Cooper Tires Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix at NJMP Race #1 winner Devlin DeFrancesco focused on gaining maximum points at New Jersey Motorsports Park (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

By Steve Wittich – TSO Ladder

Mission accomplished in Cooper Tires Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix at NJMP Race #1 for Andretti Steinbrenner Racing rookie Devlin DeFrancesco. The 20-year-old driver did all he could do to cut into a 49 point championship lead.

DeFrancesco led every lap from the pole position and turned the quickest race lap to score 33 points, the maximum points available.

DeFrancesco credits a test at the Thunderbolt Raceway at New Jersey Motorsports Park two weeks ago for his second win of the 2020 Indy Pro 2000 season.

“We really figured out a lot during the test,” explained DeFrancesco after getting out of the car. “We made the whole package better. The team is great, and we are moving quite calm and collected forward. That’s what we’ve done all year.

“I need to thank Kimoa, Simply Mac, One Plant Merchandise, and everybody supporting us. Also, I want to thank the Andretti guys. I’m really happy!”

Juncos Racing veteran Sting Ray Robb started second and finished second. The championship leader lacked a little overall pace to challenge for the win. The trip to the second step is the Payette, Idaho native’s eighth of the season and fifth in the last six races.

Manuel Sulaiman, a DEForce Racing rookie, put pressure on Robb in the middle of the 25 lap race. The driver from Puebla, Mexico, came across the line in third, the third time he’s stood on the podium in 2020.

The call to fire the 275-hp 2.0L engines in the back of the 12 PM-18s was given at 4:30 pm. The ambient temperature was 72F, and the skies were partly sunny.

The front row of DeFrancesco and Robb brought the field the green flag on the front straight.

DeFrancesco got a good jump and led the field into Turn 1. Pabst Racing rookie Colin Kaminsky, who started sixth, went through the grass on the outside of the track and dropped to 10th.

Sulaiman quickly put pressure on Robb, but the championship leader shut the door, holding onto the second spot.

The running order after the first lap was: DeFrancesco, Robb, Sulaiman, Parker Thompson (DEForce Racing), Artem Petrov (Juncos Racing), Hunter McElrea (Pabst Racing), Danial Frost (Turn 3 Motorsports), Antoine Comeau (Turn 3 Motorsport), Jacob Abel (Abel Motorsports), Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing), Charles Finelli (Fatboy Racing!) and Kory Enders (DEForce Racing)

DeFrancesco turned the quickest lap of the race to that point, and his lead to start Lap 4 was 0.8 seconds over Robb. Sulaiman was 0.7 seconds behind Robb, holding onto the final spot of the podium.

After five laps, DeFrancesco’s lead had grown to 1.2 seconds after turning the first sub-74-second race lap. The closest battle in the top 10 at that point of the race was between Kaminsky, who was putting pressure on Abel for ninth.

Kaminsky made a move to ninth around the outside in Turn 1 on the next lap.

Upfront after ten laps, DeFrancesco was consistently running laps a few tenths quicker than Robb and had pulled a 1.7-second lead.

Robb had a comfortable 1.3-second gap back to Sulaiman. The two best battles on the track were between Thompson and Petrov for fourth and for eighth between Comeau and Kaminsky.

On Lap 12, the DAN-JET sponsored No. 68 came to a stop on the front straight at pit-out.

The Turn 3 Motorsport machine was cleared of the racing surface utilizing a local yellow, and the track remained green.

With ten laps remaining, DeFrancesco’s lead was 2.4 seconds. Robb’s had a 1.6-second gap back to Sulaiman. Thompson was 3.9 seconds behind his DEForce Racing teammate, and Petrov was right on Thompson’s rear wing.

On Lap 15, Kaminsky moved by Comeau, grabbing the seventh spot.

Four laps later, the gap upfront between DeFrancesco and Robb had grown to 3.4 seconds. The difference between Robb in second and Sulaiman in third was down to 1.3 seconds.

Thompson, in fourth, was facing tremendous pressure from Petrov.

The gap between Robb and Sulaiman was down to 1.2 seconds with five laps to go, 1.2 seconds with four laps remaining, 1.4 seconds with three laps left, 1.4 seconds with two laps to go, and 1.7 seconds when they got the white flag.

With three laps remaining, Thompson was able to put a slight 0.7-second gap between himself and Petrov.

DeFrancesco’s lead over Robb when he got the white flag was 5.1 seconds. The Canadian born driver crossed under the twin checker flags 5.3 seconds ahead of Robb.

Cooper Tires Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix at NJMP Race #1 unofficial results

1 17 Devlin DeFrancesco Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport 25 laps
2 2 Sting Ray Robb Juncos Racing -5.3507
3 8 Manuel Sulaiman DEForce Racing -7.1191
4 9 Parker Thompson DEForce Racing -12.1984
5 42 Artem Petrov Juncos Racing -13.3304
6 18 Hunter McElrea Pabst Racing -16.365
7 19 Colin Kaminsky Pabst Racing -27.8581
8 3 Antoine Comeau Turn 3 Motorsport -36.9097
9 51 Jacob Abel Abel Motorsports -44.7627
10 7 Kory Enders DEForce Racing -45.0272
11 83 Charles Finelli FatBoy Racing -2 LAPS
12 68 Danial Frost Turn 3 Motorsports -13 LAPS

The middle rung of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is back on track at 10:45 am on Sunday for qualifying.