By Steve Wittich
For the 10th time since 2010, the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires heads to the 0.686-mile Lucas Oil Raceway (LOR) oval for the annual Carb Night Classic.
The ultra jam-packed title fight for the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires championship and advancement scholarship for a ride in Indy Lights, features the five drivers separated by a slim 13 points and four more drivers within striking distance.
Indy Pro 2000 points standings
|2||Sting Ray Robb||106||-1|
|11||Moisés de la Vara||55||-52|
Current points leader, Andretti Steinbrenner Racing rookie Devlin DeFrancesco, will be making his first start on an oval, but does have an experienced group of crew supporting him. He also recently completed an oval test at Toledo Speedway.
Andretti Autosport won the final three Indy Pro 2000 (Pro Mazda) races they contested at LOR. The Canadian born driver’s race engineer Doug Zister has six Freedom 100 wins with Wade Cunningham (three times), Josef Newgarden, Colton Herta, and Oliver Askew.
“I’ve been talking a lot with my engineer Doug Zister, as well as Don Lambert from Andretti and watching a lot of video from previous races,” said the 20-year-old pilot of the WTF1.com sponsored No. 17. “I’ve also been lucky enough to have Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Kanaan to talk with about the experience.
“I’ve been really taking in everything they have to say and build a complete picture. I’ve done one day of testing on an oval, and that was great, different, but very enjoyable—but these guys have a lot more experience than I do! So anything they have to offer is so valuable.
“The most important piece of advice they gave me is to make sure to relax and enjoy it. They all talked about the importance of being calm and cool and collected and focused when you’re in the car.
“It’s true anytime you’re in the car, but especially during an oval race. I’ve just gotta go into the weekend and focus on the job at hand, stay calm in my approach and keep working like we have been during the first two weekends of the championship, I think we’ll come out with a good result.”
Only one point behind DeFrancesco and coming off his first career Indy Pro 2000 win at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is Juncos Racing veteran Sting Ray Robb. The 18-year-old from Payette, Idaho, who will make his sixth career Indy Pro 2000 oval start, started fourth and finished second after an impressive late-race pass of Rasmus Lindh at last year’s race at LOR.
Last year’s race winner at LOR, Danial Frost, begins the event only six points behind DeFrancesco, but this year is contesting the race with the Peter Dempsey led Turn 3 Motorsport. The team will be making only their second start on an oval after starting their season after this event last year.
“It was such a perfect weekend last year,” said Frost when asked about racing at LOR. “I really enjoyed racing there, and the biggest enjoyment was being at the front quite comfortably. The team gave me a great car and that enabled me to have the confidence to really push myself, to find the speed very quickly. Sometimes I may be pushing the limits, but that’s the only way to really find that speed – and it paid off last year.
“The key [to the championship] is to be consistent, to not make any mistakes. It will come down to the very end of the season, so we need to capitalize on every opportunity.”
Fourth place Artem Petrov, the only driver with a pair of wins this season, will be making his first trip to the 0.686-mile Lucas Oil Raceway oval. The Russian, who is only seven points behind DeFrancesco, did make an oval start at World Wide Technology Raceway At Gateway last year.
Exclusive Autosport, with Danial Frost and Parker Thompson, led every lap and won the last two Indy Pro 2000 races held at LOR. That should give reigning USF2000 champion Braden Eves, who is only 13 points out of the title, lead plenty of confidence headed into Friday nights race.
Lurking just outside of the top five on the championship points table are a pair of DEForce Racing pilots – Thompson and Manuel Sulaiman – and a pair of Pabst Racing pilots – Hunter McElrea and Colin Kaminsky.
The Angleton, Texas-based DEForce Racing squad, who just signed new sponsor Valkyrie has four entries and will hope the speed shown by Kory Enders at the World Wide Technology Raceway At Gateway oval last year carries over to LOR.
Pabst Racing, who will be making their first Indy Pro 2000 oval start, will have to take advantage of the plentiful testing to put Hunter McElrea and Colin Kaminsky at the pointy end of the grid. Kaminsky scored his career Road To Indy pole and podium in the USF2000 race LOR last year, while McElrea made a mistake in qualifying, but was able to gain eight spots during the 75-lap race.
Returning to the series for both oval races this year is Abel Motorsports and pilot Jacob Abel. Abel contests the full Formula Regional Americas series but is looking forward to returning to Indy Pro 2000, where the Butler University student came home fifth, his best finish of the year.
“I’m really excited about returning to Indy Pro 2000 for these events,” noted Abel. “It’s my first time back in this car in quite a while. We had success at Lucas Oil Raceway last year, and we were fast at Gateway. I’m a much better driver now so hopefully that converts into much better results.”
Other Lucas Oil Raceway Info
- The last eight winners of the Indy Pro 2000 race at LOR have started from the pole. Only the 2010 race winner, Conor Daly, did not from the inside of the front row. The current NTT INDYCAR® SERIES driver started on the outside of the front row.
- The last time the eventual Indy Pro 2000 champion won on the 0.686-mile Lucas Oil Raceway oval was a dominant win 6.254 second win by Matthew Brabham in 2013. The only other LOR winner to win the championship was the aforementioned Daly, who completed the feat in 2010.
- Only four teams have Indy Pro 2000 wins at LOR. Andretti Autosport leads the way with three wins, while Exclusive Autosport, Juncos Racing, and Team Pelfrey each have a pair of wins.
- Andretti Autosport leads all teams with three pole positions and is followed by Exclusive Autosport (two), Team Pelfrey (two), Andersen Racing (one), and Juncos Racing (one).
- Juncos Racing leads all teams with ten podium finishes and also leads the way with four PM-18 podiums.
- Only four teams have led laps at LOR. Andretti Autosport leads with 232 laps led and is followed by Juncos Racing (222), Exclusive Autosport (180), and Team Pelfrey (175).
- The 15-car entry list is the second largest in the history of the event. The 2012 race has 16 entries.
- Four of the races have run caution-free, while four have had one caution, and one has had two cautions.
- Matthew Brabham set the one-lap (125.081mph) and two-lap (124.961mph) qualifying records, as well as the race lap record (122.415mph) in 2013. The race average of 110.958mph that same year is the quickest of the nine races.
- The closest finish happened in 2018 when Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport) beat Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing) to the line by 0.2213 seconds.
- There are more points on offer for the Road To Indy oval events.
The Indy Pro 2000 is on track beginning at 12:45 pm for the first of three 30-minute test sessions. They will also be on track for sessions starting at 3:15 pm and 5:45 pm. The series qualifies at 8:10 pm tonight.