Almost four months later than originally scheduled, both the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship will finally take the green flag later this week with the Grand Prix of Road America Honoring First Responders at scenic Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.
Their season was all set to start in early March on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The traditional Spring Training open test at Homestead-Miami Speedway had been completed and even the initial practice sessions at St. Petersburg were in the books; but it had quickly become apparent that the COVID-19 health crisis was worsening. Within hours, the remainder of the weekend was canceled and the entire racing calendar was put on hold.
Now, following the implementation of strict protocols for social-distancing and PPE, two races will be held for each series this coming Friday, July 10, in advance of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES event on Saturday and Sunday.
The top rung on the development ladder, Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, has been placed on hiatus for this year but the other two series will undertake full 18-race campaigns. Uniquely in the world of auto racing, both Road to Indy champions will earn a graduation scholarship to include a guaranteed contract to compete on the next level in 2021.
Thompson Still Chasing First Title
After finishing third through fifth in last year’s Indy Pro 2000 championship, Parker Thompson, Sting Ray Robb and Danial Frost are hoping that their experience will stand them in good stead as they aim for a scholarship which would enable them to make the step up to Indy Lights next year.
Thompson, from Red Deer, Alb., Canada, has finished among the top three in each of the past two seasons. Prior to that he placed second and third in a pair of USF2000 campaigns. He has now joined forces with DEForce Racing as he chases an elusive first championship crown. Thompson will line up alongside experienced teammates Kory Enders, from Sugar Land, Texas, and Moises de la Vara, from Guadalajara, Mexico, plus Mexican newcomer Manuel Sulaiman.
On the other hand, Robb hopes that stability will be the key to his future. Still only 18 years of age, Robb, from Payette, Idaho, remains with two-time defending Team Championship winner Juncos Racing for his fourth season at this level. He will be joined by Russian second-year racer Artem Petrov and rookie Nate Aranda, from Albuquerque, N.M.
Frost, also 18, from Singapore, originally planned to compete in Indy Lights after winning twice last year. Instead he has rejigged his plans and will join former Indy Lights race winner Peter Dempsey’s Turn 3 Motorsport team alongside Canadian Antoine Comeau, who ran a partial campaign in 2019. Frost impressed during the recent Open Test at Mid-Ohio by posting the fastest time.
While Thompson, Robb and Frost will start among the title favorites, they face a group of talented rookies who have every intention of claiming the championship at their first attempt. Among them are three of the top four finishers in last year’s USF2000 title-chase: Braden Eves, Hunter McElrea and Colin Kaminsky.
Eves, from New Albany, Ohio, clinched the crown in sensational style with a come-from-behind victory in the final race. This year he joins Exclusive Autosport as he seeks to emulate fellow former Team USA Scholarship winner Kyle Kirkwood by winning Road to Indy titles in consecutive seasons.
“I’m super excited to be heading to a race weekend,” said Eves. “We’ve had our time away and now we’re back into race mode. This is a very competitive field so it’s going to be difficult, just like it was for me last year. Hunter McElrea was extremely good all last year so to win the title in a do-or-die moment was huge, and that’s what it’s going to take again this season. But having done that was such a confidence boost, and with all the testing we’ve had and the pace we’ve shown, we’re in an even better position than we were last year, so we just have to get the job done. I know Exclusive Autosport is up to the task.”
McElrea was desperately unfortunate to miss out last year by the narrowest of margins, having suffered a mechanical problem in qualifying for the season finale which obliged him to start at the back of the field. But the gifted New Zealander certainly made his mark during an impressive rookie campaign. He remains with the same Wisconsin-based team, Pabst Racing, as he graduates to the next level with close friend Colin Kaminsky, from Homer Glen, Ill. Kaminsky’s father, Bob, a veteran campaigner at this level, will drive the team’s third Tatuus PM-18
“This race (Road America) last year was a turning point for me, with my first win, so to start the season here is very cool,” said McElrea. “We’ve had really good tests as well, so it gives us a great deal of confidence going into the weekend, especially since it’s the team’s home track. Because of the extra time we’ve had, I feel that the team and I are even more prepared than we were at the start of the year, so I’m ready to get the season started.”
Devlin DeFrancesco is another name to watch. The 20-year-old Canadian commences his maiden season of North American racing with the famed Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport team after performing extremely well in a variety of European open-wheel championships in recent years.
BNRacing with Team Benik will enter two cars for impressive youngster Jacob Loomis, from Corinth, Texas, and the only woman in the field, Sabré Cook, from Grand Junction, Colo., who is focusing on Indy Pro 2000 after a second year of the all-female W Series in Europe was placed on hiatus. Veteran Charles Finelli, from Locust Valley, N.Y., will complete the expected 17-car field.
A trio of 45-minute test sessions on Thursday, July 9, at 9:00 a.m., 11:45 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. will be followed by 30 minutes of official practice at 5:00 p.m.
Qualifying at 8:50 a.m. will set the ball rolling on Friday, July 10, leading into a pair of 50 minute races at 12:15 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. All times CDT.