By Steve Wittich
For the first time in his short Road To Indy career, Devlin DeFrancesco made the trip to victory lane, beating Braden Eves to the crossed checkers by 0.7651.
The Andretti Steinbrenner Racing rookie extended his points lead to 25 points over Sting Ray Robb, who finished fourth at World Wide Technology Raceway At Gateway.
With a daring last-lap pass, reigning USF2000 champion Braden Eves, grabbed second place, his second podium the year, and the 11th of his Road To Indy career.
Crossing the line in third place was Robb’s Juncos Racing teammate Petrov. Finishing in a distant fifth place was Turn 3 Motorsport veteran Danial Frost.
DeFrancesco’s lead over Robb is 25 points, but the next four drivers, Robb (158), Eves (154), Frost (153), and Petrov (151), are separated by only seven points.
The 15 Elite Engines prepared 2.0L 275hp engines for the 55-lap Indy Pro 2000 Oval Challenge of St. Louis Presented by Cooper Tires were fired at 1:55 pm.
After two pace laps, the front row of DeFrancesco and Petrov led the field to the green flag under cloudy skies at World Wide Technology Raceway At Gateway.
The No. 17 Andretti Steinbrenner Racing machine of DeFrancesco got a great jump with Petrov sliding into second, with Robb and Frost grabbing third and fourth. The field got cleanly through the first lap.
The running order at the end of the first lap was: Devlin DeFrancesco, Artem Petrov, Sting Ray Robb, Danial Frost, Braden Eves, Manuel Sulaiman, Parker Thompson, Hunter McElrea, Colin Kaminsky, Moisés de la Vara, Kory Enders, Antoine Comeau, Jacob Abel, Kody Swanson, and Charles Finelli.
Frost was able to get back by Robb for third on the second lap.
After four laps, the most significant early mover was Jacob Abel, who had moved from 13th to ninth. The biggest loser was McElrea, who had lost four spots from his eighth-place starting position.
On Lap 6, Robb went back to third with an inside pass of Frost in Turn 3 and Turn 4. Right behind them, Eves was able to get past Sulaiman and Frost, to move up to fourth.
With ten laps remaining, Petrov was only a half-second behind the leader, with Robb, who had just turned the quickest lap of the race within one second of the leader.
On Lap 12, Thompson moved to sixth, getting by his DEForce Racing teammate Sulaiman.
By lap 15, the front four of DeFrancesco, Petrov, Robb, and Eves had formed a four-car breakaway. They were all within one second and had 2.5 seconds over Frost in fifth.
On Lap 16, the lead group came upon the lapped car of Finelli. That allowed Eves a chance to get side-by-side with Robb. The two Americans went side by side for the next six corners before Eves dropped back in behind Robb.
At the same time, Petrov was able to get side-by-side with DeFrancesco before thinking better of it and falling into line.
On Lap 20, Eves took another look to Robb’s inside in Turn 1, but with the better exit, Robb was quicker down the back straight.
On Lap 24, Eves turned the race’s quickest lap to that point, putting immense pressure back on Robb.
At lap 25, the gap upfront between DeFrancesco and Petrov was still only 0.4953 seconds.
On Lap 26, Petrov, Robb, and Eves were in a bunch, going three-wide into Turn 3. Robb was able to get the move done on his teammate.
On Lap 27, Robb got balked by a lapped car, which allowed Petrov to shoot a gap and move back to second.
The battling for second, third, and fourth, allowed DeFrancesco to pull a 0.8472-second gap, the most comfortable lead of the race.
Eves took another look at Robb on Lap 32, but again, could not get a good enough run to complete the pass.
On Lap 32, Petrov had caught back up with DeFrancesco, but the Canadian could find a little more in his Cooper Tires and turned his quickest lap of the race on Lap 34.
With 20 laps left, the top four were separated by only 1.2 seconds. The front four had a 4.3-second gap to Frost in fifth.
Over the next five laps, the gap between DeFrancesco and Petrov was a constant 0.5 seconds. Behind the front pair, Eves was still tremendous pressure on Robb, continually looking to the inside of Turn 1.
Robb used a broader line to get a better drive off Turn 2 then Eves and was able to hold on to the spot.
With ten laps remaining, DeFrancesco’s lead was 0.6 seconds, with the top four still departed by less than a second.
On that lap, Eves went back to the bottom in Turn 1, and the two drivers went side-by-side down the back straight and into Turn 3. Once again, Robb’s line allowed him to get a better drive off the corner.
On Lap 48, Eves was finally able to get by Robb, diving to the inside of the No. 2 Juncos Racing machine in Turn 3.
With five laps remaining, DeFrancesco’s lead over Petrov was 0.7 seconds, but the Russian had to defend from Eves, who went to the inside in Turn 1.
With two laps left, the top three were separated by only a half-second. On the final lap, Eves got a get run off Turn 2 and drove around the outside of Petrov in Turn 3 and Turn 4, and winning the drag race to the line. That final lap of the race by Eves was the quickest lap of the race, grabbing the single bonus point for collecting that honor.
After winning his Road To Indy debut, five-time USAC Silver Crown champion Kody Swanson, driving again for Legacy Autosport, found the sledding a little more challenging at World Wide Technology Raceway At Gateway. Swanson gained two spots after starting 14th, bring home the No. 20 in 12th.
The race’s biggest mover was Turn 3 Motorsport’s Antoine Comeau, who started 12th and finished eighth.
Unofficial Results Indy Pro 2000 Oval Challenge of St. Louis Presented by Cooper Tires
|1||17||Devlin DeFrancesco||Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport|
|2||1||Braden Eves||Exclusive Autosport||-0.7651|
|3||42||Artem Petrov||Juncos Racing||-0.843|
|4||2||Sting Ray Robb||Juncos Racing||-1.2527|
|5||68||Danial Frost||Turn 3 Motorsport||-12.7964|
|6||9||Parker Thompson||DEForce Racing||-14.1515|
|7||8||Manuel Sulaiman||DEForce Racing||-14.2849|
|8||3||Antoine Comeau||Turn 3 Motorsport||-19.0602|
|9||7||Kory Enders||DEForce Racing||-27.1725|
|10||51||Jacob Abel||Abel Motorsports||-27.5233|
|11||18||Hunter McElrea||Pabst Racing||-1 LAP|
|12||20||Kody Swanson||Legacy Autosport||-1 LAP|
|13||19||Colin Kaminsky||Pabst Racing||-2 LAPS|
|14||83||Charles Finelli||FatBoy Racing||-3 LAPS|
|15||6||Moises de la Vara||DEForce Racing||-37 LAPS|