By Steve Wittich
The Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires (formerly the Star / Pro Mazda Series) will be starting their season on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit for the sixth straight year.
Eight of the 21 seasons have started in St. Petersburg, Fla. Combine that with the ten times the series began their year at Sebring International Raceway and the series has begun the title chase in the Sunshine State 86% of the time.
Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires race winners on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.
|2018 Race #2||Rinus VeeKay||Juncos Racing||1|
|2018 Race #1||Rinus VeeKay||Juncos Racing||8|
|2017 Race #2||Anthony Martin||Cape Motorsports||1|
|2017 Race #1||Anthony Martin||Cape Motorsports||1|
|2016 Race #2||Aaron Telitz||Team Pelfrey||1|
|2016 Race #1||Patricio O’Ward||Team Pelfrey||1|
|2015 Race #2||Neil Alberico||Cape Motorsports||1|
|2015 Race #1||Neil Alberico||Cape Motorsports||1|
|2014 Race #2||Spencer Pigot||Juncos Racing||1|
|2014 Race #1||Spencer Pigot||Juncos Racing||1|
|2013 Race #2||Matthew Brabham||Andretti Autosport||5|
|2013 Race #1||Matthew Brabham||Andretti Autosport||8|
|2012 Race #2||Jack Hawksworth||Team Pelfrey||1|
|2012 Race #1||Connor De Phillippi||Juncos Racing||1|
|2011||Connor De Phillippi||Team Pelfrey||3|
|2010||Conor Daly||Juncos Racing||1|
Winning the season opener
Only seven drivers who stood on the top step of the podium in the season-opening Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires went on to win the championship. The 35% win percentage is the lowest of the three rungs of Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder.
The winner of the season-opening Indy Pro 2000 race may have only won the championship seven times, but has finished second another eight times. That leaves the average championship finishing position of 2.75 for first race winners.
Does previous experience matter?
The mix of veterans and rookies in Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, the middle rung of the Road To Indy, is almost an even split.
The 14 entries feature six veteran drivers and eight rookies Indy Pro 2000 drivers, with two of those newcomers making their Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires debuts in St. Petersburg, Fla. this weekend.
Almost half of the 20 title winners were true rookies, including Rinus VeeKay in 2018 and five of the last seven scholarship winners.
Race weekend basics
Each entry can utilize three new sets of Cooper Tire slicks as well as one set of used/scuffed tires from the test at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Race name: Grand Prix Of St. Petersburg Presented by Allied Building Products
Race #1 length: 25 laps or 40 minutes
Race #2 length: 30 laps or 40 minutes
Drivers failing to slow at least 15% in a timing sector with a local yellow will be subject to a two-place grid spot penalty
Drivers who fail to heed the checkered flag at the end of a session will receive a two-grid spot penalty
Causing one red flag will result in a driver losing their fastest lap
Causing a second red flag will wipe out all of drivers laps, and be parked for the remainder of the session
Driver points are distributed as follows: 30 – 25 – 22 – 19 – 17 – 15 -14 – 13 – 12 – 11 – 10 – 9 – 8 – 7 – 6 – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – an additional one point will be awarded to the pole sitter, to the driver who leads the most laps, and to the driver who turns the quickest race lap
Watch the 2018 races
- Drivers starting the NTT IndyCar Series in St. Petersburg, Fla. who raced on the middle rung of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder include Marco Andretti, Max Chilton, James Hinchcliffe, Spencer Pigot, Graham Rahal, and Zach Veach.
- Oliver Askew set the qualifying (68.1032 seconds) track record in 2018, and Sting Ray Robb set the race (68.5144) track record in 2018.
- There are no previous Indy Pro 2000 race winners or pole sitters in the field this year.
- Juncos Racing is the most successful Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires on the Streets of St. Petersburg. The Speedway, Ind. based team leads the wins, poles, podium, and laps led categories.
- The same team, but not necessarily the same driver, has won both races every year since 2012.
