The Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires’ “The Race Before the 500″ at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park began with New York’s Michael d’Orlando claiming a narrow victory for Cape Motorsports in the all-green 75-lap Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship encounter. Less than an hour later, Englishman Louis Foster overcame polesitter Reece Gold to score a memorable Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires triumph for Exclusive Autosport.
The race wins were enough to catapult both drivers into the lead of their respective championships with eight of 18 races now in the books.
Bijoy Garg (DEForce Racing) finished second in the Cooper Tires Freedom 75 USF2000 event. Myles Rowe completed the podium for Pabst Racing.
Gold had to be content with second place in the Cooper Tires Freedom 90 Indy Pro 2000 race, with Josh Green, from Mount Kisco, N.Y., climbing from sixth on the grid to third for Turn 3 Motorsport.
D’Orlando flag to flag in USF2000
The Freedom 75 set the ball rolling this evening after a 90-minute delay due to passing showers earlier in the afternoon. After snagging his first Cooper Tires Pole Award of the season in qualifying yesterday, d’Orlando maintained his position at the start but was never able to eke out much of an advantage over Garg, who started second after posting the fastest times during a pair of test sessions on Friday.
D’Orlando, the defending race champion having scored his maiden USF2000 victory in the corresponding event in 2021, was determined to keep his streak alive. He was rarely more than a few tenths of a second clear of his pursuer throughout the demanding 75-lap race, but he never allowed himself to be flustered, even when lapping some slower cars midway through the race.
Garg piled on the pressure but d’Orlando was up to the task and duly took the checkered flag by just 0.2328s.
“What a fantastic race. I mean, obviously I have to give props here to Bijoy (Garg) and Myles (Rowe), they were on my butt the entire time, but I couldn’t have done it without the team and Rising Star Racing. They made this happen for me” said d’Orlando. “I just happened to have the car that could go win it. The whole race was a bunch of strategy and tire management but I held it to the end.”
Rowe slipped almost three seconds behind the two leaders in the early stages before closing in toward the finish and taking the flag just three-quarters of a second behind Garg.
Rowe’s teammate, Jace Denmark, narrowly held off Jagger Jones (Cape Motorsports), who found a way past Thomas Nepveu (DEForce Racing), on lap 5.
Billy Frazer (Exclusive Autosport) claimed his second Tilton Hard Charger Award of the season after fighting his way past Spike Kohlbecker (Turn 3 Motorsport) and then Simon Sikes (Legacy Autosport) to finish seventh.
Provisional championship points after 8 of 18 races:
1. Michael d’Orlando, 177
2. Myles Rowe, 160
3. Jagger Jones, 158
4. Billy Frazer, 152
5. Jace Denmark, 145
6. Bijoy Garg, 125
7. Simon Sikes, 119
8. Thomas Nepveu, 115
9. Spike Kohlbecker, 104
10. Christian Weir, 99
Foster shines on oval debut
All eyes were on Gold at the start of the Indy Pro 2000 race. The Florida teenager had qualified on pole position for the second successive year at IRP for Juncos Hollinger Racing, and after losing out to eventual series champion Christian Rasmussen one year ago, he was determined to convert that into a victory this time around.
Gold and Pakistani teammate Enaam Ahmed, who qualified a career-best second in his first oval start, duly led from the green flag, but while Gold soon was able to edge away in the lead, Ahmed remained under constant attack from Foster. Green, too, was hanging with this pair in fourth place as they gradually edged clear of points leader Nolan Siegel (DEForce Racing).
The gap from first to second stretched to almost two seconds after 25 laps as Ahmed resolutely stood his ground. Twenty laps later, Foster’s perseverance paid off as he finally found a way past Ahmed, who in turn had closed the gap once more to Gold.
Foster immediately closed in on Gold, whom he passed seemingly with ease on lap 47 to move into the lead for the first time. Foster instantly pulled clear, extending his advantage by a half-second per lap before his march was halted after 54 laps by the only full-course caution of the evening after Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing) had lightly brushed the wall in his Pabst Racing Tatuus IP-22.
Undeterred, Foster immediately began to edge away at the restart, controlling the pace magnificently to score his second successive race win since switching his sights from Europe to North America at the beginning of the 2022 season.
“My first time ever on an oval, I just wanted in a way to get it over and done with and make sure I scored some points,” said Foster. “I just controlled my tires and kept my pace good at the start of the race, and then kind of midway through, the two Juncos boys just fell off a cliff. Honestly, when I overtook them, not to sound cocky but I thought they had an issue. I just drove past them and I was really confused. At first I thought there was a safety car and I didn’t realize, but from there I just turned consistent laps, just focused on my race and kept pushing and pushing.
“Towards the end I backed off a bit and just tried to control it and bring it home. Then I was told I was being caught quite quickly so I had to step it back up again. I was probably lapping a second a lap slower at the end, at least, and then I stepped up my pace to where I was before. I can’t thank the team enough, they’ve done an amazing job, and without them I would not be where I am today.”
Green, who had nipped past Ahmed moments before the mid-race caution period, pressured Gold in the closing stages before finally settling for third place.
Ahmed slipped back in fourth but still managed to finish ahead of Siegel and Jordan Missig, who produced comfortably his best performance of the year for Pabst Racing to be the only other unlapped finisher in sixth.
Last year’s USF2000 champion, Kiko Porto, finished seventh for DEForce Racing ahead of impressive Mexican rookie Salvador De Alba (Jay Howard Driver development), who snared his fourth Tilton Hard Charger Award of the season after starting 12th.
Provisional championship points after 8 of 18 rounds:
1. Louis Foster, 184
2. Reece Gold, 170
3. Nolan Siegel, 167
4. Enaam Ahmed, 143
5. Josh Green, 139
6. Braden Eves, 135
7. Kiko Porto, 129
8. Colin Kaminsky, 118
9. Jack William Miller, 112
10. Salvador De Alba, 108
Up next for both the Indy Pro 2000 and USF2000 competitors is a trip to Road America for a pair of road course races for each series, to be held in conjunction with the NTT IndyCar Series, on the weekend of June 11-12.