LEXINGTON, Ohio – Take Two! More than three months after the first attempt to start the season in Florida was thwarted by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires took its first steps toward some degree of normalcy today at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Sweltering conditions greeted competitors in the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship as they took an opportunity to test at the scenic and challenging 2.258-mile road course in advance of a pair of visits during the heavily revised 2020 schedule.
Indy Pro 2000 veteran Danial Frost marked an impressive maiden appearance with the relatively new Turn 3 Motorsport team by turning the fastest times of the day. By contrast, Cape Motorsports assumed its regular position at the top of the USF2000 charts, with young New Yorker teenagers Michael d’Orlando and Josh Green at the top of the timing charts.
Drivers in each series enjoyed a total of four sessions during the day.
Frost Sets the Pace for Turn 3 Motorsport
Three months ago, after finishing fifth in the 2019 Indy Pro 2000 championship with two race wins to his credit, Singaporean Frost was contemplating his rookie campaign in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires. But with Indy Lights now on hiatus until 2021 as a result of the effects of the pandemic, Frost instead will return for a second season in Indy Pro 2000. Judging by today, that could turn out to be a smart move, with the season champion set to earn a scholarship which will guarantee the cost of a 2021 season in Indy Lights.
Frost immediately gelled with Peter Dempsey’s Turn 3 team and turned what was to stand as the fastest lap of the day, 1:16.6264, an average speed of 106.084 mph, in the first session this morning.
“We tested last week, to get the chemistry and understanding with the team a bit better before the official series test today," said Frost. “Last week was good and I expected the same thing today. The results were there and I think we’re in pretty good shape. We worked on the feel and the rhythm of the car in the first session, and to put in a good lap time because we knew that would be the best time given the track conditions.
“It’s a great team to work with and an easy environment – they seemed fast last year and I expected them to be fast this year, and they proved that today. I’m excited to drive with them this season."
Although Frost held a handy margin of more than 0.8 seconds in that opening period, his margin reduced dramatically as the day wore on. Indeed, Juncos Racing’s Sting Ray Robb, from Payette, Idaho, set the pace in each of the final two sessions, including a best of 1:16.7320 – less than 0.2 shy of Frost’s benchmark – at the end of the day .
|Sting Ray Robb
“The team and I have had two half-day test sessions since St. Pete, but we’ve had some issues," said Robb. “We figured them out, the team went back to the shop and fixed the issues, so today was our first trouble free day since St. Pete! We’ve worked on the progression instead of the results: we know that when we work on it that way, the results will come.
“This is a challenging track, especially since we’ve been out of the car for so long, so we know there are some areas we can improve, but finishing P1 in the final session tells us we’re heading in the right direction."
Road to Indy veteran Parker Thompson, from Red Deer, Alb., Canada, was third quickest for DEForce Racing at 1:17.1863.
Mexican rookie Manuel Sulaiman impressed aboard a second DEForce Tatuus PM-18. Sulaiman, who is stepping up to Indy Pro 2000 after one year in USF2000, improved his pace steadily throughout the day, ending up with the fourth fastest time at 1:17.5739.
After gaining extensive experience in Europe and Asia over the past five years, Devlin DeFrancesco (Andretti Steinbrenner Racing), 20, acclimated quickly to the different surroundings of a new car, team and race track by ending the day a promising fifth quickest.
Fellow Canadian Antoine Comeau also acquitted himself well in a second Turn 3 Motorsport entry with the sixth fastest time.
Braden Eves, from nearby New Albany, Ohio, didn’t feature on the timing charts due to a malfunctioning transponder. Last year’s USF2000 champion also was hindered by some electrical gremlins, although his Exclusive Autosport entry unofficially turned some extremely fast times on fresh tires at the conclusion of the day.
d’Orlando Fastest in USF2000
Cape Motorsports has been a dominant force in USF2000 over the past decade, claiming an unbroken streak of nine consecutive driver championships. So it was no surprise to see the squad once again at the top of the timing charts, with 18-year-old d’Orlando, from Hartsdale, N.Y., posting the fastest time of all, 1:21.8805, an average speed of 99.276 mph, during the second session of the day, shortly before the lunch break.
“I’m sure I can speak for all the other drivers when I say that this three-month break has been really tough, so getting back in the car feels so amazing," said d’Orlando. “When I went out this morning, I had such a big grin on my face. Today was great, we just went out and improved in every single session. I have a great connection with the team and everything we implemented made us faster.
“I’m lucky to have such great teammates as well – Reece, Kyle, Josh and I, we all push each other to do better. I have a brother that I race against, but I feel as though these guys are my brothers as well. Through the Road to Indy iRacing eSeries, we kept in communication and that made the three months better, but it was difficult not to see each other and not get out racing. It’s taken a toll, but that’s behind us and now it’s time to go racing again."
Green, 17, from Mount Kisco, N.Y., was barely a tenth of a second behind on 1:21.9810, comfortably quickest of the USF2000 rookies. Stepping up to USF2000 after finishing second in last year’s F1600 Championship Series in his debut season of car racing, Green displayed admirable consistency by placing among the top three in each of the three sessions he contested. Having taken part in a private test at Mid-Ohio a couple of weeks ago, neither d’Orlando nor Green ventured out for the final session this afternoon.
Kyle Dupell, from Portland, Ore., and Reece Gold, from Miami, Fla., also flew the Cape flag with distinction. Both finished the day among the top five overall combined times, with Gold, who finished 10th in the 2019 championship, fastest of all in both the first and last sessions.
The only interloper at the end of the day was Jack William Miller, from Carmel, Ind., whose best lap, 1:22.118, for the Miller Vinatieri Motorsports team topped the charts in the first afternoon session and remained good enough for third fastest overall.
“It felt great to get in a race car, especially to be fast and on pace with the quick drivers," said Miller. “It was a pretty good test overall. We continued working on the things we learned at a test here a few weeks ago, and we improved throughout the day. We were P4 in session two and P1 in session three and those were new tire runs, so those were the important ones. Then we did a practice race in the final session, just trying things. But nothing has really changed in my mindset since St. Pete – I’ve been looking at data with the team, and working hard on my fitness, cycling and running every day and going to PitFit six times a week. I can definitely see the changes: I don’t feel as though I get as tired in the car. I am looking for a consistent and fast season as we get going again, and it all starts at Road America. Hopefully we can build upon what we did here."
Californian teenager Nolan Siegel ended the day sixth fastest, edging out Jay Howard Driver Development teammates Christian Rasmussen, from Copenhagen, Denmark, who overcame some electrical gremlins, and Wyatt Brichacek, from Johnstown, Colo.
Christian Brooks (Exclusive Autosport), from Santa Clarita, Calif., posted the ninth fastest time of the day ahead of Englishman Matt Round-Garrido, who was the only Pabst Racing representative to make the trip.
Two more Jay Howard drivers, Christian Bogle, from Covington, La., and rookie Bijoy Garg, from Atherton, Calif., also turned times within a second of the front-running pace.
The Road to Indy returns to action on July 9/10 for a pair of season-opening double-header races at Road America in support of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.