With the eyes of the open-wheel racing world centered on Indianapolis during the month of May, the future stars of the NTT IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500 gain a spotlight of their own this week as the two junior levels of the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires head to Lucas Oil Raceway for the traditional Dave Steele Carb Night Classic – “The Race Before the 500” – and the Cooper Tires Freedom 90 and Freedom 75.
Competitors in the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship will both have an opportunity to garner some headlines at the fast and challenging 0.686-mile high-banked oval situated just a few miles west of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Brownsburg, Ind. The action-packed evening on Friday, May 24, also will include Round Five of the USAC Silver Crown Championship in which 2016 series champion Chris Windom, from Canton, Ill., will be competing just hours after making his eagerly anticipated Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires debut in the Freedom 100 Presented by Cooper Tires at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Frost Chases First Indy Pro 2000 Win
Two drivers have dominated proceedings in the opening two weekends of the Indy Pro 2000 season. Canadian Parker Thompson (Abel Motorsports) swept both races on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., in March, while Sweden’s Rasmus Lindh (Juncos Racing) mirrored that feat a couple of weeks ago on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix road course.
A third contender, Danial Frost, doesn’t yet have a win to his name but the 17-year-old rookie has proven himself to be a major force. Frost, from Singapore, guided his Exclusive Autosport Tatuus PM-18 to three podium finishes in a row following a fourth-place result on his St. Petersburg debut. He then displayed sizzling pace on his oval debut during the recent open test at Lucas Oil Raceway, marking himself as a firm favorite for honors in Friday night’s Cooper Tires Freedom 90. The team will be seeking its second straight win at Lucas Oil Raceway following an emphatic victory last year for Parker Thompson.
“I did a lot of sim work before I came here, to prepare as much as possible,” said Frost, who completed more laps than anyone else, 208, and comfortably topped the speed charts in all three test sessions. “It’s difficult, coming from the road course at Indianapolis to the oval at Lucas Oil. (Turning) 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.”
Despite that, Frost ended the test day almost a half-second faster than his closest rival, although the remainder of a closely matched field was covered by almost exactly the same margin.
Teammate Nikita Lastochkin, from Los Angeles, Calif., underlined the potency of the Exclusive Autosport team by posting the second-fastest time, narrowly edging out Mexican Moises de la Vara (DEForce Racing). Kyle Kirkwood (RP Motorsport USA), from Jupiter, Fla., who bossed last year’s USF2000 race at Lucas Oil Raceway en route to the championship, Jacob Abel (Abel Motorsports), from Louisville, Ky., and series points leader Lindh also set times within a tenth of a second of Lastochkin.
Lindh’s teammate, Sting Ray Robb, from Payette, Idaho, was only another tenth of a second slower in seventh, while Thompson, last year’s winner, turned the eighth fastest time at the test.
The teams will return to Lucas Oil Raceway on Thursday, May 23, for practice (4:15 p.m.) and qualifying (6:45 p.m.), with the green flag for Friday’s 90-lap race set for 7:50 p.m. EDT after a final practice session at 4:30 p.m.
Eves Seeks to Maintain 100 Percent Record
In stark contrast to last week’s Indy Pro test at Lucas Oil Raceway, no clear favorite emerged when the USF2000 contenders conducted their own one-day test at the high-banked, high-commitment oval. In fact, 16 of the 19 cars turned laps within a third of a second of each other.
Nevertheless, given his perfect four-for-four start to the season – plus the fact his Cape Motorsports team has won five of the seven most recent events at Lucas Oil Raceway – rookie Braden Eves, from New Albany, Ohio, will have a target on his back as he attempts to keep his streak alive.
“Our test last week went pretty well,” related Eves. “We weren’t the fastest but that wasn’t the goal. We just wanted to learn about the track and make sure we are as well-prepared as possible going into the race.”
Eves, who was sixth fastest overall at the test, just 0.1336 shy of the benchmark, will have to fend off equally highly rated teammate Darren Keane, who perhaps began to turn around a difficult start to the season with a strong second-place finish two weeks ago on the Indianapolis road course. Teenager Reece Gold will drive a third Cape Motorsports Tatuus USF-17.
Fastest of all at the test was Mexican Manuel Cabrera, who is also looking to turn around his fortunes following a tough start to his campaign with Exclusive Autosport. Cabrera has a best finish of 11th to his name from the opening four races, despite showing good speed on the road course when he qualified fourth fastest for Race One. The test also was a case of good news and bad news. Cabrera set the best time of all in the first session but took no further part in the proceedings after overstepping the limit and crashing mere moments before the checkered flag.
Wisconsin-based Pabst Racing, which guided Jake Eidson to victory at Lucas Oil Raceway in 2015, also enjoyed a strong test with three of its four drivers among the top five. Yuven Sundaramoorthy, from Oconomowoc, Wis., led the way, merely 0.0033-seconds slower than Cabrera and fractionally ahead of Colin Kaminsky, from Homer Glen, Ill., and Mazda Road to Indy Scholarship winner Hunter McElrea, from Gold Coast, Australia. McElrea, who also won last year’s Australian Formula Ford Championship, has enjoyed an excellent start to his North American career with four consecutive podium finishes.
Also well to the fore in testing was 14-year-old Jak Crawford, from Houston, Texas. Crawford, who made an impressive series debut at Indianapolis with DEForce Racing, finishing fourth in Race Two, was quickest of all in the final session and ended the day with the fourth fastest time overall.
Jack William Miller, from Carmel, Ind., also found time in the final period, ending the session second fastest only to Crawford for the Indianapolis-based Miller Vinatieri Motorsports team.
The only oval event of the USF2000 season will commence with 30 minutes of practice on Thursday afternoon, followed by qualifying at 6:00 p.m. EDT. The 75-lap Cooper Tires Freedom 75 will kick off the proceedings on Friday, May 24, with the green flag set for 6:45 p.m. after a final practice session at 4:05 p.m.
Both the Cooper Tires Freedom 90 and Cooper Tires Freedom 75 will be live streamed globally on RoadToIndy.TV, the Road to Indy TV App and the series respective websites at indypro2000.com and usf2000.com.