After two epically entertaining Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires races to start the Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio Presented by Cooper Tires Honoring First Responders midweek event, it would not have been a shock if the final race was a snoozer.
Juncos Racing veteran Sting Ray Robb and the 16 other drivers made sure that wasn’t the case. Robb, who made his Indy Pro 2000 debut in 2017, drove from fifth to victory lane to celebrate an emotional first win.
“I started crying halfway through the in-lap, so that’s the only explanation I have for the emotions right now,” exclaimed Robb. “It’s almost overwhelming. All this time we’ve been waiting and working hard and finally, our day came. I’m so thankful for all the opportunities I’ve gotten in the Road to Indy the last few years. The car was stellar, we should have been on pole, but we were able to get into the lead and hold on. But Hunter was hot on my tail, huge props to him.”
Throughout his first four races of the season, rookie Hunter McElrea (Pabst Racing) had an average finish of 11.1. That slow start was a big surprise for a driver who stood on the USF2000 a dozen times in the previous season. It was also inevitable that a 20-year-old would find his way back to the pointy end of the grid. McElrea started the final race of the event on the inside of the fourth row but would make several impressive overtakes to finish second.
“That was a fun race. It’s been a really, really tough start to the season, so to have some momentum now, to be back where we belong and to show what we’ve got, it feels good,” said an obviously relieved McElrea. “It feels like a mini-win, since we chased Sting Ray down from so far back. It’s hard to pass here but in this race, I was able to get after it and get my elbows out a bit. Congrats to Sting Ray, I’m happy for him. It’s great to see him get his first win, even though I’d have liked to steal it from him! We’ll take this momentum back here next week and do it even better.”
Pole-sitter Jacob Loomis, who started on used tires after taking the gamble to bolt on fresh boots in Race #2, lost the lead on the first lap, but hung around for the entire race, crossing the line in third place.
Unfortunately, after the race, Loomis and his No. 36 from the BN Racing with Team Benik stable was disqualified for running afoul of rule 14.31.1. The rule states that the minimum car weight shall include all fuel, lubricants, coolants, cameras, driver weight, and meet the following minimums: 1285 pounds.
Loomis’ disqualification promoted Andretti Steinbrenner Racing rookie Devlin DeFrancesco into the final podium spot. It also moved the pilot of the WTF1.com sponsored No. 17 into the points leads by a single point.
With four different winners and eight different podium visitors through the first five races of the season, it should be no surprise that the title fight for an advancement scholarship to Indy Lights has the top five separated by a slim 14 point margin.
Points after the first five races of the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires season
|2||Sting Ray Robb||106|
|11||Moisés de la Vara||55|
Pole-sitter Loomis got through Turn 1 first as the 17 PM-18s made their way uphill on the long run to Turn 2, where chaos ensued. Race #1 winner Braden Eves (Exclusive Autosport) contacted another driver and was forced to come to the pit lane for repairs. He was able to get on track without losing a lap and worked his way back up to finish in ninth.
Further back in the field, Nate Aranda (Juncos Racing) and Sabre Cook (BN Racing with Team Benik) got tangled up. It looked like the issues might bring out a yellow flag, but all the drivers involved were able to re-fire their Elite Engine prepared 2.0L engines, and the race remained under green.
Meanwhile, upfront, Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing), Loomis, and Frost barreled three-wide into Turn 4, with the Slick Locks sponsored No. 19 of Kaminsky arriving at “Madness” with the lead.
The running order after the first lap was: Kaminsky (Colin), Frost, Loomis, Robb, Kory Enders (DEForce Racing), Petrov, McElrea, DeFrancesco, Manuel Sulaiman (DEForce Racing), Parker Thompson (DEForce Racing), Charles Finelli (Fatboy Racing!), Bob Kaminsky (Pabst Racing), Antoine Comeau (Turn 3 Motorsport), Eves, Cook and Aranda.
