Story Credit: Road to Indy PR
PALMETTO, Fla. – Despite only being confirmed last weekend, the two Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development series will return to action in just a few days’ time at the challenging Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. Teams and drivers in both the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship will race alongside the NTT INDYCAR SERIES on September 12/13 in an event that had been postponed from earlier in the summer.
Two Indy Pro 2000 races and a triple-header event for USF2000 will mark the second visit this season to the undulating 13-turn, 2.258-mile road course which always tends to provide some exciting competition.
The weekend will likely provide some more clarity of terms of which drivers are emerging as favorites to claim lucrative scholarship and season-ending prizes valued at over $1 million, which will allow the champions to graduate onto the next step of the globally acclaimed development ladder in 2021. The ultimate goal is a career in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and opportunities to contest the Indianapolis 500.
Robb Vaults to Points Lead
Three different drivers shared the victory spoils when Indy Pro 2000 made its initial visit to Mid-Ohio for a triple-header at the end of July. For one of them, Sting Ray Robb, it represented a long overdue maiden Road to Indy victory and came in his 49th start after making his debut at this level in 2017. Since then he has been on a tear.
After a pair of solid finishes on the ovals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis and World Wide Technology Raceway, Robb, from Payette, Idaho, celebrated his 19th birthday in style last Thursday, September 3, by winning again for Juncos Racing at the Indianapolis Grand Prix circuit. He backed up that performance magnificently by adding two more wins the following day and vaulting to the top of the championship point standings.
Robb’s Russian teammate, Artem Petrov, and Braden Eves (Exclusive Autosport), from nearby New Albany, Ohio, also won at Mid-Ohio in July. Petrov will be looking to add another triumph to his initial checkered flag at Road America in July in this weekend’s Surgere Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio. Unfortunately, Eves will not be competing this weekend as he recovers from injuries sustained in a terrifying accident last weekend. He is expected to be on site to support his team and fellow competitors.
“I’m glad to see Mid-Ohio back on the schedule having won my first race there last month,” said Robb. “I’m sorry Braden won’t be racing; we had some really good battles last month. I’m excited to be in the championship lead and to be in a position to challenge for the wins every race. I’m more prepared as a driver, but I think that started last year when I was challenging at the front in the last few races. We carried that into 2020 and we’re seeing the full-season effect of that preparation.
“Honestly, I want to dominate this season, but the field is so stacked that there’s no way that will happen, but I’m excited and ready for the challenge of battling it out. There are so many drivers who can win any given race, I’m really enjoying it.”
Aside from Petrov, who currently lies third in points, other major contenders will include Italian-Canadian rookie Devlin DeFrancesco (Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport), who won at World Wide Technology Raceway and led the points table until Robb completed his hat-trick. Singapore’s Danial Frost will be looking to repeat the form that saw him finish on the podium in the first three races of the season for Turn 3 Motorsport.
Frost currently stands fourth in points ahead of New Zealander Hunter McElrea (Pabst Racing), who finished a close second to Eves in last year’s USF2000 championship and has overcome a difficult start to the year by finishing second in four of the last six races. McElrea knows how to win at Mid-Ohio, having earned two poles, a win and a second at the venue last year in USF2000.
DEForce Racing’s four-car team of Road to Indy veteran Parker Thompson, from Canada, Texas-based Kory Enders and a pair of Mexican talents, Manuel Sulaiman and Moises de la Vara, also are expected to challenge.
The Surgere Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio will kick off on Friday, September 11 with 30 minutes of practice at 10:30 a.m. and a pair of qualifying sessions at 1:30 p.m. and 4:10 p.m. to set the grid for the weekend’s two 25-lap races. The green flag for Race One is set to fly at 12:15 p.m. on Saturday, with Race Two slated for 9:00 a.m. on Sunday. All times are EDT.
Both races will be live streamed globally on the Road to Indy TV App, RoadToIndy.TV and the series website, indypro2000.com.
