Devlin DeFrancesco before getting in the No. 17 Andretti Steinbrenner Racing PM-18 (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

By Steve Wittich

Andretti Steinbrenner Racing rookie Devlin DeFrancesco will start from the pole for the third time this season.

As important as the inside front row start is the bonus point earned. The Canadian’s gap to points leader Sting Ray Robb (Juncos Racing) is now 48 points.

The pole win ties DeFrancesco with Manuel Sulaiman (DEForce Racing) at three poles apiece.

Robb didn’t miss out on the pole by much. His quickest lap was a slim eight-thousandths shy of winning the pole.

Race #1 will be the fifth time in six races that Robb has started on the front row and the sixth time this season. Two of the Idahoan’s wins have come from outside front row starting spots.

Sulaiman was gunning for his fourth pole of the season, but came up just short, and will start the race on the inside of the second row.

Starting behind Robb will be his Juncos Racing teammate Artem Petrov.

The four drivers in the front two rows were separated by a slim two-tenths of a second.

A half-second covered the top five in qualifying, and ten of the dozen drivers were within one second of DeFrancesco’s pole time.

Qualifying for the first of three Cooper Tires Indy Pro 2000 races got underway after Global MX-5 Cup practice.

The sun was shining, and the ambient temperature was 72F.

Unlike USF2000, every Indy Pro 2000 driver immediately hit the 2.25-mile, 12-turn road course.

Early in the session, it was Robb, Sulaiman, Petrov, and DeFrancesco that spent time at the top of the timing screens.

Robb, who was quickest with a lap timed at 73.060 seconds, came to pit road with 14-minutes remaining. The Juncos Racing crew bolted on fresh Cooper Tires.

The championship leader still held the provisional pole at the halfway point of qualifying. Thompson, Sulaiman, Petrov DeFrancesco, and Enders were all within a half-second of the top spot.

The majority of drivers came to pit road to make adjustments and bolt on a second set of fresh Cooper Tires.

The first driver to go quicker was Pabst Racing rookie Colin Kaminsky, who jumped up to the fourth spot. His teammate McElrea was the next driver to improve his lap time, moving to fifth quick.

At this point in the session, the top eight were all within a half-second of Robb.

Robb still had the provisional pole with five minutes remaining, with Thompson, Sulaiman, Kaminsky, and McElrea in the top five.

With just over four minutes remaining, DeFrancesco got his Cooper Tires up to the correct operating temperature and grabbed the provisional pole. He was the first driver to turn a lap under 73 seconds.

Robb briefly grabbed the provisional pole, but on the next lap, DeFrancesco could go a slim eight-thousandths of a second quicker.

DeFrancesco and Robb could not go quicker on their next laps, but there were still two minutes remaining in qualifying.

The next driver to improve on their time was Sulaiman, who could not grab his fourth pole of the season but was able to move up to the third starting spot.

DeFrancesco came to pit road, happy with what he had, but Robb remained on track. It was all for naught, though, as the red flag came out for Charles Finelli (Fatboy Racing!), who spun in Turn 9. The No. 83 was high-centered on the curbing, ending qualifying.

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

1 17 Devlin DeFrancesco Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport 1:12.789 –.—-
2 2 Sting Ray Robb Juncos Racing 1:12.798 0.0087
3 8 Manuel Sulaiman DEForce Racing 1:12.918 0.1289
4 42 Artem Petrov Juncos Racing 1:12.952 0.1628
5 9 Parker Thompson DEForce Racing 1:13.107 0.3178
6 19 Colin Kaminsky Pabst Racing 1:13.393 0.6045
7 68 Danial Frost Turn 3 Motorsport 1:13.398 0.6092
8 18 Hunter McElrea Pabst Racing 1:13.462 0.6736
9 7 Kory Enders DEForce Racing 1:13.561 0.7720
10 3 Antoine Comeau Turn 3 Motorsport 1:13.758 0.9686
11 51 Jacob Abel Abel Motorsports 1:14.254 1.4648
12 83 Charles Finelli FatBoy Racing 1:16.681 3.8918

Cooper Tires Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix at NJMP Race #1 is scheduled to get the green flag at 4:35 pm.