A lengthy summer hiatus for the Road to Indy concludes this week as Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires return to action at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill.
For the first time, a pair of 75-lap Indy Lights races will be held on the challenging 1.25-mile oval situated just across the Mississippi River from downtown St. Louis, Mo. The Cooper Tires Indy Lights Oval Challenge of St. Louis on Friday and Saturday, August 20-21, will represent rounds 13 and 14 of the 20-race season, with additional points on offer as well as the only opportunity to watch the potent AER turbo-engined Dallaras compete on an oval track in 2021.
The Cooper Tires Indy Pro 2000 Oval Challenge of St. Louis will comprise a single race on Saturday afternoon. It will mark the series’ second oval appearance this year following the traditional “Carb Night Classic The Race Before the 500″ at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in May.
Kirkwood Leads in Indy Lights
Kyle Kirkwood already stands alone at the top of the list of drivers who have achieved success on the highly acclaimed Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel driver development ladder. To date he has won 27 times out of a total of just 42 starts across the three series, comfortably eclipsing the previous record of 24 victories achieved by Spencer Pigot.
Kirkwood set the ball rolling by dominating his rookie season on the first rung of the ladder, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, in 2018. He was beaten just twice in the 14 races. The following year, after a relatively modest start to his Indy Pro 2000 campaign which netted just two podium finishes from the opening five races, he went on another tear, winning nine of the final 11 races to comfortably secure another championship, as well as a scholarship to ensure graduation into Indy Lights.
The COVID-19 global pandemic led to Indy Lights being placed on hiatus in 2020, but Kirkwood has ensured that was merely a blip in his meteoric progression. So far this year he was won six times for Andretti Autosport, including five of the last six, and seems on course to clinch not only a third straight title for the Indianapolis-based team but also become the first driver in Road to Indy history to claim a title hat-trick.
— WWT Raceway (@WWTRaceway) August 11, 2021
But Kirkwood is far from alone in having his sights set on the champion’s scholarship, valued at over $3.1 million, which will guarantee entry into a minimum of three NTT IndyCar Series races in 2022, including the Indianapolis 500.
HMD Motorsports’ lead driver, teenager David Malukas, from Chicago, Ill., currently lies only 11 points adrift of Kirkwood with four wins already to his credit. Malukas has tasted success previously at World Wide Technology Raceway, finishing third in 2019 Indy Lights during his own rookie season.
The fruitful alliance formed this year between HMD Motorsports and Global Racing Group also has paid dividends for Swedish rookie Linus Lundqvist, who has won twice and lies just 14 points behind Malukas with eight races remaining.
The top three have edged clear of their pursuers, but just 25 points separates the next six in the standings: Singapore’s Danial Frost (Andretti Autosport), England’s Toby Sowery (Juncos Hollinger Racing), Italian-Canadian Devlin DeFrancesco (Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport), New Yorker Robert Megennis (Andretti Autosport), Denmark’s Benjamin Pedersen (Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports) and Australian Alex Peroni (Carlin). All are still seeking their first wins of the season.
Following a Promoter Test day on Thursday, August 19, and 45 minutes of official practice on Friday morning, one single-car qualifying session at 3:00 p.m. CDT will determine the starting positions for both races. Each driver’s fastest of two laps will set the grid for Race One, which will start at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, with the second-fastest laps forming the lineup for Race Two precisely 24 hours later, immediately before the NTT IndyCar Series headline event.
Comprehensive 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.
Rasmussen Looks to Stretch Lead
Rapid Dane Christian Rasmussen has his sights set firmly on emulating Kirkwood’s feat of claiming back-to-back championships in USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000. The 21-year-old from Copenhagen overcame a few hiccups in 2020 to secure his first title for former USF2000 and Indy Lights champion-turned-team owner Jay Howard. He has continued that strong form this year by stepping up to the faster Indy Pro 2000 Tatuus and winning six of the first 12 races, including an emphatic performance on the Lucas Oil Raceway oval. Rasmussen currently holds a relatively comfortable 39-point advantage over 2019 USF2000 champion Braden Eves.
Eves, from New Albany, Ohio, has gone off the boil after winning two of the opening three races for Exclusive Autosport, but is anxious to rekindle his championship hopes and reclaim the form that saw him finish second last year at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Teenaged rookie Reece Gold, from Miami, Fla., is looking to score an elusive maiden victory after starting four times already this season from pole position for Juncos Hollinger Racing. Gold currently trails Eves by only 13 points and lies just four ahead of Eves’ Russian teammate, Artem Petrov, who won earlier this year at Indianapolis.
— Indy Pro 2000 (@IndyPro2000) August 5, 2021
Gold’s teammate, Manuel Sulaiman, from Puebla, Mexico, and New Zealander Hunter McElrea (Pabst Racing) also have already reached the top step of the podium this year, with McElrea taking his second win in the most recent race at Mid-Ohio in early July.
Texas-based DEForce Racing will make its return to the series this week with a pair of cars for series veteran Kory Enders, from Austin, Texas, who finished third and posted the fastest race lap at World Wide Technology Raceway in 2019, and teenager Nolan Siegel, from Palo Alto, Calif., who steps up for a taste of Indy Pro 2000 after a season and a half of competing in USF2000.
A day of testing on Thursday will lead into a half-hour of practice on Friday morning, followed by single-car qualifying runs at 3:45 p.m. CDT. Each driver’s average of two laps will set the starting positions for the 55-lap race on Saturday which will see the green flag at 2:45 p.m.
Global live streaming can be found on the Road to Indy TV App and at RoadToIndy.TV and indypro2000.com.