|Indy Lights action at Road America|
After a brief hiatus following the traditionally hectic month of May at Indianapolis, all three levels of the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder will return to action this weekend, June 21-23, at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis. Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship will all feature a pair of races held in support of the NTT IndyCar Series at the super-fast and challenging 4.014-mile road course.
The Road to Indy is unique in the high-pressure world of auto racing, offering scholarships and opportunities for drivers to progress all the way from the grassroots to the pinnacle of the sport.
Wisconsin’s Telitz Aims to Challenge Series Regulars
A variety of intriguing story lines are apparent as the Indy Lights contenders line up for the Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Road America Powered by AER Engines, which will complete the first half of the 18-race season.
At the top of the list, the battle for the championship crown and a scholarship prize which will guarantee an entry for the series champion into a minimum of three NTT IndyCar races in 2020, including the 104th Indianapolis 500, is finely poised between two extremely talented rookies. Oliver Askew, 22, from Jupiter, Fla., gained the advantage with a sensational last-gasp victory in the most recent race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, edging Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Norman, from Aurora, Ohio, by the narrowest of margins. But 18-year-old Dutchman Rinus VeeKay, driving for Juncos Racing, remains only 11 points behind following his third-place finish.
The pair of future stars have been vying for supremacy ever since both made the switch from karts to cars in 2017. Askew claimed the USF2000 championship that first year, although VeeKay held the upper hand at Road America by winning both races. VeeKay also won last year’s Indy Pro 2000 Championship, with Askew ending up third in the points table.
The pair have consistently run up front since graduating to Indy Lights. In addition to his Freedom 100 triumph, Askew won both races at the Circuit of The Americas road course, while VeeKay has scored victories on the streets of St. Petersburg and on the Indianapolis Grand Prix road course.
Among a host of rivals looking to challenge the point leaders is Wisconsin native Aaron Telitz, who returns to the series with Belardi Auto Racing. The local favorite has notched up several successes previously at his home race track, including winning both Indy Pro 2000 races en route to the championship crown in 2016. Two years later he finished third in one of the two Indy Lights races.
David Malukas, from Chicago, Ill., also has amassed an enviable record at Road America. Malukas qualified on pole position for one of the USF2000 races in 2017, then led BN Racing teammate Toby Sowery to an emphatic pair of one-two finishes in Indy Pro 2000 last year. Both have made the step up to Indy Lights in 2019. Malukas posted one of the drives of the season thus far when he charged from 10th on the grid to third at Circuit of The Americas in March, while Englishman Sowery has been one of the revelations of the year after concluding his deal to join BN/Team Pelfrey mere days before the start of the season and promptly finishing on the podium in each of his first two starts at St. Petersburg.
Another rookie, Robert Megennis, from New York, N.Y., also has tasted the fruits of victory this year with Andretti Autosport, winning Race One at the Indianapolis Grand Prix circuit and adding a pole position in the Freedom 100.
After a single 45-minute practice session on Friday morning, a pair of qualifying sessions – one on Friday afternoon and another on Saturday morning – will set the grid for the two races at 1:50 p.m. CDT on Saturday and 8:50 a.m. on Sunday.
In the U.S., both races will air live and on demand on NBC Sports Gold with practice and qualifying coverage carried via live streaming on the Road to Indy TV App, RoadToIndy.TV, indylights.com and indycar.com. Internationally, all practice, qualifying and race events will be live streamed on the Road to Indy TV App, RoadToIndy.TV and at indylights.com. Additional coverage can also be found on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network broadcasts which airs live on network affiliates, Sirius 216, XM 209, indycar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile App powered by NTT Data.
Honors Shared so Far in Indy Pro 2000
Three different drivers have dominated proceedings during the first three events in this year’s newly rebranded Indy Pro 2000 series. Popular Canadian Parker Thompson, 21, from Red Deer, Alb., was the first to shine, claiming two wins and ensuring a spectacular debut for Abel Motorsports on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., in March. Swedish rookie Rasmus Lindh was next to grab the headlines for Juncos Racing on the Indianapolis Grand Prix road course, also winning twice, while most recently it was the turn of Singapore’s Danial Frost to stake his claim to the title with an emphatic performance for Exclusive Autosport at the Lucas Oil Raceway oval in Brownsburg, Ind.
All three are currently separated by just 27 points heading into this weekend’s Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Road America Powered by Elite Engines, with Lindh’s Juncos Racing teammate, Sting Ray Robb, from Payette, Idaho, also in the thick of the battle after recording three podium finishes from the opening five races.
Thompson, who finished runner-up in last year’s Indy Pro 2000 title-chase, will be hoping to benefit from his prior experience at Road America, which includes a podium finish in USF2000 and a pair of fourths last year – plus a fastest race lap – in Indy Pro 2000. Lindh also displayed prodigious speed on his maiden appearance at the track in 2018 when he secured a brace of USF2000 poles.
