The Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel driver development ladder returns to action this week, April 28-May 1, following a two-month hiatus since the opening races of the new season.
The scenic and challenging Barber Motorsports Park, situated just a few miles from Birmingham, Ala., will provide a rural setting for the third and fourth rounds of both the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship and the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, in stark contrast to the unforgiving wall-lined streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., in late February.
But the action is certain to be equally intense, especially given the closeness of the lap times when both series visited the 2.3-mile, 17-turn road course for testing toward the end of March.
Siegel leads Indy Pro 2000 challengers
A win and a fifth-place finish in Florida catapulted the youngest driver in the Indy Pro 2000 field, 17-year-old Nolan Siegel, from Palo Alto, Calif., into an early advantage in the quest for a scholarship valued at almost $615,000 to ensure graduation onto the top rung of the Road to Indy ladder, Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, in 2023. But the DEForce Racing charge’s lead is slender, a mere two points over Englishman Louis Foster, who made an impressive North American debut with Exclusive Autosport. Foster’s pair of podium finishes came as no surprise after displaying his capabilities in a variety of European open-wheel series in recent years.
Fellow rookie Josh Green (Turn 3 Motorsport), from Mount Kisco, N.Y., was the other race winner at St. Petersburg. Series veterans Braden Eves (Jay Howard Driver Development), from New Albany, Ohio, and London, England-based Pakistani Enaam Ahmed (Juncos Hollinger Racing) also claimed podium finishes, while a pair of top-six results for 2021 USF2000 champion Kiko Porto (DEForce Racing), from Recife, Brazil, ensures he remains in close points contention.
Eves’ hopes also will be buoyed by the knowledge he won one of the two Indy Pro 2000 races in Alabama last year.
By contrast, Reece Gold (Juncos Hollinger Racing), from Miami, Fla., endured a disappointing start to his season at St. Petersburg, finishing both races in the lower reaches of the top 10, although he bounced back to post the fastest time during the subsequent Barber test.
Eves’ teammate, Wyatt Brichacek, from Johnstown, Colo., also showed good form at the test, recording the second fastest time in a tightly packed field which saw 14 of the 16 cars circulate within one second of Gold’s benchmark time.
The Andersen Interior Contracting Grand Prix of Alabama will start with three separate test sessions totaling more than two hours of track time on Thursday, April 28. The official portion of the event will begin with 30 minutes of practice at 8:45 a.m. CDT on Friday, followed by qualifying at 11:15 a.m. The green flag for Race One will fly at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. A second qualifying session at 6:05 p.m. will set the starting grid for Race Two at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, immediately after the NTT INDYCAR SERIES headline event.
Live streaming will be available at RoadToIndy.TV, the Road to Indy TV App and indypro2000.com.
Pabst pair leads USF2000 entry list
Teammates Jace Denmark, from Scottsdale, Ariz., and Myles Rowe, from New York, N.Y., each earned a race win during the opening weekend for Pabst Racing. But a last-lap incident for Rowe in the first race, combined with a second-place finish for Denmark, ensures that Denmark already holds a handy points advantage prior to this weekend’s Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Alabama, the third and fourth rounds of the 18-race season.
The two Americans are expected to continue their front-running form, although there are a host of rivals seeking to knock them off their perch.
Prime among them is Canadian Thomas Nepveu, from Oka, Que., who led the first race at St. Petersburg stylishly until tangling with Rowe on the final lap. Nepveu bounced back in the subsequent test at Barber to set the fastest time for his DEForce Racing team – albeit with teammate Bijoy Garg, from Atherton, Calif., and the two Pabst drivers all within little more than a blink of an eye.
Impressively, the top nine drivers in the field circulated within a half-second of Nepveu’s best, with the top 17 blanketed by less than a second. The weekend promises to be every bit as competitive.
New Zealander Billy Frazer (Exclusive Autosport) lies second in the early points chase after notching a second and a sixth from the first two races.
Michael d’Orlando, from Hartsdale, N.Y., also is once again in the thick of the mix for Cape Motorsports. After beginning the season as a hot championship favorite following his runner up finish in 2021, d’Orlando endured a disappointing qualifying session in St. Petersburg which left him seventh and eighth in the starting field for the two races. But he rescued the situation admirably by rising up the order to secure a pair of fourth-place results.
Cape Motorsports teammates Jagger Jones, from Scottsdale, Ariz., the grandson of 1963 Indianapolis 500 winner Parnelli Jones, Jackson Lee, from Avon, Ind., and Nicky Hays, from Huntington Beach, Calif., also are expected to challenge for honors, along with Simon Sikes (Legacy Autosport), from Athens, Ga., and Turn 3 Motorsport teammates Spike Kohlbecker, from St. Louis, Mo., and Christian Weir, from Naperville, Ill.
The USF2000 contenders will have their first taste of the track during 30 minutes of official practice at 12:00 noon on Friday. The grid positions for their pair of 40-minute (or 25-lap) races will be set during separate qualifying sessions at 4:15 p.m. on Friday and 10:15 a.m. on Saturday. Race One will start a little later in the day at 3:20 p.m., with the green flag for Race Two scheduled for 9:00 a.m. on Sunday morning.
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.