Rasmussen Under Threat
One week ago, Danish rising star Christian Rasmussen held a seemingly unassailable 85-point advantage in his quest for the USF2000 championship and a scholarship valued in excess of $328,000 to graduate into Indy Pro 2000 in 2021. But after sweeping the opening six races of the season for Jay Howard Driver Development, a disappointing outing at Indianapolis, which included a retirement in the last of three races, has seen that margin drastically reduced.
This week Rasmussen, 20, from Copenhagen, will attempt to rekindle the form that saw him dominate the proceedings at Mid-Ohio in July, but to do so he will need to overcome Brazil’s Eduardo Barrichello (Pabst Racing) and Floridian Reece Gold (Cape Motorsports), both of whom claimed well deserved maiden victories at Indianapolis.
“Last Thursday was the best day of my life,” exclaimed second-generation racer Barrichello, 18, whose accomplished father, ex-Ferrari F1 race winner Rubens, was on hand to witness his pair of wins. “That first win gave me and the team just that much more motivation and hope in the championship. It’s a life-changer, if you win the championship and the scholarship, so we’ll keep trying to close the gap. It was great to be out there battling with Kiko (Porto) and Reece (Gold). That made it really special.
“And my dad was so happy as well. Like most drivers, I’m tense before the race. There’s so much pressure, especially racing in front of INDYCAR, but my dad keeps my focus on the right stuff so it’s good to have him there. But that’s why we’re in the Road to Indy, to have the opportunity to race in front of INDYCAR teams – you don’t find that anywhere else.”
The younger Barrichello has moved up to third in the point standings, 57 points behind Rasmussen and just seven behind fellow second-year USF2000 racer Gold, who has also unearthed a rich vein of form by finishing on the podium in six of the last seven races, including three times during the July visit to Mid-Ohio.
“This year, I don’t have to learn the tracks, I can just go right out and hit my marks,” said Gold, who celebrated his 16th birthday last week by claiming a slightly fortuitous but nonetheless well-deserved win at Indy on Friday. “Having the knowledge and the setups from last year really helps a lot. (Team principals and brothers) Nicholas and Dominic (Cape) have the best cars and the best setups, and a ton of data from their past champions. They know what a driver needs on the coaching side of things, and that helps keep me fast on track. They always have you looking for more. And we have four fast drivers on the team, comparing data and pushing each other. We all want to be the best driver on the team. And it keeps it just much cleaner on track – you don’t want to have to go back to the truck if you don’t bring your car home.”
New York teenagers Josh Green and Michael d’Orlando also have podium finishes to their credit this year for Cape Motorsports, with Portland, Ore., native Kyle Dupell also seeking to join that club.
Barrichello, meanwhile, also has a couple of quick teammates in Englishman Matt Round-Garrido and Yuven Sundaramoorthy, from Guilderland, N.Y.
Other drivers to watch from among a high-quality field – which saw 20 of the 21 starters qualify within one second of the polesitter at Indianapolis – will include rookies Christian Brooks (Exclusive Autosport), from Santa Clarita, Calif., and Brazilian Kiko Porto (DEForce Racing), plus Jack William Miller (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports), from Carmel, Ind. All claimed breakthrough maiden podium finishes at Indianapolis, with Porto securing a pair of Cooper Tires Pole Awards and Miller leading almost all of the final race before making an error on the final lap.
Miller’s rookie teammate, Max Kaeser, from Keystone, Colo., also broke through to claim a trio of top-10 finishes at Indy, while F1600 Championship Series points leader Simon Sikes, from Athens, Ga., performed with distinction on his debut with Legacy Autosport.
This weekend will see Josh Sarchet, from Phoenix, Ariz., make his USF2000 debut with DEForce Racing after stepping up from U.S. F4 .
The Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio will begin on Friday, September 11 with a 30-minute practice session at 8:30 a.m. Separate qualifying periods at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. will set the starting orders for Race One at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday and Race Two later in the day at 1:05 p.m. The fastest race laps for each competitor in the latter race then will set the grid for Race Three, which is slated for 11:15 a.m. on Sunday, immediately before the second NTT INDYCAR SERIES race of what promises to be a busy weekend.
All three races will be live streamed worldwide on the Road to Indy TV App, RoadToIndy.TV and the series website, usf2000.com.