By Road to Indy
All three levels of the highly acclaimed Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder are headed this weekend, July 11-13, to the cosmopolitan city of Toronto, Ont., Canada, as the supporting cast for the traditional and hugely popular NTT IndyCar Series headline event, the Honda Indy Toronto.
The Cooper Tires Grand Prix Presented by Allied Building Products takes place on a challenging 1.786-mile, 11-turn street circuit centered upon Exhibition Place, just a few miles from downtown. The weekend will comprise Rounds 10 and 11 of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, plus the eighth and ninth races of the season 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 13 different nations from five continents will be represented among the three championships.
Askew, VeeKay to Continue Rivalry
Five different winners have emerged from the opening half of the 18-race Indy Lights season, although Oliver Askew and Rinus VeeKay have established themselves as the mid-season favorite. At stake is a highly prized scholarship which will guarantee entry into at least three NTT IndyCar Series races in 2020, including the 104th Indianapolis 500.
Askew, 22, from Jupiter, Fla., and VeeKay, 18, from Hoofddorp, Netherlands, have been rivals since making the transition from hugely successful careers in karting to the Road to Indy in 2017. Askew emerged on top that first year, winning the USF2000 championship and a Mazda Scholarship to graduate into Indy Pro 2000 in 2018. But VeeKay gained his revenge in 2018 by winning the Indy Pro 2000 title and a scholarship valued at almost US$600,000 to compete this year in Indy Lights.
They have continued to be closely matched. Askew has won three times for Andretti Autosport and currently holds a narrow three-point advantage over VeeKay, who also has won three times for Juncos Racing, including the most recent race two weeks ago at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.
Both have fared well on the Toronto streets in the past. VeeKay scored a brace of USF2000 podium finishes on the pair’s first visit to Exhibition Place after Askew had qualified on pole for one of the races. Last year VeeKay swept both Indy Pro 2000 races from the pole as Askew established a new race lap record.
In the team stakes, Andretti won one of the two races in 2018 as Colton Herta posted new lap records for both qualifying and the race. One year earlier, Juncos Racing and Kyle Kaiser emerged on top in both races on their way to clinching the championship.
Askew’s Andretti Autosport teammates, Robert Megennis, from New York, N.Y., and Ryan Norman, from Aurora, Ohio, also have tasted the fruits of victory this year. One year ago, Norman finished third and fourth in the two Toronto races and is keen to build upon that experience this week.
Another former race winner, Aaron Telitz, is set to return to the Indy Lights fray this week with Belardi Auto Racing. Telitz, from Birchwood, Wis., has finished on the Toronto podium each of the past two years in Indy Lights, and in 2017 swept both Indy Pro 2000 race wins on his way to securing the championship.
Dalton Kellett is another contender who is especially looking forward to the Cooper Tires Grand Prix Presented by Allied Building Products. Kellett hails originally from Stouffville, Ont., and is coming off a victory in his LMP2 sports car debut in last weekend’s IMSA championship at nearby Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Kellett, who joins VeeKay at Juncos Racing, scored a pair of fifth-place Indy Lights finishes in 2018.
The weekend will begin with a 40-minute practice session at 10:10 a.m. EDT on Friday, July 12. The first 30-minute qualifying session at 8:40 a.m. on Saturday will set the grid for Race One at 12:45 p.m., while a separate period of qualifying at 8:15 a.m. on Sunday will form the grid for Race Two at 11:00 a.m.
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.
Canadian Thompson Seeks Indy Pro 2000 Glory
The outcome of this year’s Indy Pro 2000 championship and a scholarship to graduate into Indy Lights for 2020 remains finely poised as the series heads to the Cooper Tires Grand Prix Presented by Allied Building Products for the mid-point in its 16-race season. Four different drivers representing four different teams – Parker Thompson (Abel Motorsports), from Red Deer, Alb., Sweden’s Rasmus Lindh (Juncos Racing), Singaporean Danial Frost (Exclusive Autosport) and Kyle Kirkwood (RP Motorsport Racing), from Jupiter, Fla. – have shared top honors in each of the four race weekends held thus far.
Intriguingly, all four protagonists have enjoyed success previously on the Toronto streets. Even though he hails from Alberta, Thompson, who swept both street course races in St. Petersburg, Fla., earlier this year, still regards the Exhibition Place circuit as a “home” event, and he can expect plenty of nationalistic support as he looks to repeat his double USF2000 victory in 2017.
Thompson currently holds second place in the points table, 29 adrift of leader Lindh, who won twice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix road course in May. Lindh, who celebrated his 18th birthday earlier this week (July 6), posted the fastest race lap, including a new track record, on his only other appearance in Toronto last year in USF2000.
