Road to Indy season set to begin in St. Petersburg

Gavin Baker Photography

Road to Indy season set to begin in St. Petersburg

Road to Indy

Road to Indy season set to begin in St. Petersburg

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A new Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires season springs into life this week on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., in support of the NTT IndyCar Series’ Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Races taking place on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit will commence on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

There have been several significant changes to the ladder during the off-season, including promotion for the top rung, Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, now falling under the umbrella of INDYCAR. Andersen Promotions, based locally in Palmetto, Fla., remains as overseer of the two formative steps, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship and the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, both of which have benefited from the introduction of new Tatuus chassis for 2022 featuring enhanced driver protection.

The three-step open-wheel racing development platform is unique in the world of auto racing, offering opportunities for drivers to progress from the grassroots of the sport to the NTT IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500 with scholarships at every level.

All three 2021 champions — Kyle Kirkwood (Indy Lights), Christian Rasmussen (Indy Pro 2000) and Kiko Porto (USF2000) – will begin their journeys on the next step of the ladder this week.

For the promising fields currently in Indy Pro 2000 and USF2000, the quest for more than $1.2 million in scholarships and awards in 2022 begins now.

JHDD aims high in Indy Pro 2000
The Jay Howard Driver Development team, headed by former USF2000 and Indy Lights champion Jay Howard, laid down another marker last week after two of its three drivers, Wyatt Brichacek and Braden Eves, topped the timing charts at the traditional “Spring Training” open test a couple of hundred miles to the south at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Both have their eyes set on following in the footsteps of Denmark’s Christian Rasmussen, who won the 2021 Indy Pro 2000 crown along with a scholarship to ensure graduation into Indy Lights for this year.

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“We’ve worked hard in the off season, just trying to put it together,” said Brichacek, who claimed a best finish of fifth during his rookie campaign in 2021. “I think last year we had some pretty bad luck but hopefully that’s all behind us now. We’ve been working on being consistent, making sure we can put everything together this season.”

Eves also has high expectations after winning at St. Pete last year and sweeping both USF2000 races en route to the championship in 2019. Eves, who finished second to Rasmussen in last year’s title chase, is reverting to the team with which he first made the transition from karts to cars in 2017.

Looking to add its first driver title to the team championship crown it won in 2021, Canadian-owned Exclusive Autosport has assembled a strong three-car lineup comprising California’s Christian Brooks and a pair of Englishmen, Louis Foster and Matt Round-Garrido. Brooks won both USF2000 races last year in St. Petersburg, while Foster makes his North American debut after displaying his capabilities in a variety of European open-wheel series in recent years.

Juncos Hollinger Racing’s hopes of winning a sixth driver championship since 2010 will hinge around Reece Gold, who finished fifth last year on the strength of one race win and five pole positions, and British-raised Pakistani Enaam Ahmed. The former BRDC British Formula 3 champion dipped his toe in the Road to Indy waters in 2021 with a partial campaign which included a second-place finish in the season finale.

Several front-runners from last year’s USF2000 series are making the step up to Indy Pro 2000, including champion Kiko Porto, who remains with Texas-based DEForce Racing, third-place finisher Yuven Sundaramoorthy (Pabst Racing) and fifth-place finisher Josh Green, who graduates after winning the 2021 season finale with Turn 3 Motorsport.

The field of new Tatuus PM-22s will take to the track for the first time for practice on Thursday at 3:00 p.m. ET. Official qualifying at 7:45 a.m. on Friday will set the starting grid for the first of two races which will comprise the Andersen Interior Contracting Grand Prix of St. Petersburg at 11:40 a.m. Either the fastest race lap for each competitor, or his second best lap in qualifying, whichever is faster, will determine starting positions for Race 2 at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday.

Live streaming can be found at RoadToIndy.TV, the Road to Indy TV App and indypro2000.com.

USF2000: Cape brothers look to regain control
Nine drivers representing six different teams earned at least one race victory in 2021 before Porto emerged to take charge of the proceedings for DEForce Racing. This year’s field looks similarly open, although after showing impressive speed in last week’s “Spring Training” test, the team run by expatriate English brothers Dominic and Nicholas Cape has every intention of returning to the kind of dominance which led to nine consecutive driver championships and an impressive 80 race wins between 2011 and 2019.

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After finishing second in the 2021 title chase with three wins, plus four consecutive pole positions to round out the year, Michael d’Orlando maintained his momentum by topping the charts at Homestead. But rookie Jagger Jones, whose grandfather Parnelli won the 1963 Indianapolis 500, as well as fellow rookie Nicky Hays and Jackson Lee weren’t too far behind.

Canada’s Thomas Nepveu (pictured, top) led the pursuers at Spring Training for DEForce Racing, followed by no fewer than a dozen other contenders all within a hair over a half-second of the young man from Oka, Quebec, who scored his first win at Road America last summer.

The only other proven USF2000 winner among the field is Myles Rowe, who took advantage of changeable wet-dry conditions at New Jersey Motorsports Park to claim an historic first victory for the African American-owned Force Indy team. Rowe has joined Pabst Racing for his sophomore season, aligning with Jace Denmark, who also claimed one podium finish in 2021.

Others to watch include Simon Sikes, who returns with Legacy Autosport after notching four podium finishes during a restricted campaign in 2021, last year’s Rookie of the Year Spike Kohlbecker (Turn 3 Motorsport with Ignite Autosport) and a pair of young New Zealanders, Billy Frazer and Jacob Douglas, who have joined forces at Exclusive Autosport.

Additional international interest comes from Nicaraguan Frederik Lund and Mexican Jorge Garciarce with Jay Howard Driver Development and Sweden’s Viktor Andersson (Velocity Racing Development).

Thirty minutes of practice starting at 3:45 p.m. on Thursday will serve as the USF2000 drivers’ only opportunity to learn the track aboard their new Tatuus USF-22s prior to qualifying at 9:20 a.m. on Friday. Race 1, the Cooper Tires Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, will take the green flag later in the afternoon at 12:40 p.m. An identical procedure to that employed in Indy Pro 2000 will set the starting order for Race 2, the Foundation Building Materials Grand Prix, at 10:45 a.m. on Sunday, immediately prior to the NTT IndyCar Series headline event.

As with Indy Pro 2000, global live streaming can be found at RoadToIndy.TV, the Road to Indy TV App as well as usf2000.com.

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