By Road to Indy
From the unforgiving, concrete wall-lined streets of Toronto, Ont., Canada, drivers on all three levels of the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder will switch their attention this week to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course situated just outside Lexington, Ohio. The undulating 2.258-mile permanent road circuit is one of this country’s natural treasures and will provide an entirely different challenge for the horde of talented youngsters who gather from all over the world with their sights firmly focused on a future in the NTT IndyCar Series – which once again will provide the focal point this weekend with the Honda Indy 200 – and the Indianapolis 500.
The Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio will comprise Rounds 12 and 13 of the 18-event Indy Lights Presented Cooper Tires season, plus the 10th and 11th races of the year for both the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the first rung on the ladder, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship. At least 11 different states and 13 nations from five continents will be represented among the three championships.
The home event for Cooper Tires, headquartered in nearby Findlay, Ohio, will see several hundred guests of the series’ partner in attendance over the weekend. Cooper Tires is the Official Tire of the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and The Mid-Ohio School.
Norman Looks to Shine on Home Ground
Regular Indy Lights contender Ryan Norman will have an extra special incentive to shine this weekend on his home track. Norman, 21, from Aurora, Ohio, began the year as one of the title favorites for Andretti Autosport after scoring a maiden victory (on the World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway oval) and pole position (at the Portland International Raceway road course) toward the end of the 2018 campaign. But for one reason or another it took him a while to really hit his stride this year.
The turnaround came at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May, when Norman led most of the way in a thrilling Freedom 100 Presented by Cooper Tires, only to be pipped at the line by teammate Oliver Askew. Norman made up for the disappointment by claiming his first win of the season in the very next race at Road America, then added another second-place finish as well as a pair of fourths two weeks ago in Toronto to move up to third in the points table.
Andretti Autosport teammate Askew cemented his position as the points leader following a strong weekend in Toronto where he finished second in Race One and then was perfectly positioned to capitalize in Race Two when Saturday winner Aaron Telitz and Rinus VeeKay collided while disputing the lead. Suddenly, Askew, from Jupiter, Fla., now a four-time winner in his rookie season of Indy Lights, finds himself with a handy 25-point advantage over VeeKay in the quest for a scholarship to ensure entry into a minimum of three IndyCar events next year, including the 104th Indianapolis 500.
Dutch teenager VeeKay, who has won three times this season for Juncos Racing, was bitterly disappointed to lose ground in the points table but knows full well there are plenty of opportunities to bounce back with seven races still remaining. Furthermore, VeeKay has shone previously at Mid-Ohio, including scoring a weekend sweep last year on his way to winning the Indy Pro 2000 championship.
The Indy Lights field might be low on quantity, with only nine entrants, but it is high on quality. Already six different drivers have shared the spoils of victory this year, including another teenager, Robert Megennis, from New York, N.Y., aboard a third Andretti entry, and Telitz, from Birchwood, Wis., who will rejoin the series this weekend with Belardi Auto Racing after his fine performance in Toronto.
Englishman Toby Sowery (BN Racing/Team Pelfrey) and BN Racing teammate David Malukas, from Chicago, Ill., both have displayed the kind of form that could see them mount the top step before too long while Dalton Kellett (Juncos Racing) carries momentum after a fine drive to a podium finish in his home race at Toronto.
The Indy Lights contenders will start their weekend with a 45-minute practice session at 10:20 a.m. EDT on Friday, July 26, followed by the first of two 30-minute qualifying sessions later in the day at 2:30 p.m. A second qualifying session, to set the grid for Race Two, will take place at 9:45 a.m. on Saturday. The pair of 30-lap races are slated to take the green flag at 1:25 p.m. on Saturday and 12:50 p.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.
Kirkwood Makes his Move in Indy Pro 2000
Sweden’s Rasmus Lindh continues to lead the way in this year’s Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires for defending champion team Juncos Racing, but the name on everyone’s lips in recent weeks has been fellow rookie Kyle Kirkwood. The 20-year-old from Jupiter, Fla., who burst onto the Road to Indy scene last year by dominating the USF2000 championship, has won three of the four most recent races for RP Motorsport USA and has worked his way firmly into title contention following a difficult start to the season.
Kirkwood has qualified among the top three in all nine of the races so far, but put himself on the back foot in the opening race of the season on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., when a first-lap incident forced him to the tail of the field. Other incidents have cost him dearly as well, including Race One in Toronto two weeks ago when he was inadvertently hit by his own teammate, forcing him to the pits with a damaged front wing. Nevertheless, Kirkwood has bounced back strongly and now lies only 32 points off the championship lead with a total of 256 still up for grabs.
Lindh, who only this month celebrated his 18th birthday, has been a model of consistency, finishing every race among the top four positions. Last year’s runner-up in the USF2000 championship will be looking for more of the same at Mid-Ohio, as well as seeking to add to his pair of wins on the Indianapolis Grand Prix circuit in May.
Popular Canadian Parker Thompson and Singapore’s Danial Frost, also are in the thick of the championship chase.
