward to tomorrow and Sunday – my only goal Sunday will be to hold that first position against my teammates!”
Teammate Campbell capped off a fine day by again setting the second-fastest time, while Brazilian Kiko Porto made it a top-three sweep for DEForce Racing.
Fastest rookie of the afternoon was Myles Rowe, from New York, N.Y., who marked an impressive debut for the brand-new Force Indy team as, once again, the top four were separated by less than one tenth of a second.
The first of two races that will comprise the Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix of Alabama will kick off the racing action tomorrow at 8:00 a.m., followed by Race Two at 3:50 p.m. CDT.
The opening leg of the Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix of Alabama Presented by Cooper Tires will start at 11:10 a.m., followed shortly afterward at 12:15 p.m. by the first of two Indy Lights Grand Prix of Alabama Presented by Cooper Tires events. The second championship races for both Indy Lights and Indy Pro 2000 will take place on Sunday.