Kaminsky’s lead to start lap 3 was 0.6 seconds over Frost, and on that same lap, Robb moved past Loomis for third. Further back, race #2 winner Artem Petrov dropped down the running order, coming to pit road for repairs from the Juncos Racing crew. They were able to get him back out on track on the lead lap, and the Russian was able to work his way back up to the eighth spot.
On Lap 4, Frost went to the outside of Kaminsky on the run downhill to Turn 4, and the two drivers went side-by-side through the next five corners. The pair reached Thunder Valley side-by-side, but they made contact, sliding into the grass. Both drivers were able to crawl to pit road, negating a full course caution.
That gave the lead to Robb, who had started in fifth place, while also promoting Loomis and Enders into podium positions.
On Lap 8, McElrea locked up the left front Cooper Tire on his Giltrap Group/Miles Advisory Partners/Doric NZ/Bell sponsored No. 18 in the downhill braking zone for Turn 4, but he was able to make a pass of Enders to move into third.
To start Lap 11, Robb’s lead over Loomis was 1.9 seconds, with the pole sitter facing immense pressure from McElrea. Enders was fourth but had his mirrors full of DeFrancesco.
On Lap 13, McElrea dove to the inside of Loomis in Turn 4, executing a text-book pass and setting out after Robb and the lead.
On the next lap, DeFrancesco made another pass, moving past Enders into fourth. Veteran Thompson, who started a disappointing tenth, gained his fourth spot of the race to move into sixth.
As Robb crossed the start-finish line to start Lap 15, the timing screen lit up green as he set his quickest lap of the race. But, immediately behind him, McElrea went even quicker, narrowing the lead to 1.3 seconds with ten laps remaining. The chase was well and thoroughly on now.
On Lap 17, Robb expertly negotiated lapped traffic and crossed the line with a 1.5-second advantage with seven laps left in the 25-lap event finale.
With five laps remaining, McElrea had whittled the lead down to just over one second. Loomis was 4.1 seconds adrift of the American-born Kiwi with DeFrancesco 1.5 seconds behind the BN Racing with Team Benik driver.
Over the next three laps, the driver turned similar lap times, with McElrea only able to gain a tenth of a second over the three circuits.
McElrea made some headway on the penultimate lap and took the white flag only 0.6 seconds behind Robb, who was dealing with lapped traffic as they made the long run to Turn 2. Robb, making his 49th career Indy Pro 2000 start had McElrea in his mirrors, but got a great drive off the 180-degree Turn 2 to make the rest of the lap a little less stressful.
Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio Presented by Cooper Tires Honoring First Responders Race #3 results
|1||2||Sting Ray Robb||Juncos Racing||25 LAPS|
|2||18||Hunter McElrea||Pabst Racing||-0.6377|
|3||17||Devlin DeFrancesco||Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport||-7.0262|
|4||9||Parker Thompson||DEForce Racing||-7.2521|
|5||7||Kory Enders||DEForce Racing||-14.1309|
|6||8||Manuel Sulaiman||DEForce Racing||-14.5984|
|7||3||Antoine Comeau||Turn 3 Motorsport||-40.4328|
|8||42||Artem Petrov||Juncos Racing||-54.2496|
|9||1||Braden Eves||Exclusive Autosport||-67.5025|
|10||57||Bob Kaminsky||Pabst Racing||-1 LAP|
|11||68||Danial Frost||Turn 3 Motorsport||-1 LAP|
|12||6||Moises de la Vara||DEForce Racing||-2 LAPS|
|13||69||Nate Aranda||Juncos Racing||-2 LAPS|
|14||83||Charles Finelli||FatBoy Racing||-4 LAPS|
|15||37||Sabre Cook||BN Racing with Team Benik||-11 LAPS|
|16||19||Colin Kaminsky||Pabst Racing||-21 LAPS|
|DQ||36||Jacob Loomis||BN Racing with Team Benik||-5.5488|