Thompson, 21, from Red Deer, Alb., Canada, won a USF2000 race at Mid-Ohio in 2017 and finished second in last year’s Indy Pro 2000 championship. He began this year by sweeping the two St. Petersburg street races for Abel Motorsports and has finished on the podium in each of the four most recent races. Frost, 17, dipped a toe in the water last year with a partial season of USF2000, but has been a contender in Indy Pro from the outset with Exclusive Autosport. Frost earned his first victory in emphatic style on the Lucas Oil Raceway in Brownsburg, Ind., in May and added a second one two weeks ago in Toronto following an opportunistic pass on the first lap.
While the leading quartet have shared all the race wins, Sting Ray Robb, from Payette, Idaho, has been knocking on the door aboard a second Tatuus PM-18 for Juncos Racing.
Others to watch will include Guatemalan Ian Rodriguez, who impressed with a second-place finish at Road America for RP Motorsport USA; Canadian Antonio Serravalle, who claimed a career-best fourth in Toronto; and Phillippe Denes, from Carmel, Calif., who has looked strong for FatBoy Racing!, whose sponsor, Surgere, a Green, Ohio-based specialist in supply chain management, will donate $1 for every lap completed this weekend in all three Road to Indy series to the StopGap Foundation. The Toronto-based accessibility-focused charity aim is to create a barrier-free world, one ramp at a time.
Three 40-minute test sessions on Thursday, July 25, will give the Indy Pro 2000 field plenty of time to get up to speed before another 30-minute practice at 9:35 a.m. on Friday. A pair of 20-minute qualifying periods at 4:15 p.m. on Friday and 9:10 a.m. on Saturday will set the grid for two 25-lap races which are due to start at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday and 10:00 a.m. on Sunday.
Ohioan Eves Heads the USF2000 Field
Ten different drivers representing seven different teams have stepped onto the podium during the nine USF2000 races run so far this season. There have also been five different winners, although one of them, Braden Eves, from New Albany, Ohio, has taken a commanding lead in the chase for a scholarship valued at over $300,000 to graduate to Indy Pro 2000 in 2020 after winning the first four races of the season in a row for Cape Motorsports.
Eves didn’t have the best of weekends at Toronto two weeks ago, recording finishes of fourth and 11th, but fortunately for him, neither did his closest championship challenger, New Zealander Hunter McElrea (Pabst Racing). McElrea, who earned his opportunity this year by winning the Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout last fall, was caught out by one of the unforgiving walls in Race Two after claiming his series-leading seventh top-three finish one day earlier.
Those stumbles by Eves and McElrea allowed Eves’ Cape Motorsports teammate, Darren Keane, to close to within a dozen points of McElrea. Keane, from Boca Raton, Fla., began the year as a hot favorite for the championship after posting some good performances during partial campaigns in each of the past two seasons. He had been fast in preseason testing too. But he seemed to be a magnet for misfortune in the early races. Undaunted, Keane has finished on the podium in the last three races, including a long overdue maiden victory in Toronto.
Toronto also was a turning point for Denmark’s Christian Rasmussen, who followed up a strong second-place finish to Keane in Race One by turning the tables and securing his own breakthrough win for Jay Howard Driver Development.
Cameron Shields, from Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia – the same hometown as Team Penske’s former IndyCar champion Will Power – also has been a race winner this season for Newman Wachs Racing.
Among those still knocking on the door of Victory Lane are Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing), from Homer Glen, Ill.; Manuel Sulaiman (DEForce Racing), from Puebla, Mexico; Zach Holden (Legacy Autosport), from Greenfield, Ind.; and Englishman Matt Round-Garrido (BN Racing), last year’s Northern Ireland Formula Ford 1600 champion, who claimed his first podium finish in Toronto.
A trio of 14-year-olds will be among the expected 18-car field: Nolan Siegel (Newman Wachs Racing), from Los Altos, Calif.; Reece Gold (Cape Motorsports), from San Juan, Puerto Rico, who won last year’s Lucas Oil School of Racing Championship Series; and Jak Crawford, from Houston, Texas, who has four top-six finishes to his credit and will join Cape Motorsports for the first time this weekend. Crawford, driving for DEForce Racing, posted the fastest time during a recent series test at Mid-Ohio.
In addition, Timmy Pagliuso will be making his USF2000 debut with Legacy Autosport. Pagliuso, from Fishers, Ind., will be pulling double duty as he continues his “day job” as the right-rear tire changer on Takuma Sato’s Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Indy car.
Pagliuso and his sponsor, Turtle Plastics, based in Lorain, Ohio, will be racing for a great cause – the Laps for Legacy program – earning funds for the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation for every lap that he completes.
A test day on Thursday, July 25, will comprise three 40-minute sessions which will be followed on Friday by a half-hour of practice at 8:50 a.m., and the first of two 20-minute qualifying session to set the grid for Race One at 1:55 p.m. Saturday will commence with qualifying for Race Two at 8:35 a.m., then continue with Race One later in the day at 4:05 p.m. Race Two will see the green flag at 11:05 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.