By Steve Wittich
I bet your last birthday wasn’t as good as Sting Ray Robb’s nineteenth birthday was today. The Juncos Racing veteran won his second race of the year and moved to within 10 points of the Indy Pro 2000 championship and a ride in Indy Lights.
The Payette, Idaho driver, started on the outside of the front row and was patiently waiting for an opportunity to pass his pole-sitting teammate Artem Petrov. Once he got the lead, he was able to pull away from the pack, comfortably leading when the race ended.
“We were really quick right from the start, so thanks to the team for giving me a good car. It’s quite the birthday present! It was good to run out front – that comes from experience, to be able to hold the lead like that. We saw what happened last year, when I was running out front (at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca) and (eventual champion) Kyle Kirkwood was running me down. I ended up finishing second, but now that I’ve won – and won again – I know how to stay consistent. And to come to Indy and get my second win, it’s so special.
The race was marred with an early finish when reigning USF2000 champion Braden Eves had a nasty crash at the iconic facility’s south end. The Exclusive Autosport No. 1 ended up upside down. Eves was taken to the Indiana University Health Emergency Medical Center before being transported to IU Health Methodist Hospital by ambulance for further tests and evaluations.
The last update we received from INDYCAR Medical Director, Dr. Geoff Billows said, “Braden Eves is awake, stable and undergoing further evaluation.”
Hunter McElrea is still looking for his first Indy Pro 2000 win but was relatively happy with his third visit to the podium’s second step in the last four races.
“Sting Ray was super quick in the opening laps – I’ve been in that position early in races, and I don’t want to battle the guy in front of me so we can both catch the leader,” said the Pabst Racing rookie. “So I let him go and was able to make the move on Artem in Turn One. Now we need to qualify better so we can battle for the win. I’m happy to be on the podium and get good points. I’m not at all where I want to be in the championship, but if we can keep doing this, we’ll be in the fight at the end.”
For the 34th time in his Road To Indy career, Parker Thompson visited a podium after bringing home his DEForce Racing prepared car home in third.
“I really felt like it was our race to lose until the No. 42 car decided to brake on the initial start and I had to lock up to avoid,” said Thompson after getting out of the DEForce Racing/Valkyrie Velocity sponsored No. 9. “Then he (Petrov) went four corners before the restart zone and they didn’t flag it off. They let the race go and I got passed on the restart and it just kind of went downhill from there.
“The crew at DEForce Racing gave me a car to win today and I feel like I took a gut shot on that one.
“Our car came on at the end. In the last two laps, we were the fastest car on the track. We knew that going in, but you can’t take a hit like that on the original start and restart. It is what it is, and that’s racing. That’s why we keep coming back!”
The call to fire the 15 2.0L Elite Engine power plants was given a little early at 4 pm, as the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires pace car led the field on their lone pace lap.
The all Juncos Racing front row of Petrov and Robb brought the field slowly to the green flag, but deeper in the field, there was chaos.
The drivers starting on the inside of rows five, six, and seven got stacked up as they came to the green flag. Jacob Loomis (BN Racing) jumped out of line to avoid Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing) in the row ahead of him. Behind Loomis, Moisés de la Vara (DEForce Racing) also jumped out of line, but just contacted Loomis, spinning the No. 36 in the inside pit wall. With nowhere to go, Bob Kaminsky (Pabst Racing) drove into Loomis and de la Vera.
Kaminsky’s Slick Locks sponsored machine ground to halt before the ‘yard of bricks,’ Loomis and his Optima Anesthesia sponsored car stopped at pit out just before Turn 1, and de la Vera were able to bring his IEP/JUMEX/UAG/INTERProtección sponsored car to the attention of the DEForce Racing crew.
The San Antonio-based Mexican driver was able to continue but was a lap down to the field.
The green flag came out to start the race, and the field fanned out four-wide as they streamed towards Turn 1. Turn 3 Motorsport veteran Danial Frost, who started the race in the fourth spot, locked up in the braking zone and washed out into the grass, falling down the order.
Under yellow, the running order at the end of the first lap was Petrov, Thompson, McElrea, Robb, Braden Eves (Exclusive Autosport), Devlin DeFrancesco (Andretti Steinbrenner Racing), Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing), Nate Aranda (Juncos Racing), Antoine Comeau (Turn 3 Motorsport), Nate Aranda (Juncos Racing), Kory Enders (DEForce Racing) and Frost.
The green flag came back out to start Lap 4, with Petrov punching off early in Turn 10 and pulling a big gap on the rest of the field. On the long run down the front straight, McElrea was able to get right on the gearbox of Thompson, with the Kiwi making an inside of the Canuck in Turn 1.
