A semblance of normalcy is returning to the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires community this week in preparation for its traditional return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the month of May. The Grand Prix of Indianapolis Presented by Cooper Tires on Friday and Saturday, May 14-15, will see all three tiers on the highly acclaimed open-wheel racing development ladder in action on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course for two rounds of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires competition and triple-headers for both the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship.
Each of the three series has witnessed three different winners from the opening four rounds of the season held at Barber Motorsports Park, in Leeds, Ala., and the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. In all over 50 young drivers are competing for prizes and scholarships valued at over $3.1 million as they strive toward a career in the NTT IndyCar Series.
Notably, the third and final race for USF2000 on Saturday morning will represent the 400th since the USAC-sanctioned Formula 2000 Championship made its bow at Willow Springs International Raceway on April 22, 1990. Californian Vince Puleo Jr. won the inaugural event in a Swift DB-3/89. Puleo also went on to clinch the championship.
Bruno Bianchi won the 100th race in series history at New Hampshire International Speedway in 1994, while Andrew Prendeville claimed the 200th at what is now Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in 2004 and RC Enerson, who aims to make his return to the NTT IndyCar Series later this month, took the 300th at Sonoma Raceway in 2014.
Andersen Promotions Owner and CEO Dan Andersen, whose deep roots in USF2000 date back to 1992 when he and partner Mike Foschi founded an Eastern version of the series, will give the command to fire engines for the milestone 400th race.
Malukas Makes Hay in Lights
Six drivers have earned at least one podium finish in the four Indy Lights races held to date with HMD Motorsports’ David Malukas, from Chicago, Ill., currently holding a slender advantage in the quest for a scholarship valued at $1.3 million to ensure entry into a minimum of three NTT IndyCar Series races in 2022, including the Indianapolis 500.
Malukas, who has two victories to his name already this season, has shown good speed previously on the Indy road course, garnering a podium finish and a new Indy Pro 2000 race lap record in 2018.
Other likely top contenders who have taken a shine to the Indy circuit include Sting Ray Robb (Juncos Racing), from Payette, Idaho, who claimed a hat-trick of wins on his way to clinching last year’s Indy Pro 2000 Championship; Kyle Kirkwood, from Jupiter, Fla., whose USF2000 victory in 2018 commenced a remarkable sequence of 11 consecutive race wins en route to the champion’s crown; and Andretti Autosport teammate Robert Megennis, from New York, N.Y., whose maiden Indy Lights victory came in this corresponding event in 2019.
Singapore’s Danial Frost (Andretti Autosport) and Italian-Canadian Devlin DeFrancesco (Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport) also have Indy Pro 2000 podium finishes to their credit in Indianapolis.
Sweden’s Linus Lundqvist (Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports) has not previously competed at the famed Brickyard but that is unlikely to be much of a hindrance to the man who scored an impressive victory on his Indy Lights debut last month at Barber Motorsports Park. Lundqvist, the 2018 British Formula 3 Champion, currently trails Malukas by just three points, 94-91.
The green flag for Race 1 will fly at 2:10 p.m. EDT on Friday and at 12:45 p.m. on Saturday. Coverage can be found on Peacock Premium in the U.S., on REV TV in Canada and internationally on The Race YouTube channel, the Road to Indy TV App and at RoadToIndy.TV and indylights.com.
Champions go Head to Head
The two most recent USF2000 champions, Braden Eves and Christian Rasmussen, are separated by only four points at the top of the Indy Pro 2000 Championship standings as they prepare for three more races later this week.
Eves, from New Albany, Ohio, has mixed memories of the Indianapolis Grand Prix circuit. He was imperious two years ago, winning both USF2000 races and setting himself on course for the championship and a scholarship to ensure graduation into Indy Pro 2000 in 2020, but, unfortunately, had a different experience last September with an incident that led to season-ending injuries.
Eves has rebounded magnificently with his Exclusive Autosport team, winning one race apiece at Barber and St. Petersburg to hold a four-point edge over Denmark’s Rasmussen, who can count himself unlucky to have only one race win to his name so far this year for the Jay Howard Driver Development team. After finally breaking through in the second race at St. Petersburg, Rasmussen also has a pole position, two additional podium finishes and two fastest race laps to his credit.
New Zealander Hunter McElrea lies just seven points further adrift for Pabst Racing after snagging a race win at Barber and a pole at St. Pete.
After guiding Sting Ray Robb to the championship in 2020, Juncos Racing has yet to win a race this season but the team based just a few hundred yards away from the Speedway has already come close with Manuel Sulaiman, from Puebla, Mexico, and Reece Gold, from Miami, Fla., both having claimed podium finishes.
The trio of races will take place at 11:45 a.m. on Friday and at 7:50 a.m. and 11:40 a.m. on Saturday. Global live streaming can be found on the Road to Indy TV App and at RoadToIndy.TV and indypro2000.com.
Brooks on Top in USF2000
As a measure of the competitiveness in this year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, only once since 2012 has a new season seen three different winners emerge from the opening four races. Honors so far have been widely shared, with eight drivers already notching at least one podium finish, although Californian Christian Brooks has taken an early advantage after sweeping both races in Florida last month for Exclusive Autosport.
Brooks’ confidence also will be buoyed by the fact he secured his first podium finish, third, in the second of three races at Indianapolis last year – and promptly backed it up by finishing second in the finale.
Brazilian Kiko Porto also took an instant liking to the Brickyard one year ago with a pair of pole positions and third-place results in two of the three races. Porto currently lies second in the points table, just one point shy of DEForce Racing teammate Prescott Campbell, from Newport Beach, Calif., who scored his first victory at Barber Motorsports Park.
University student Yuven Sundaramoorthy, from Delafield, Wis., also has a race win under his belt this year – for Pabst Racing at Barber – and lies fifth in the standings, just two points shy of teammate Josh Pierson from Wilsonville, Ore., who has a pair of podium finishes to his credit.
The USF2000 contenders will line up for two races on Friday, at 10:40 a.m. and 3:25 p.m., followed by the milestone 400th race at 9:40 a.m. on Saturday. The Road to Indy TV App, RoadToIndy.TV and usf2000.com will feature global live streaming coverage of USF2000 on-track activity.