- An even dozen of the 16 race winners in St. Petersburg, Fla. have started the race on the pole, and the average finishing position of the pole sitter is 1.5. With a couple of excellent passing opportunities, it is indeed not necessary to start on the pole as Rinus VeeKay proved last year. The winner of Race #1 started on the outside of the fourth row in eighth place.
- All 16 races have finished under green flag conditions and Rinus VeeKay’s narrow 0.3309-second victory over Parker Thompson in Race #1 last year was the closest finish at the circuit.
Team and driver previews
We’ll start our Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires preview with the team who won the driver’s title with Rinus VeeKay and also dominated the team title.
The Ricardo Juncos led squad has won four Indy Pro 2000 titles in the last nine years with drivers Conor Daly (2010), Spencer Pigot (2015), Victor Franzoni (2016), and Rinus VeeKay (2018).
The team with the instantly recognizable green, white and orange liveries has been hard to beat on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit with six wins, six poles, 16 podiums, and 114 laps led, to lead all teams.
In 2018, the team collected both wins, and the trio of drivers stood on four of the six possible steps of the podium.
The 2019 scholarship is down one driver from 2018, but the pair of 17-year-olds the team signed should be able to contend for the 2019 Indy Pro 2000 title.
Despite being only 17-years-old, Sting Ray Robb will be starting his third season of Indy Pro 2000 action. The Idahoan has made 28 starts with one podium and one fastest lap.
Robb led the last pre-season test and is excited to join the proven Juncos Racing driver development program.
“The results don’t lie, they’ve proven what they can do,” explained the Payette High School senior about the team’s proven record is delivering drivers to the NTT IndyCar Series. “It’s a big confidence builder. You’ve got examples like Rinus (VeeKay) and Robert (Megennis) last year. You could see them develop throughout the season and they won a lot of races.”
In four races on the Streets of St. Petersburg, the 2018 MRTI Kids on Track Spirit Award winner has finished no worse than 7th and hold the race track record.
Rasmus Lindh, who made his Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires debut with Pabst Racing in USF2000 last year had three poles, five podiums, and three fastest race laps which garnered the Gothenburg, Sweden a second place finish behind runaway USF2000 champion, Kyle Kirkwood.
Lindh, formerly a world-ranked karter, had the second quickest average race lap in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship field last year and started in the first two rows of the grid in 11 of 14 races.
Speaking of Kirkwood, the winner of 27 of 31 open wheel races across the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship and F3 Americas Championship Powered By Honda will be joining Italian team RP Motorsport.
The squad has won five of the last seven driver championships, and six of the previous seven team championships in the Formula 3 derived Euroformula Open Championship and its predecessor, the European F3 Open Championship.
The team had a successful inaugural American campaign with Harrison Scott winning twice and three different drivers helping the team collect eight top-five finishes.
When we asked the 20-year-old Kirkwood whether he had to temper his expectations after such a dominating season, he gave us a measured response saying:
“Of course you want to do it. I’m going to have the same mentality that I had last year, just going into it with no expectations. Obviously, there are expectations from other people around, but I’m trying to ignore those because it’s a new team, new car, new tire.
“Everything is different, and the only knowledge that I have going into this is the series, a couple of the competitors and tracks. It’s all a learning curve, and I have no expectations. If we don’t come out of the gate strong, it won’t scare me away from thinking I’m going to do really well in the championship.”
Kirkwood won the first race of the USF2000 season, but his second race was the only time he did not finish on the series podium in 2018.
The Jupiter, Fla. native will have an experienced teammate to help with the transition to Indy Pro 2000.
Damiano Fioravanti, who moved to cars in 2013 after stand-out karting career has been part of four Euroformula Open campaigns, including a fifth and seventh place championship finish while driving for RP Motorsport.
The 22-year-old from Rome, Italy contested the 2017 World Series Formula V8 3.5 Championship before becoming a race winner in the GT3 Pro Category of International GT Open.
