By Road to Indy
More than seven months after the 2020 Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires season was set to commence on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., the same challenging 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit will instead host the season finale this weekend, October 24-25. The Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship will each host two races in support of the final round of this year’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
The disruption caused to the original schedule by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic means that this weekend will provide the only races this season on a street circuit.
While both championships already have been decided – in favor of Sting Ray Robb (Indy Pro 2000) and Christian Rasmussen (USF2000), both of whom will graduate onto the next level of the highly acclaimed open-wheel development ladder in 2021 – the runner-up placings in both series remain hotly contested. In addition, several drivers are looking to make an early start to their 2021 campaigns, especially in USF2000 which has attracted its biggest field of the season, 23 cars, for the USF2000 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Andersen RacePark and Cooper Tires.
Robb’s Job Done but Second is up for Grabs
Sting Ray Robb has enjoyed a spectacular season for Juncos Racing, tying up the championship – and a scholarship valued at $609,245, which will guarantee his graduation to the rejuvenated Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires in 2021 – following his trio of podium finishes earlier this month at New Jersey Motorsports Park. But Robb, 19, from Payette, Idaho, still has plenty of unfinished business as he aims to score his first victory in St. Petersburg.
In addition, second place in the championship remains very much undecided as top rookie Devlin DeFrancesco (Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport), from Miami, Fla., holds a 20-point edge over Robb’s teammate, Russian Artem Petrov. Both have won twice already this season.
Singapore’s Danial Frost (Turn 3 Motorsport) currently stands just 10 points shy of Petrov with two races remaining, while rookie Hunter McElrea (Pabst Racing), from New Zealand, and DEForce Racing teammates Parker Thompson, from Canada, and Mexico’s Manuel Sulaiman also retain hopes of placing among the top three in the final championship standings.
Thompson, 22, from Red Deer, Alb., Canada, has by far the most experience on the tricky street circuit, which offers little or no margin for error. In addition to winning both Indy Pro 2000 races in 2019, Thompson led the majority of the season opener in 2018 before being overtaken in the late stages by current INDYCAR rising star Rinus VeeKay. Thompson also claimed a pair of USF2000 podium finishes at St. Pete in 2016, one of them behind Florida native Oliver Askew, last year’s Indy Lights champion who has also claimed a podium finish during his rookie INDYCAR campaign in 2020.
Frost, who finished third and fourth in the two Indy Pro 2000 races at St. Pete in 2019, is looking to recapture the form that took him to a win and a pair of podium finishes in the opening three races this year. McElrea and Sulaiman also have fond memories of St. Pete after notching podium finishes last year in USF2000.
Kory Enders (DEForce Racing), from Sugar Land, Texas, also should have high expectations after posting the second fastest lap in the lone practice session in March prior to the race event being postponed.
Nate Aranda, from Albuquerque, N.M., is set to return in a third Juncos Racing entry after skipping the last two events. In addition, Tristan Charpentier, from Bethune, France, who had originally planned on undertaking a full season of Indy Lights, instead will make his Road to Indy debut in the same Exclusive Autosport Tatuus PM-18 with which Ohioan Braden Eves topped the timing charts at St. Petersburg in March.
The Cooper Tires Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Cooper Tires and Allied Building Products will start on Friday, October 23, at 11:05 a.m. with a 30-minute practice session. This will be followed by 30 minutes of qualifying at 3:25 p.m., which will set the grid for Race One at 5:40 p.m. on Saturday. A second qualifying session at 10:10 a.m. on Saturday will determine the starting positions for Race Two on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. All times are EDT.
All Saturday and Sunday sessions will be live streamed globally on the Road to Indy TV App, at RoadToIndy.TV and indypro2000.com.
Barrichello, Gold Tied for Second in USF2000
Denmark’s Christian Rasmussen, 20, has already wrapped up the season-long championship – and a scholarship worth $328,225 to graduate into Indy Pro 2000 – but he still has one more opportunity to etch his name in the record books. Rasmussen has won nine races this season for the Jay Howard Driver Development team which, in addition to three victories during his rookie campaign in 2019, leaves him tied for second on the all-time winners’ list with fellow former series champions J.R. Hildebrand (2006) and Kyle Kirkwood (2019). Both Hildebrand and Kirkwood achieved their tallies during a single season but Rasmussen will have two opportunities in St. Petersburg to equal or exceed the record total of 13 wins accumulated by Chris Simmons in 1992 and 1993. Simmons, incidentally, is part of the engineering team at Chip Ganassi Racing, which hopes to guide New Zealander Scott Dixon to his sixth INDYCAR championship this weekend.
The honor of finishing second in the title-chase remains to be decided between Brazilian Eduardo Barrichello (Pabst Racing) and Reece Gold (Cape Motorsports), from Miami, Fla., who are currently tied on 306 points apiece.
Barrichello holds the tie-breaker at present after claiming three wins this season compared to Gold’s two. The Brazilian also holds the honor of having edged Rasmussen to the fastest time on the unforgiving streets back in March before the event was halted.
The only other driver to win a race this year is Gold’s teammate Michael d’Orlando, from Hartsdale, N.Y., who holds fourth place in the standings. Just eight points separate d’Orlando from the top rookie, Californian Christian Brooks (Exclusive Autosport), who along with Barrichello is the only driver to have finished among the top 10 in every race but one this year.
Josh Green (Cape Motorsports), from Mount Kisco, N.Y., also has an outside chance of securing top rookie honors following his third podium finish of the season in the most recent race at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
Other notable entries from a standout field include Cameron Shields (DEForce Racing), who finished second in one of the races at New Jersey, and Brazilian teammate Kiko Porto, who is set to return after missing the trip to NJMP; and Californians Prescott Campbell, who claimed a breakthrough maiden podium in difficult wet conditions two weeks ago, and Nolan Siegel (Jay Howard Driver Development), who earned his first fastest race lap and pole position.
F1600 Championship Series points leader Simon Sikes, from Atlanta, Ga., will return with Legacy Autosport as he looks to gain a head start on a full USF2000 campaign in 2021 after finishing fourth at Mid-Ohio last month. Michael Myers, from Lizton, Ind., and Ayrton Ori, from Orlando, Fla., also will return to the Legacy lineup, while Mexico’s Gil Molina joins DEForce Racing for his USF2000 debut.
The USF2000 field will take to the track for the first time at 11:05 a.m. on Friday for a 30-minute practice session. Next up are a pair of 30-minute qualifying periods at 2:35 p.m. and the following morning at 9:30 a.m. The green flag for Race One is set for 4:40 p.m. on Saturday, with Race Two slated for 9:30 a.m. on Sunday. All Saturday and Sunday on-track sessions will be live streamed globally at RoadToIndy.TV, usf2000.com and on the Road to Indy TV App.