On the same lap as the restart, in Tur, 7, DeFrancesco and Kaminsky appeared to both out brake themselves and went for an adventure through Mr. Penske’s freshly manicured lawn. They both came back on the track and were immediately engaged in a furious battle with Comeau, Frost, Enders, and Aranda.
By Lap 6, Petrov pulled out to a 1.5-second gap over Robb, with McElrea, Thompson, Eves, DeFrancesco, Comeau, Frost, Kaminsky, Aranda, Enders, and de la Vara, rounding out the rest of the order.
Robb slowly ate into his teammates lead and, after a terrific series of corners leading onto the Hulman Blvd. back straight, made a run to Petrov’s inside in the braking zone of Turn 7. Robb backed out of the move a little early and tucking in behind Petrov, who broke a little too deep, missing the apex of the 90-degree right-hander and allowing Robb to complete the pass for the lead by the time they got to Turn 10.
That allowed McElrea to get a great run on the next lap down to Turn 1, with the Kiwi making another pass to the inside of the first corner.
At the halfway point of the 20 lap race, Robb’s lead over McElrea was 1.3 seconds. The rest of the top 10 were Petrov, Thompson, Eves, DeFrancesco, Frost, Comeau, Kaminsky, Enders, Aranda, and de la Vera.
As the front five crossed the start/finish line to start the next lap, they were covered by four seconds. DeFrancesco, in the sixth-place, was five seconds behind fifth-place Eves.
On Lap 12, Thompson was right on Petrov’s gearbox as they made the run south towards Turn 7. The Russian drove the Canadian hard to the inside of the turn. Once again, Petrov missed his braking point allowing Thompson and Eves to move past him.
Petrov appeared to make contact with Eves’ No. 1 as he made a late move to outside on the front straight and retook the fourth spot with a pass around the outside of the reigning USF2000 champion.
The battling in front of him allowed DeFrancesco to enter the top five fight, with the Andretti Steinbrenner Racing gaining 3.5 seconds on fifth place in only three laps.
With six laps remaining, Robb was over a half-second quicker than McElrea and had an almost two-second gap over McElrea.
Eves was slow over the next two laps and reported a vibration to his crew. He was quickly swallowed up by the Kimoa sponsored No. 17 of DeFrancesco, with Frost arriving on the scene.
Eves and Frost went side-by-side through the flat out Turn 10 and Turn 11, with Eves on the inside of the Singaporean driver in Turn 11.
Just as Frost got by him, Evers spun 180 degrees to the left, where it appeared that something in on the rear of the car broke, which sent flipping the car violently into the air where it came down directly on the roll hoop, the car bounced off the asphalt, pinwheeling and once again smashing down on the roll hoop for a second time.
The car’s nose then made contact with the concrete barrier in the south short-chute, with the car coming to rest upside down in the middle of the short chute between ovals Turn 1 and Turn 2.
The field completed a lap under yellow before race control decided to wave the checkered flag early, ending the race two laps early with Robb in the lead.
Cooper Tires Indy Pro 2000 Indy Grand Prix race results
|1||2||Sting Ray Robb||Juncos Racing||18 laps|
|2||18||Hunter McElrea||Pabst Racing||-0.9708|
|3||9||Parker Thompson||DEForce Racing||-2.1398|
|4||42||Artem Petrov||Juncos Racing||-2.7448|
|5||17||Devlin DeFrancesco||Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport||-3.3105|
|6||68||Danial Frost||Turn 3 Motorsport||-4.9056|
|7||19||Colin Kaminsky||Pabst Racing||-7.2919|
|8||7||Kory Enders||DEForce Racing||-9.1122|
|9||69||Nate Aranda||Juncos Racing||-11.2865|
|10||3||Antoine Comeau||Turn 3 Motorsport||-1 LAP|
|11||6||Moises de la Vara||DEForce Racing||-1 LAP|
|12||1||Braden Eves||Exclusive Autosport||-3 LAPS|
|13||36||Jacob Loomis||BN Racing||-18 LAPS|
|14||57||Bob Kaminsky||Pabst Racing||-18 LAPS|
|15||8||Manuel Sulaiman||DEForce Racing||-18 LAPS|
The remainder of the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires schedule (all times EDT)
Friday, September 4, 2020
9:45am – 10:15am – Indy Pro 2000 Qualifying #2
1pm – 1:50pm – Indy Pro 2000 Race #2 (20 laps)
4pm – 4:50pm – Indy Pro 2000 Race #3 (25 laps or 50 minutes)