The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan based Exclusive Autosport just missed out on the driver’s championship with Parker Thompson in 2018 in their first season of competition in Indy Pro 2000
This year, the Michael Duncalfe owned, and Mirl Swan managed team returns with a three-car effort.
The first signee for the team was veteran Nikia Lastochkin, who will be making his 60th Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires start on Friday. The Russian born resident of Los Angeles, Calif. has two podiums and 11 top fives in Indy Pro 2000 action.
The 28-year-old who had a productive off-season of testing has taken the green flag on Runway 7/25 of the Albert Whited Airport on eight occasions, finishing between fifth and tenth in every race.
The second driver for Exclusive Autosport is Danial Frost, who has wins in the MRF Challenge – Formula Challenge, the Formula 4 South East Asia Championship, and the Formula Masters Asian Series made seven Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship starts with the team last year.
“Last year we came into USF2000 just focusing on learning the car and the tracks,” explained the 17-year-old from Singapore. “Last year I took a long break and just wanted to get back in the rhythm, knowing we wanted to do the Indy Pro 2000 season. We’ve always had this plan.
“We’ve come back at our strongest. We’re hoping that this year that we will be fighting for the championship. This weekend (at the Homestead-Miami Speedway test) we had strong results. We were P1 in session 3 & 4, so the car has the potential, and I have the potential to be up there. I think we have a good chance of being up there with the other guys.”
Rounding out Exclusive Autosport’s trio is Texan Parker Locke.
The 2017 graduate of the Lucas Oil Formula Car Race Series has completed two seasons of the F4 United States Championship Powered By Honda, a partial season of F3 Americas Championship Powered By Honda and most recently took part in the 2019 Castrol Toyota Racing Series in New Zealand.
DEForce Racing made their Road To Indy debut at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in the Indy Pro 2000 category in 2016 with the same pair of 21-year-olds, Moisés de la Vara and Kory Enders, that will be on the grid for the Grand Prix Of St. Petersburg Presented by Allied Building Products doubleheader.
“I’ve known Ernesto and David Martinez since karting days,” explained de la Vara when asked what it’s been like to grow with the Angleton, Texas squad since the beginning of their joint Road To Indy adventure. ‘I’ve been driving with them every step of the way. We were there at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for their first race and my first race on the Road To Indy. Now three years together in Indy Pro 2000 to hunt down that championship.’
The San Antonio, Texas resident who has contested eight previous races in Indy Pro 2000, along with 12 in USF2000, has worked hard in the off-season, losing 25 pounds since his last race at Portland International Raceway on Labor Day Weekend last year.
“That’s what we’re here for this year,” said the 6’ 2” driver. “We’ve been preparing for months. DEForce Racing has been working very hard and so have I. We’re looking forward to the start of the season. I couldn’t be more excited.”
The Guadalajara, Mexico born driver has contested three seasons of the FIA Formula 4 North And Central American Championship. de la Vera finished the season in third place in 2017 before taking home the title last year. He won 13 races and stood on the podium 24 times in three seasons of competition. de La Vara also made 21 starts across two seasons of F4 United States Championship Powered By Honda.
Completing the Texas connection for DEForce Racing is Kory Enders, a veteran of 33 Road To Indy starts. (28 in USF2000 and five in Indy Pro 2000).
The Sugarland, Texas-based driver had 14 top tens, four high fives and scored his first career podium in the season-ending USF2000 event at Portland International Raceway.
Enders was once a nationally ranked online chess player and gifted musician.
Abel Motorsports might be relatively new to the American junior open-wheel ranks, but the team founded by noted vintage racer Bill Abel is as experienced as they come.
Experienced Abel Motorsports engineer Ian Brown’s resume includes stints in Indy car (Budweiser King Racing, Patrick Racing), V8 Australian Supercars, and in many iterations of the Road To Indy (Andretti Autosport, AFS Racing, Bryan Herta Autosport, Forsythe Racing, and Guthrie-Meyer Racing).
