Story Credit: Road to Indy PR
Photo Credit: Road to Indy Photo
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The ultra-competitive nature of this year’s Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel racing development ladder was plain for all to see today during qualifying on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.
Kyle Kirkwood (Andretti Autosport), from Jupiter, Fla., and David Malukas (HMD Motorsports), from Chicago, Ill., each earned a Cooper Tires Pole Award for this weekend’s pair of races that will comprise the Indy Lights Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Foundation Building Materials and Andersen Interior Contracting.
In the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, points leader Braden Eves (Exclusive Autosport), from New Albany, Ohio, secured his second pole position of the season, while stablemate Christian Brooks, from Santa Clarita, Calif., ensured a spectacular day for the Canadian-owned team by taking pole for the first of two Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship races.
Coincidentally, after sharing the honor of claiming a maiden USF2000 victory last year on the streets of St. Petersburg, Brazilian Kiko Porto will start tomorrow’s second race from the pole after being fastest in this afternoon’s second qualifying session.
Kirkwood, who won back-to-back Road to Indy scholarship awards in USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000, rebounded from a difficult first Indy Lights weekend of the season at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama to lay down the fastest time in morning practice. He kept that momentum alive in the first of two qualifying sessions by topping the charts at 1:05.1334 and edging out Malukas by just eight-hundredths of a second.
Later in the day, however, Malukas took full advantage of the lower temperatures by dipping underneath Pato O’Ward’s three-year lap record to claim the Cooper Tires Pole Award for Race Two at 1:04.6491 – the first-ever Indy Lights lap at better than a 100 mph average on the challenging 1.8-mile street circuit.
Kirkwood capped a productive day by annexing the other front row starting position for Sunday’s race, while Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport teammate Devlin DeFrancesco, from Miami, Fla., will start third in both races, just ahead of Singapore’s Danial Frost aboard a third Andretti Dallara IL-15.
After claiming a slender Indy Pro 2000 points lead last weekend by virtue of a victory from the pole in the opening race of the season at Barber Motorsports Park backed up by a fourth in Race Two, Eves today continued where he left off in Alabama by snagging another Cooper Tires Pole Award. His Exclusive Autosport Tatuus PM-18 topped the charts in practice this morning with a best lap of 1:08.8933, and even though the 20-minute qualifying was cut short by a red flag, Eves again was fastest to secure another championship point in his quest for a scholarship valued at well over $700,000 to graduate to Indy Lights in 2022.
New Zealand’s Hunter McElrea, who claimed the other victory one week ago for Pabst Racing at Barber Motorsports Park, will start alongside Eves on the front row of the grid.
Eves’ Russian teammate Artem Petrov will share the second row with last year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship winner Christian Rasmussen (Jay Howard Driver Development), from Copenhagen, Denmark.
A separate qualifying session to determine the starting grid for the second leg of this weekend’s Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Cooper Tires will be held at 8:00 a.m. EDT tomorrow morning.
The grids for both races that will comprise the USF2000 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Andersen RacePark (Race One) and Andersen Interior Contracting (Race Two) were set today during a pair of 20-minute qualifying sessions. The first was dominated by Exclusive Autosport, with Brooks blitzing the field to secure his second straight Cooper Tires Pole Award on the challenging 1.8-mile street circuit and teammate Matt Round-Garrido, from Stourbridge, England, bouncing back from a disappointing weekend at Barber to post the second-fastest time and ensure his best-ever Road to Indy starting position.
Michael d’Orlando (Cape Motorsports), from Hartsdale, N.Y., will share the second row of the grid for Race One with fellow New York karting graduate Josh Green (Turn 3 Motorsport), from Mount Kisco, N.Y.
After setting the pace in practice, Porto’s efforts in the first qualifying session were thwarted by a red-flag stoppage which left him a slightly disappointed sixth on the grid. But the Brazilian’s trademark smile returned later in the afternoon when, following another red-flag interruption, he nailed his final lap just as the checkered flag flew to claim his own Cooper Tires Pole Award.
Brooks, who had been fastest up until that point, had to be content with second on the grid, narrowly ahead of Round-Garrido. Green once again was fourth fastest after turning the tables on d’Orlando in fifth.
Porto’s DEForce Racing teammate Prescott Campbell, from Newport Beach, Calif., will have his work cut out to maintain his championship lead after qualifying only 10th and 16th for the two races.
Tomorrow’s activities will commence with the second Indy Pro 2000 qualifying session at 8:00 a.m. The pair of 20-lap USF2000 races are due to start at 10:55 a.m. and 5:20 p.m., sandwiching the first Indy Pro 2000 race, over 25 laps, at 11:50 a.m. and the opening 35-lap Indy Lights encounter at 3:20 p.m. The second championship races for both Indy Lights and Indy Pro 2000 will take place on Sunday.