By Steve Wittich
The battle for the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires trophy and the $718,065 scholarship that goes with it comes down to a two-race duel between the last two USF2000 champions, Christian Rasmussen (2020) and Braden Eves (2019).
Oh yeah, the champion also recieves an NTT INDYCAR SERIES test during the off-season, something else for Rasmussen and Eves to keep in the back of their minds.
Exclusive Autosport sophomore Eves, who returned to action from a season-ending incident on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course midway through last season, took the early lead, winning the first race of the season at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and leading the points after six fo the first seven races.
Rookie Rasmussen, with his Indy Pro 2000 rookie team, Jay Howard Driver Development, took control of the championship with a third to first driver in the Freedom 90 at the Lucas Oil Raceway Oval.
The 21-year-old Dane built a 39 point lead as the series headed to World Wide Technology Raceway At Gateway.
Twenty-two-year-old Eves held off a charging Rasmussen in the second oval race of the season, outscoring a faltering Rasmussen by 21 points in the last four races.
Indy Pro 2000 Tale-Of-The-Tape
|CHRISTIAN RASMUSSEN||BRADEN EVES|
|Copenhagen, Denmark||Hometown||Gahanna, Ohio|
|93.8%||% Laps Completed||100%|
|2.6||Fastest Lap Avg.||5.3|
If you are going only on past results at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, it will be advantage, Rasmussen.
He has eight wins, five poles and ten podiums in a baker’s dozen starts across F4 United States Championship, USF2000, and Indy Pro 2000 on the 2.258-Mile, 13-Turn Mid-Ohio Road Course. Rasmussen’s average starting position is 2.2, and his average finishing position is 3.9.
Eves’ record at his home track is more spotty, with one win, two poles, and two top-five finishes in his ten previous starts across the F4 United States Championship, USF2000 Championship, and Indy Pro 2000 Championship.
Interesting note – the two championship contenders have only shared a podium six times in 31 shared Road To Indy races.
Unfortunately for McElrea, his less than ideal start to the season combined with the shorter field in the finale means the best he can do is second place in the championship.
The American-born, Australian-bred citizen of New Zealand was a winner the last time the middle rung of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires visited central Ohio in July. McElrea’s average finish in nine previous USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 races at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is 4.0, and he has won twice, started on the pole three times, and stood on the podium five times.
The Pabst Racing sophomore has been on a tear over the last three events, winning twice, starting on pole three times, standing on five straight podiums, and outscoring the championship contenders by 31 points since July.
McElrea recently moved past Juncos Hollinger Racing rookie Reece Gold and Exclusive Autosport sophomore Artem Petrov in the standings and still has them close in his mirrors.
Gold has a series-best five poles and recently won his first race of the year at the New Jersey Motorsports Park.
The highest-scoring driver across the 12 natural terrain road courses, Petrov is a past Indy Pro 2000 race winner at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and has only finished outside the top five once in seven starts.
The top five points scorers on natural terrain road course in 2021 are:
- Artem Petrov – 262 points
- Braden Eves – 252 points
- Christian Rasmussen – 251 points
- Hunter McElrea – 246 points
- Reece Gold – 239 points
2021 Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires points standings
|1||Christian Rasmussen – r||392|
|4||Reece Gold – r||337||-55|
|7||Kyffin Simpson – r||230||-162|
|9||James Roe – r||200||-192|
|10||Wyatt Brichacek – r||187||-205|
|11||Jack William Miller – r||180||-212|
|12||Enaam Ahmed – r||100||-292|
|14||Hunter Yeany – r||79||-313|
|15||Cameron Shields – r||43||-349|
|16||Flinn Lazier – r||37||-355|
|18||Enzo Fittipaldi – r||20||-372|
Hyperco Rookie Of The Year
Championship leader Christian Rasmussen, a Jay Howard Driver Development rookie, has locked up the top newcomer, holding a safe 55 point lead over Juncos Hollinger Racing rookie Reece Gold.
The pair that battled for the USF2000 championship last year have proven to be two of the quickest among the entire Indy Pro 2000 field.
Between them, they have seven poles (Gold has five and Rasmussen has two) and the quickest lap of the race in 11 (Rasmussen has eight and Gold has three) of the 16 races.
Other rookie stories we’re watching include:
Enaam Ahmed, who will pilot the No. 22 for Juncos Hollinger Racing, will return to the series after suspending his campaign earlier this season. The 2017 BRDC British Formula 3 Champion started the first seven races with RP Motorsport, finishing in the top five on three occasions.
“I am really happy and surprised to get a last-minute call from Ricardo Juncos to join the team for the final races of the season,” said Ahmed. “I have been out of the car for a while, so I am just going to enjoy the opportunity with no expectations.”
Jack William Miller is coming off his best weekend as an Indy Pro 2000 driver, just missing out on his first podium in a strong showing at New Jersey Motorsports Park. The second-generation racer is no stranger to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, making 16 starts across the F4 United States, USF2000, and Indy Pro 2000 series.
