By Steve Wtitich
It’s time for the middle rung of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires annual trip to the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the eighth straight season the Indy Pro 2000 teams have drivers have visited the track.
The three races will be:
- the fifth, sixth and seventh of the 2021 season
- the 17th, 18th and 19th held on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course
- the 280th, 281st and 282nd Indy Pro 2000/Star Mazda/Pro Mazda race since 1999
Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires winners on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course
|2020 Race #3||Sting Ray Robb||Juncos Racing|
|2020 Race #2||Sting Ray Robb||Juncos Racing|
|2020 Race #1||Sting Ray Robb||Juncos Racing|
|2019 Race #2||Rasmus Lindh||Juncos Racing|
|2019 Race #1||Rasmus Lindh||Juncos Racing|
|2018 Race #2||Parker Thompson||Exclusive Autosport|
|2018 Race #1||Harrison Scott||RP Motorsport|
|2017 Race #2||Victor Franzoni||Juncos Racing|
|2017 Race #1||Victor Franzoni||Juncos Racing|
|2016 Race #2||Pato O’Ward||Team Pelfrey|
|2016 Race #1||Pato O’Ward||Team Pelfrey|
|2015 Race #3||Santiago Urrutia||Team Pelfrey|
|2015 Race #2||Timothe Buret||Juncos Racing|
|2015 Race #1||Weiron Tan||Andretti Autosport|
|2014 – Race #2||Scott Hargrove||Cape Motorsports with /WTR|
|2014 – Race #1||Scott Hargrove||Cape Motorsports with /WTR|
It’s still early, but as many people predicted (including TSO Ladder), the battle for the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires title and the $718,065 scholarship that goes with it is going to be a lot of fun for fans to watch.
Only 31 points separate the top five, and spots five through nine have a slender 17 points separating the quintet of drivers.
2021 Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires points after four races
|1||Braden Eves||Exclusive Autosport||98|
|2||Christian Rasmussen – r||Jay Howard Driver Development||94||-4|
|3||Hunter McElrea||Pabst Racing||87||-11|
|4||Artem Petrov||Exclusive Autosport||79||-19|
|5||Reece Gold – r||Juncos Racing||67||-31|
|6||Colin Kaminsky||Pabst Racing||57||-41|
|7T||Enaam Ahmed – r||RP Motorsport||55||-43|
|7T||Manuel Sulaiman||Juncos Racing||55||-43|
|9||Jacob Abel||Abel Motorsports||50||-48|
|10||Cameron Shields – r||DEForce Racing||43||-55|
|11||Wyatt Brichacek – r||Jay Howard Driver Development||41||-57|
|12||Flinn Lazier – r||Legacy Autosport||37||-61|
|13||Hunter Yeany – r||Velocity Racing Development||34||-64|
|14||Kyffin Simpson – r||Juncos Racing||32||-66|
|15||Jack William Miller – r||Miller Vinatieri Motorsports||30||-68|
|16||James Roe – r||Turn 3 Motorsport||29||-69|
|17||Enzo Fittipaldi – r||RP Motorsport||20||-78|
TSO Ladder’s five stories/things to watch for this weekend
1) Juncos, Juncos, Juncos
Juncos Racing win percentage on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course sits at 50%. The team, which is headquartered less than a mile south of the iconic track in downtown Speedway, Ind., has visited the top step of the podium in eight of the 16 Indy Pro 2000 races contested on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Timothe Buret, in 2015, was the first winner for Juncos Racing at the circuit, and with drivers, Rasmus Lindh (2019) and Sting Ray Robb (2020) have won the last five races at “home.”
The team also leads all other squads in pole starts, podiums and laps led.
The team has started on the pole in Indy Pro 2000 races on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course ten times. Victor Franzoni (2), Rasmus Lindh (2), Spencer Pigot (2), Sting Ray Robb (2), Timothe Buret (1), and Artem Petrov (1) are the pole sitters for the team at this track.
Drivers flying the Juncos Racing flag have collected 41.7% of the podiums on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Ten different Juncos Racing pilots have stood on the podium in 20 of the 48 races.
Juncos Racing pilots have led 204 laps in Indy Pro 2000 races at the iconic facility, 41 more laps than all other teams combined.
2) Eves returns
September 3, 2020, is a date that current Indy Pro 2000 points leader Braden Eves will not soon forget. The Exclusive Autosport driver was battling for a top-five in the latter stages of the race when an incident in the high-speed right-hand Turn 11 ended with Eves’ destroyed No. 1 PM-18 upside down in the south short-chute.
The driver ended up at IU Methodist Hospital with fractured vertebrae and other injuries, missing the remaining nine races of the 2020 season.
Eves returned to an Exclusive Autosport PM-18 in December and began the 2021 Indy Pro 2000 season with a bang, starting on pole in the first Indy Pro 2000 race of the year at Barber Motorsports Park and leading every lap to take home a dominant victory.
A second Indy Pro 2000 event in St. Petersburg, Fla., netted a second green to checkered victory and the lead in the chase for the $718,065 scholarship to move up to the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires series.
Eves’ last memory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway isn’t a great one. If the just-turned 22-year-old can delve a little deeper into his memory bank, he’ll find some tremendous past Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course memories.
