The build-up to the 105th Indianapolis 500 is set to continue Friday with the traditional “Carb Day” final practice session, but just a few miles west of the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development drivers will be honing their own skills at the Lucas Oil Raceway oval for the Carb Night Classic — “The Race Before the 500.”
Drivers on the first two rungs of the open-wheel ladder — the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship and the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires — undertook their own single-car qualifying sessions Thursday evening on the 0.686-mile, high-banked oval.
Reece Gold carried forward the speed he displayed two weeks ago at the Indianapolis Grand Prix road course by once again qualifying fastest of the Indy Pro 2000 field and thereby securing pole position for the Cooper Tires Freedom 90 for Juncos Racing. In USF2000, Michael d’Orlando set the pace for the Cooper Tires Freedom 75 for Cape Motorsports.
All drivers completed two qualifying laps, venturing out in the reverse order of their current championship positions, with the aggregate times determining their grid positions.
Gold on top again in Indy Pro 2000
Last year’s USF2000 champion, Christian Rasmussen, had paced the field during a pair of test sessions but when it mattered in qualifying, Gold laid down the best two laps in 41.7287s, an average speed of 118.365mph.
Gold, who finished third in last year’s USF2000 title chase, had developed an affinity for the Lucas Oil Raceway oval while finishing second one year ago. And after sweeping all three Indy Pro 2000 poles on the road course recently, the teenager rose to the task again this evening. Now he has his eyes set on an overdue maiden victory.
“This is awesome — it’s not the big track, but it’s still great,” said Gold. “It means a lot to be on pole on an oval in Indianapolis just two days before the Indy 500. And with three poles at the grand prix, I guess there’s just something about Indianapolis. We’ve been doing really well lately and I’m really happy. The track changed a bit from practice but we made some last-minute changes to the car and it was super good for qualifying. On the out lap, you have time to get a feel for where you are with the car and from there, it’s just a matter of going as fast as you can. I’m really looking forward to the race tomorrow.”
Series points leader Braden Eves will start second for the Exclusive Autosport team, with Rasmussen (Jay Howard Driver Development) and Gold’s teammate Manuel Sulaimanon row two of the grid.
Also impressive was James Roe, marking his oval track debut by qualifying strongly in fifth for Turn 3 Motorsport.
The green flag for Friday’s Cooper Tires Freedom 90 is slated for 8:05 p.m. ET. Global live streaming can be found on the Road to Indy TV App and at RoadToIndy.TV and indypro2000.com.
First pole for d’Orlando
There have been mixed emotions so far this season for Michael d’Orlando. Last time out on the road course he was disappointed to qualify mid-pack, only to post three spectacular charges to notch a trio of top-four finishes and vault himself into championship contention. The youngster will have rather less to do tomorrow after securing his first-ever pole position, although he still faces the significant challenge of holding off the remainder of a stacked 24-car field for 75 laps.
“I am so happy – I never thought my first series pole would come on an oval,” exclaimed d’Orlando. “I knew we had some work to do after the first test session; we made some improvements to the car and to my driving and we were much quicker in the second session. At that moment, I knew I had the pace, since my quickest times were at the end of the session when the tires were falling off. It was an interesting qualifying, with gusty winds. You could go hard into Turn One because you were into the wind, but you lost the aero in Turn Two, so you really had to drive to what the wind was doing – and I guess I did! I kind of surprised myself, running two laps at a 22.5, but I’m super proud of the job the team and I did and I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”
Prescott Campbell (DEForce Racing) will start second with Pabst Racing teammates Josh Pierson and top rookie qualifier Jace Denmark sharing row two.
Christian Brooks (Exclusive Autosport) and Kiko Porto (DEForce Racing) will start fifth and sixth, with championship leader Yuven Sundaramoorthy (Pabst Racing) down in eighth behind Matt Round-Garrido (Exclusive Autosport).
The Cooper Tires Freedom 75 is set to kick off an intense evening of racing tomorrow at 7:05 p.m. Global live streaming can be found on the Road to Indy TV App and at RoadToIndy.TV and usf2000.com.