Kyle Kirkwood has even fonder memories of Road America after besting Lindh in both USF2000 races last year en route to a dominant champion’s crown. Kirkwood, from Jupiter, Fla., has used his Mazda Scholarship prize to graduate into Indy Pro 2000 with RP Motorsports USA and has already made his mark by claiming fastest lap in three of the five races, as well as a pair of second-place finishes. No one would be surprised to see either Kirkwood or Robb claim breakthrough victories this weekend.
Kirkwood’s teammate and fellow rookie Ian Rodriguez, from Guatemala City, and Jacob Loomis (JDL Racing), from Corinth, Texas, impressed while making their debuts at Indianapolis, although both were out of luck in the races. The two youngsters skipped the oval race at LOR but will be looking for better fortune on their return to the series in Wisconsin.
The DEForce Racing pair of Moises de la Vara, from Guadalajara, Mexico, and Kory Enders, from Sugar Land, Texas, have shown flashes of speed and both have previous experience of Road America which should stand them in good stead.
The Indy Pro 2000 contenders will have a 30-minute practice and a 20-minute qualifying session on Friday, followed on Saturday by a second period of qualifying to set the grid for Race Two. The two races, rounds six and seven of the 16-race season, will see the green flag at 12:55 p.m. CDT on Saturday and 9:55 a.m. on Sunday.
Cape vs. Pabst Rivalry Continues in USF2000
Drivers representing six different teams have stood on the podium in the first five races of the Cooper Tires USF2000 season, but perennial front-runners Cape Motorsports and Pabst Racing remain at the top of the pile.
Florida-based Cape Motorsports, owned by expatriate English brothers Dominic and Nicholas Cape, have amassed an astonishing record in recent years, winning each of the last eight drivers’ championships. But they have been pushed virtually every inch of the way by Augie Pabst’s eponymous Oconomowoc, Wis.-based organization, especially at Road America
Rinus VeeKay claimed a memorable double victory for the home team in 2017, but Pabst will be hoping for more than last year, when Rasmus Lindh took a pair of poles before both race wins were scooped by the Capes’ Kyle Kirkwood
This weekend the two teams will have a total of seven cars on the grid. Braden Eves, from New Albany, Ohio, is currently a clear leader in the championship points table for Cape Motorsports, having swept the first four races of the season, but Pabst’s Hunter McElrea, from Gold Coast, Australia, has run him close with four consecutive top-three finishes to begin his career in North America. Darren Keane (Cape), from Boca Raton, Fla., and Colin Kaminsky (Pabst), from Homer Glen, Ill., are separated by just a solitary point in third and fourth
The Capes will field a third Tatuus USF-17 for 14-year-old Reece Gold, last year’s Lucas Oil Race Series champion who qualified an impressive third on the oval at Lucas Oil Raceway, while Pabst’s lineup will also comprise Brazilian Bruna Tomaselli, the only female in the field, and former F1600 race winner Yuven Sundaramoorthy, who lives in upstate New York but was born in Oconomowoc, Wis
Three other teams have local connections. Legacy Autosport’s Alex Baron, who holds dual French and British citizenship – and was the only driver to beat Kirkwood last year – is now based in nearby Port Washington, Wis., while both Newman Wachs Racing and BN Racing are from the Chicago area. The team founded by the late actor Paul Newman and fellow former racer Eddie Wachs will field two cars for Australian Cameron Shields, who scored an impressive first victory both for himself and the team last month at Lucas Oil Raceway, and 14-year-old Californian Nolan Siegel. BN will enter Venezuelan Anthony Famularo and newly recruited Englishman Matt Round-Garrido. The pair will be looking to at least replicate the pole position and pair of podium finishes claimed by BN over the past two seasons
A strong field also will include Danish former karting star Christian Rasmussen (Jay Howard Driver Development); Eduardo Barrichello (Miller-Vinatieri Motorsports), whose father Rubens scored 11 Grand Prix victories during a stellar 19-year career in F1; and the DEForce pair of Manuel Sulaiman, from Puebla, Mexico, who has two podium finishes to his credit, and 14-year-old Jak Crawford, from Houston, Texas, who burst onto the scene recently by claiming two fourth-place results in his first three races.
The USF2000 schedule virtually mirrors that of Indy Pro 2000 with practice and qualifying on Friday and Saturday and a pair of races at 12:00 p.m. CDT on Saturday and 8:00 a.m. on Sunday.
Both USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 will feature global live streaming of all sessions on the Road to Indy TV App, RoadToIndy.TV, usf2000.com, indypro2000.com and indycar.com