Eves’ first visit to IMS was in 2017 when he twice finished on the podium while competing in the F4 United States Championship. When he returned in a USF2000 car in 2019, Eves led 29 laps and won both races during his championship season.
3) Racing three
The three Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires races scheduled for this weekend is the first of two triple-headers planned for the series in 2021. It’s the third time that the iconic speed factory will play host to an Indy Pro 2000 triple-header. In 2015, an extra race was held after an early-season rainout, and last year the series races three times due to the global pandemic.
The middle rung of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires has held only six previous triple-header events. Three in 2020 and one each in 2017, 2016, and 2015. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course (2), the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (2), New Jersey Motorsports Park (1), and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca (1) are the tracks that have played host to three races during the same event.
Only once, 2020 Indy Pro 2000 champion Sting Ray Robb, has a driver won all three races during a triple-header event.
There is an excellent chance that the eventual Indy Pro 2000 champion will stand on the top step of the podium in at least one of the three Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix Of Indianapolis presented by Cooper Tires races this weekend.
The eventual Indy Pro 2000 champion won at least one of the three races in each of the six previous series triple-headers.
4) Past success at Indianapolis Motor Speedway
We’ve already mentioned points leader Braden Eves’ past success on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, but how about the other drivers in the field.
Only three drivers, Enaam Ahmed (RP Motorsport), Enzo Fittipaldi (RP Motorsport), and Kyffin Simpson (Juncos Racing), are making their appearances at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
One other Indy Pro 2000 entrant has visited victory lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway outside of Eves. Reece Gold, a Juncos Racing rookie, made five USF2000 starts at IMS, winning his first career Road To Indy race at the circuit last September.
The two Indy Pro 2000 winners in 2021, not named Eves, Christian Rasmussen and Hunter McElrea, have had quite different experiences at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
In five previous starts, the Pabst Racing sophomore McElrea has visited the podium four times but is still looking for his first win.
In his two seasons of Road To Indy action, Rasmussen has only had three finishes of 20th or worse, with two of them coming at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Dane’s average finish at IMS is 12, and it’s the only track on the Road To Indy schedule that he has yet to finish on the podium.
Jack William Miller (Miller Vinatieri Motorsports), Artem Petrov (Exclusive Autosport), and Manuel Sulaiman (Juncos Racing) have all climbed the stairs to the most recognizable podium in motorsports.
Jacob Abel (Abel Motorsports), Wyatt Brichacek (Jay Howard Driver Development), Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing), and James Roe (Turn 3 Motorsport) have combined for 19 starts on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, and they are all still looking for their first podium. Abel has three top-ten finishes in five starts. Kaminsky has one top-five and five top tens in nine starts, and Roe has one top-five in a pair of 2018 USF2000 starts.
5) TSO Ladder’s breakout picks
Let us see how good our prognosticating skills are.
Sulaiman picks up a win(s)
Juncos Racing sophomore Manuel Sulaiman comes into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway weekend, coming off his best finish of the young season, a second place in Race #2 on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.
The Mexican driver is currently tied for seventh in points, but that position doesn’t tell the entire story. Unfortunately, the Mexican driver lost a podium in the first race of the year after coming in underweight during technical inspection. (Note – It was not nefarious and was an honest mistake).
The winner of two Indy Pro 2000 races in 2020 will need to improve his 2021 qualifying efforts but should have plenty of confidence in having a fast car when considering Juncos Racing’s past success at this circuit.
Ahmed picks up a podium(s)
Speaking of qualifying, if Enaam Ahmed can improve his qualifying, he has a great chance to grab his first Road To Indy podium(s).
Through the first four races, Ahmed’s race pace has been outstanding. His average of the quickest race lap is 5.8, which ranks third and only behind Braden Eves and Christian Rasmussen, the top two drivers in the championship.
The 21-year-olds qualifying average of 10.3 is not nearly as impressive, ranking 11th of the 17 drivers.
Ahmed’s team, RP Motorsport, has had past success on the IMS road course in the past, winning a race in 2018 with Harrison Scott and finishing on the podium with Kyle Kirkwood the last time the Italian team visited in 2019.
Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires spotter guide
Don’t miss any of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires action:
- download the Road To Indy TV app from the Apple App Store or on Google Play to get video, audio, timing & scoring, news from TSO Ladder and much more – you can also get Road To Indy TV via Apple TV, Amazon Video, Roku or Microsoft Xbox One
- live timing – Road To Indy TV – Indy Lights – Pro Mazda – USF2000 – IndyCar Race Control
- on twitter – TSO Ladder – Team Cooper Tire – Road To Indy TV – Indy Lights – Indy Pro 2000 – USF2000
- on all social media channels via the #TeamCooperTire and #RoadToIndy hashtags
A note about our presenting sponsor.
Once again, a huge thank you to Cooper Tires for coming back to be the presenting sponsor of TSO Ladder for the fourth season. Without them, we would not be able to bring you our extensive Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires coverage. If you require tires, I highly recommend them. Our family has the Discover ® AT3 4S on our SUV and CS5 Grand Touring on our car.