By Steve Wittich – TSO Ladder
With a dominant pole to checkered flag win, and some misfortune for his closest championship contender, a 2021 seat in Indy Lights is within grasp for Sting Ray Robb.
Much like he dominated qualifying, the 19-year-old dominated the 25-lap race, beating fellow veteran Parker Thompson to the finish line by 8.2 seconds.
Robb’s win, combined with Andretti Steinbrenner Racing rookie Devlin DeFrancesco’s first turn mistake, gives the Juncos Racing driver a 62 point lead headed to the third race of the weekend at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
To clinch the championship in the Garden State, Robb needs to have a 67 point lead after Race #3. If Robb outscores DeFrancesco by five points, he won’t even need to turn up at the St. Petersburg, Fla. finale in two-weeks.
The trip to the podium for Thompson is the fourth this season and the 40th in his Road To Indy career.
Robb’s Juncos Racing teammate Artem Petrov spent most of the race within one second of Thompson, settling for third place. It’s the Russian driver’s sixth podium of the season and his sixth straight top-five finish.
With the grid for Race #3 set according to a driver’s quickest lap in Race #2, some drivers opted to come to pit road to affix fresher Cooper Tires in an attempt to go faster with a light fuel load.
That strategy worked out for Colin Kaminsky, who turned the only lap under 73-seconds and will start Race #3 from the pole.
Robb will start outside the front row, with Turn 1 combatants DeFrancesco and Sulaiman starting beside each other on row two.
The ambient temperature was 69F, the skies were cloudy, and rain showers were in the area when the call to fire the Indy Pro 2000 engines was given at 2 pm.
After one pace lap of the 2.14-mile, 12-turn road course behind the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires pace car, Robb and Thompson’s front row led the field to the green flag to start the 25-lap Cooper Tires Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix at NJMP Race #2.
Robb got a significant jump, with Thompson following him into Turn 1. Behind the front three, Devlin DeFrancesco (Andretti Steinbrenner Racing) locked up the brakes in the braking zone of the right-hander.
DeFrancesco’s neon-yellow No. 17 tagged the back of Sulaiman. That sent the No. 8 into a spin and broke the front wing of DeFrancesco’s machine. DeFrancesco was adjudged to be at fault by the steward’s and was given a drive-through as his penalty.
Both drivers came to pit road for repairs. The Andretti Steinbrenner Racing crew was able to affix a new front wing to the No. 17, and he rejoined the field in tenth.
Sulaiman was able to limp the Mandala/Viva Aerobus/Telcel/La Santa sponsored No. 8 back to the pit road.
The running order at the end of the first lap was: Robb, Thompson, Petrov, Hunter McElrea, Danial Frost Turn 3 Motorsports), Colin Kaminsky, Jacob Abel (Abel Motorsports), Antoine Comeau (Turn 3 Motorsports), Kory Enders (DEForce Racing), Sulaiman and DeFrancesco.
The biggest beneficiaries of the Lap 1, Turn one incident were Frost, Abel, and Comeau, who each gained three spots.
As Robb started Lap 5, his lead was already 5.3 seconds over Thompson. The Canadian had a gaggle of drivers stacked up behind him, with the next six drivers within four seconds of Thompson.
Robb’s lead over Thompson had stabilized to 6.1 seconds after ten laps. Veteran Thompson still had Petrov and McElrea with one second. On Lap 12, Petrov and McElrea and Petrov turned their quickest laps of the race, to move even closer to Thompson.
Robb, with a lap timed at 73.241 seconds at the halfway point of the race, held the provisional pole. DeFrancesco, McElrea, and Petrov were the other drivers with sub-74 second laps.
With 10 of the 25 lap race remaining, Robb’s gap to Thompson was a stable 6.0 seconds. Thompson’s gap to Petrov was a comfortable 1.4 seconds.
On lap 15, Enders came to pit road from the ninth position to put on fresher Cooper Tires to turn a quick lap and improve on his starting spot for Race #3
On the next lap, DeFrancesco came to pit road for a better set of Cooper Tires, to start Race #3 as high as possible.
After a furious thrash by the DEForce Racing crew to repair the damaged No. 8, Sulaiman could get back out on track with eight laps left in the race.
A lap later, Kaminsky came to his crew’s attention on pit road for a set of sticker Cooper Tires.
Robb’s lead with five laps remaining was 6.2 seconds over Thompson. Petrov was 1.6 seconds adrift of Thompson with McElrea within a second of Petrov.
On his fourth lap on the track, Sulaiman cranked out a lap at 73.990 seconds. His next lap was at 73.798 seconds.
Kaminsky and Enders were starting to go quicker on the fresher tires, and with three laps remaining, Kaminsky was the first driver to turn a sub-73-second lap, provisionally grabbing the pole for Race #3
With three laps remaining, the gap between the front two drivers was 7.2 seconds.
When he took the white flag, Robb’s lead was 7.4 seconds, and he cruised to an 8.2-second win.
Cooper Tires Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix at NJMP Race #2 unofficial race results
|1||2||Sting Ray Robb||Juncos Racing||25 laps|
|2||9||Parker Thompson||DEForce Racing||-8.2262|
|3||42||Artem Petrov||Juncos Racing||-9.4023|
|4||18||Hunter McElrea||Pabst Racing||-10.9554|
|5||68||Danial Frost||Turn 3 Motorsport||-12.1164|
|6||51||Jacob Abel||Abel Motorsports||-25.5907|
|7||3||Antoine Comeau||Turn 3 Motorsport||-30.989|
|8||19||Colin Kaminsky||Pabst Racing||-1 LAP|
|9||7||Kory Enders||DEForce Racing||-3 LAPS|
|10||17||Devlin DeFrancesco||Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport||-3 LAPS|
|11||8||Manuel Sulaiman||DEForce Racing||-16 LAPS|
The final Indy Pro 2000 race of the weekend is scheduled to get the green flag at 5 pm.