Lindh’s primary rival one year ago was Kirkwood, who won both USF2000 races on his way to securing the championship with a record-breaking sequence of 11 wins. Kirkwood is the hottest driver on the Indy Pro 2000 trail after winning the two most recent races at Road America.
Even Frost, who dominated the oval race in May at Lucas Oil Raceway for Michael Duncalfe’s Canadian-based Exclusive Autosport team, has good reason to look forward to this weekend’s races after earning a best finish of fourth last year on the Toronto streets during a partial season in USF2000.
Other leading contenders from among a high-quality field will include Lindh’s Juncos Racing teammate, Sting Ray Robb, from Payette, Idaho, who already has three podium finishes to his name this year and is anxiously seeking his first-ever victory; and Kirkwood’s Guatemalan teammate, Ian Rodriguez, who impressed by finishing second and fourth last month at Road America.
Antonio Serravalle, from Toronto, will be looking to improve upon his season best of a pair of seventh-place finishes for his family-run Pserra Racing Limited team.
In addition to fielding a pair of cars for Phillippe Denes and Charles Finelli, FatBoy Racing sponsor Surgere, an 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, a Toronto-based, accessibility-focused charity whose aim is to create a barrier-free world, one ramp at a time. More details at www.StopGap.ca.
The Indy Pro 2000 contenders will have a busy time on Friday with a 25-minute practice session at 8:45 a.m. followed by a pair of 20-minute qualifying sessions at 2:05 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Race One is set to start at 9:25 a.m. on Saturday, with the green flag for Race Two scheduled for 9:55 a.m. on Sunday.
Eves Back on the Winning Trail in USF2000
Braden Eves has taken this year’s USF2000 championship by storm. The 20-year-old former karting star from New Albany, Ohio, dipped a toe in the water last year by contesting the season finale at Portland (Ore.) International Raceway, then hit the ground running on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., in March after joining the multiple and defending championship-winning Cape Motorsports team. Eves also swept the two races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix road circuit in May.
His winning streak came to an end on the Lucas Oil Raceway oval, where Australian Cameron Shields scored an impressive victory for Newman Wachs Racing, and he had to give best to another first-time winner, New Zealand’s Hunter McElrea (Pabst Racing), in the first of two races at Road America, Wis., last month. But Eves bounced back to win the second race and now has a legitimate hope of trying to emulate – or even beat – Kirkwood’s record of 12 wins last year. Eves holds a handy 51-point advantage over McElrea with seven of this year’s 15 races in the books.
Born in Southern California to New Zealand parents and raised in Australia, where he won a Formula Ford 1600 Championship last year – and then went on to claim the Mazda USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout – McElrea also has impressed this year with Pabst Racing. He began the year with four consecutive podium finishes and followed up a well-deserved maiden victory at Road America in Race One with his first pole in Race Two.
Pabst teammate Colin Kaminsky, from Homer Glen, Ill., is still seeking his first win but his recent results, including pole positions at Lucas Oil Raceway and Road America, suggest it might be just around the corner.
Eves’ teammate, Floridian Darren Keane, has been seemingly a magnet for misfortune during the first half of the season. Nevertheless, he has confirmed his pace with a pole, three fastest race laps and a pair of second-place finishes.
After learning his craft in F4 the past two years both in England and Mexico, Manuel Sulaiman has shown good speed for DEForce Racing, finishing twice on the podium in the opening three races. The Mexican has been pushed hard since then by 14-year-old karting standout Jak Crawford, from Houston, Texas, who, despite his tender years (he was too young to compete in the opening races at St. Petersburg, Fla.), also has been building his experience in the NACAM F4 series, winning four times and currently lying second in the points table to Sulaiman.
Other contenders will include Denmark’s Christian Rasmussen, who represents the driver development team run by former USF2000 and Indy Lights champion Jay Howard; Brazilian second-generation racer Eduardo Barrichello (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports); Englishman Matt Round-Garrido (BN Racing); Zach Holden, from Greenfield, Ind., already a podium finisher this year who joins the Indianapolis-based Legacy Autosport team this weekend for the first time; and another pair of 14-year-olds, Reece Gold (Cape Motorsports), from Puerto Rico, and Nolan Siegel (Newman Wachs Racing), from California.
Friday, July 12, will include both an early morning 30-minute practice session at 8:00 a.m. and qualifying for the first of two USF2000 races later in the day at 2:40 p.m. A second qualifying session will commence at 8:05 a.m. on Saturday, followed by Race One at 11:20 a.m. The green flag for Race Two on Sunday is set for 9:00 a.m.
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.