By Road to Indy
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The month of May is well and truly under way. After joining their senior brethren from the NTT IndyCar Series during an exciting and well-attended Grand Prix of Indianapolis event on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course last weekend, competitors on the two lower rungs of the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder – the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship and the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – today gained what for many was a first-ever taste of the nuances of oval-track action at the nearby Lucas Oil Raceway in Brownsburg, Ind.
The Canadian-owned Exclusive Autosport team enjoyed an especially productive day with Danial Frost, from Singapore, and Los-Angeles-based Russian Nikita Lastochkin leading the way in Indy Pro 2000 and Mexico’s Manuel Cabrera emerging with the fastest time in USF2000.
Today began in the classroom with the traditional Oval Clinic hosted by Road to Indy veteran and Lucas Oil School of Racing Director of Operations Gerardo Bonilla. Also on hand to pass along a wealth of knowledge and experience to an enraptured audience were popular Brazilian Tony Kanaan, whose long list of accomplishments includes winning the 1997 Indy Lights championship, the 2004 IndyCar title and the 2013 Indianapolis 500, plus Indy Pro 2000 Race Director and five-time Indy 500 starter Johnny Unser and INDYCAR Race Director Kyle Novak.
“It’s good have someone who is successful to talk to the kids,” said Kanaan. “It was a pleasure to come talk to them – if I put one thing into their heads that will help them drive today and in the race next week, then that’s a good thing. I came to America and went straight into Indy Lights, and I was lucky to have a mentor like (former Tasman Motorsports Team Principal) Steve Horne, and I repeated much of what he told me to the drivers today.
“This is the beauty of being part of the Road to Indy. The ladder series is part of INDYCAR and all the drivers support it. This is the future – in a few years, I’ll be watching the races and I’ll see drivers in the Indy 500 and I can say ‘I remember talking to those kids!’ I think that is why the ladder series has been so strong: everyone puts a lot of effort into making this work. I don’t see anything like this anywhere in the world so to me, this is the best place to be.”
Frost Blitzes Indy Pro 2000 Field
Danial Frost was clearly the class of the field in Indy Pro 2000, heading all three sessions which totaled more than two hours of track time. His best time was a full half-second clear of his nearest challenger in the first 45-minutes of running this morning and he continued a similar dominance throughout the day to post a best lap of 20.2860 (121.739 mph) this afternoon and lay down a firm marker in advance of next week’s Cooper Tires Freedom 90 at the fast and challenging LOR oval.
“Tony gave me confidence in being here this morning,” revealed Frost, who currently lies third in the point standings after finishing third in each of the last three races. “The timing of passing is something I need to learn and his talk this morning helped. It’s nothing like the road course, it’s a totally new thing for me.
“I did a lot of sim work before I came here, to prepare as much as possible. It’s difficult, coming from the road course at Indianapolis to the oval at Lucas Oil. Going left the whole time is much harder than it looks from the outside. Being close to the wall, taking that line to be quick, it’s all a new thing for me.
“Learning the timing of when to get past someone, not getting blocked and losing my momentum, it’s something that Exclusive Autosport has been working on with me. They’re really training me and helping me to make that possible. It was cold this morning, so we’re learning how the car and the tires work at different times of the day, in different conditions. The car is very good, the pace is there, so we just need a bit more on our race craft and we’ll be right there.”
Lastochkin’s time of 20.7516, also set this afternoon, remained good enough for second on the day to ensure a clean sweep for Exclusive Autosport, although Moises de la Vara, from Guadalajara, Mexico, jumped to third fastest at 20.7641 moments before the final checkered flag for DEForce Racing.
Last year’s USF2000 champion, Kyle Kirkwood, from Jupiter, Fla., also improved to 20.8025 in the final period to edge out Jacob Abel (Abel Motorsports), from Louisville, Ky., and series points leader Rasmus Lindh (Juncos Racing), from Gothenburg, Sweden.
Cabrera Sets the Pace in USF2000
Three different drivers took a turn in the spotlight during today’s trio of USF2000 test sessions, although once again it was Exclusive Autosport which led the way as Manuel Cabrera’s time from the opening session, 22.1141 seconds, an average speed of 111.675 mph for the 0.686-mile oval, remained as the fastest lap of the day in preparation for the Cooper Tires Freedom 75.
Cabrera, 18, from Mexico City, also displayed good pace on the IMS road course last weekend, although his results were compromised by an incident in the first race and a mechanical problem in the second. The youngster will no doubt gain a welcome boost of confidence from today’s performance, even though his day was curtailed by an incident moments before the end of the opening 45-minute session.
“Tony Kanaan had some great advice for us this morning, about focusing the entire time and pushing hard but not so hard as to do what I did this morning, in hitting the wall,” said Cabrera, who will head to another oval track in LaCrosse, Wis., this week as he continues preparations for the race at Lucas Oil Raceway on Friday, May 24. “His advice really helped me.
“We have such a solid car, to make those kinds of laps,” he continued. “It feels great to have had such a good first session, with the quickest lap on the oval. It’s a great moment for me and the team but we have to stay focused for the race next week.
“We had a good race here last year, and I took that experience this morning and put everything together. I was trying to push so hard this morning – the ovals make you want to push hard. I will put that (incident) behind me and focus ahead.”
Rookie Yuven Sundaramoorthy, from Oconomowoc, Wis., set the pace in the second session for Pabst Racing, just over one-tenth quicker than teammate and Mazda Scholarship winner Hunter McElrea, from Gold Coast, Australia.
“The oval clinic this morning definitely helped, with Tony telling us to stay patient,” said Sundaramoorthy. “I could have dived into the corners, trying to pass other drivers and going in too early, but being patient and timing my passes really helped me be quick. It was great to have an Indy 500 winner come talk to us about his experience.”
Colin Kaminsky, from Homer Glen, Ill., ended the day third fastest with a time merely 0.0115 of a second slower than Cabrera.
The final session saw yet another rookie, 14-year-old Jak Crawford, from Houston, Texas, narrowly on top for DEForce Racing. Jack William Miller (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports), from Carmel, Ind., Darren Keane (Cape Motorsports), from Boca Raton, Fla., another 14-year-old, Nolan Siegel (Newman Wachs Racing), from Palo Alto, Calif., Alex Baron (Legacy Autosport), from Narbonne, France, Brazilian Eduardo Barrichello (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports), and McElrea also were within one tenth of a second of Crawford’s benchmark in the final session.