The team made their debut on Road To Indy last year and have contested the 2017 and 2018 F4 United States Championship Powered By Honda and the 2018 F3 Americas Championship Powered By Honda. F3 champion Kyle Kirkwood won 15 of 17 races while driving for the Louisville, Ky. based team.
Confirmed for a full-season is soon to be 18-year-old who celebrates a birthday on Saturday, March 9. Despite his young age, Abel has made 49 open-wheel starts across USF2000 (7), F3 Americas Championship Powered By Honda (11) and F4 United States Championship Powered By Honda (31).
The Louisville, Ky. born and based driver only began karting four years ago and has Road To Indy veteran Shelby Blackstock as his driver coach.
Abel will be joined at the season-opening event by Parker Thompson. The Canadian has ten wins, nine poles, 24 podiums and 13 fastest race laps in a career spanning three seasons of USF2000 and one season of Indy Pro 2000 action.
The 21-year-old is only confirmed for the season-opening pair of races, but the driver who was part of new USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 programs at Exclusive Autosport is excited to help Abel Motorsports kick start their program on the middle rung of the Road To Indy.
“Nothing gets me more excited than working with a group of guys that want to get better,” said the Red Deer, Alberta, Canada native. “I look at the Abel Motorsports group. They are a fantastic group to work with – you can call them rookies to the series – but not to racing. These guys have a lot of history of winning, and we’re just trying to carry that into their season here in 2019 in the Indy Pro 2000 category. “
Thompson has made eight starts on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit, collecting one pole, a pair of podiums, five top-five finishes and one fastest race lap.
Fatboy Racing, the Locust Valley, New York-based team led by former racer Brandan Puderbach have taken their program to the next level.
The team has brought in a number of experienced crew and for the first time has hired an engineer, the experienced Cooper Ring.
A lawyer by day, gentleman racer by weekend Charles Finelli will return for another season of action with the team he co-founded. Finelli is a veteran of 22 Road To Indy starts and for the first time will have an up-and-coming driver that Finelli met while racing in Europe.
Finelli teamed with Phillipe Denes in a sports car race and had so much fun with the young driver; he decided he wanted him as a teammate for the upcoming Indy Pro 2000 season.
The 19-year-old made starts in USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 in 2017, with a best finish of fifth on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The Carmel, Calif. resident calls WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca his home track and spent 2018 racing in the International GT Open Series in Europe.
Pserra Racing is a family run Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires team that will race under the Jay Howard Driver Development tent in Indy Pro 2000.
The pilot of the bright red No. 11 PM-18 will be 16-year-old Antonio Serravalle who contest nine races in Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires series in 2018 with Exclusive Autosport.
The Markham, Ontario native, who was an internationally ranked shifter-kart pilot has a goal of becoming the youngest driver in the NTT IndyCar Series.
Don’t miss any of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires action:
- download the Road To Indy TV app from the Apple App Store or on Google Play to get video, audio, timing & scoring, news from TSO Ladder and much more – you can also get Road To Indy TV via Apple TV, Amazon Video, Roku or Microsoft Xbox One
- IndyCar Radio will have all of your Indy Lights action at IndyCar Race Control, indycarradio.com, the tune-in app and website, XM Channel 209, Sirius Channel 216, Web Channel 970, or the Sirius / XM app
- Indy Lights races will be available for view with the purchase in the USA with the purchase of the NBC Gold IndyCar Package
- Outside of the USA, you’ll be able to watch the Indy Lights races on all of the Road To Indy TV app delivery options, Indy Lights YouTube channel, and Road To Indy TV Facebook page
- live timing – Road To Indy TV – Indy Lights – Pro Mazda – USF2000 – IndyCar Race Control
- on twitter – TSO Ladder – Team Cooper Tire – Road To Indy TV – Indy Lights – Indy Pro 2000 – USF2000
- on all social media channels via the #TeamCooperTire and #RoadToIndy hashtags
- please subscribe to the following YouTube channels: Road To Indy TV for a post-race weekend wrap-up show, and USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 for previous races.