“Our goal is to finish the season strong and build some momentum towards 2022,” explained Team Co-Owner Jack Miller. “Our partnership with former NFL Superstar Adam Vinatieri will continue, and we are looking good for next season. We have another intense winter testing program on the horizon, but our goal this weekend is to finish strong.”
Exclusive Autosport veteran Christian Brooks, a race winner in USF2000, will be stepping up to Indy Pro 2000 with the Canadian team for the final races on the calendar. Brooks has made a dozen open-wheel starts at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, finishing in the top five on five occasions.
Debuting in the Road To Indy is Jordan Missig, a race winner at the most recent Formula Regional Americas Championship race at Virginia International Raceway.
2021 Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires rookie points standings
|1||Christian Rasmussen – r||392|
|2||Reece Gold – r||337||-55|
|3||Kyffin Simpson – r||230||-162|
|4||James Roe – r||200||-192|
|5||Wyatt Brichacek – r||187||-205|
|6||Jack William Miller – r||180||-212|
|7||Enaam Ahmed – r||100||-292|
|8||Hunter Yeany – r||79||-313|
|9||Cameron Shields – r||43||-349|
|10||Flinn Lazier – r||37||-355|
|11||Enzo Fittipaldi – r||20||-372|
Team bragging rights
Team points are distributed as follows to a teams top two finishers in each race – 1st is 22 points, 2nd is 18 points, 3rd is 15 points, 4th is 12 points, 5th is 10 points, 6th is 8 points, 7th is 6 points, 8th is 4 points, 9th is 2 points, and 10th+ is 1 point.
A pair of talented drivers have led Exclusive Autosport to the verge of their first Indy Pro 2000 championship, heading to the season’s final two races with an almost insurmountable 69 point lead over perennial powerhouse Juncos Hollinger Racing.
Jay Howard Driver Development leads the wins column, Juncos Hollinger Racing leads the poles column, but the Canadian team has the advantage in the podiums column.
Despite making 16 fewer starts than Juncos Racing, Exclusive Autosport drivers have stood on the podium three more times than their season-long rival for the team championship.
2021 Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires team championship standings
|2||Juncos Hollinger Racing||349||-69|
|3||Jay Howard Driver Development||269||-149|
|6||Miller Vinatieri Motorsports||105||-313|
|7||Turn 3 Motorsport||101||-317|
|9||Velocity Racing Development||40||-378|
If they hold on, Exclusive Autosport will take home their first Indy Pro 2000 championship.
If Juncos Hollinger Racing can pull out a miracle, the Speedway, Ind.-based team will win their sixth team championship overall and the fourth in a row.
Indy Pro 2000 team champions
|2006||John Walko Racing|
Double the sparkling grape juice
There have been 22 Indy Pro 2000 champions since 1999, and only six of those have won the season’s final race.
Joey Hand, who won his fourth race of the season in the finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 1999, was the first.
The last driver to win the championship and the season’s final race occurred in 2017 when Victor Franzoni won at the Watkins Glen International road course.
Indy Pro 2000 champs that have won the final race of the season
Previously at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
- Part of the VP Racing Fuels Championship Weekend Presented By Cooper Tires, the two races will be the 27th and 28th Indy Pro 2000 races held at the central Ohio natural terrain road course.
- A dozen drivers are on the entry list for the VP Racing Lubricants Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio Presented by Cooper Tires doubleheader.
- At the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Indy Pro 2000 races have been won by 20 different drivers representing 13 unique teams.
Indy Pro 2000 winners at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
|2021 Race #2||Hunter McElrea||Pabst Racing|
|2021 Race #1||Christian Rasmussen||Jay Howard Driver Development|
|2020 Race #5||Sting Ray Robb||Juncos Racing|
|2020 Race #4||Manuel Sulaiman||DEForce Racing|
|2020 Race #3||Sting Ray Robb||Juncos Racing|
|2020 Race #2||Artem Petrov||Juncos Racing|
|2020 Race #1||Braden Eves||Exclusive Autosport|
|2019 Race #2||Kyle Kirkwood||RP Motorsport|
|2019 Race #1||Kyle Kirkwood||RP Motorsport|
|2018 Race #2||Rinus VeeKay||Juncos Racing|
|2018 Race #1||Rinus VeeKay||Juncos Racing|
|2017 Race #3||Anthony Martin||Cape Motorsports|
|2017 Race #2||Victor Franzoni||Juncos Racing|
|2017 Race #1||Anthony Martin||Cape Motorsports|
|2016 Race #2||Nico Jamin||Cape Motorsports|
|2016 Race #1||Nico Jamin||Cape Motorsports|
|2015 Race #2||Neil Alberico||Cape Motorsports|
|2015 Race #1||Santi Urrutia||Team Pelfrey|
|2014 Race #2||Garett Grist||Andretti Autosport|
|2014 Race #1||Nicolas Costa||Team Pelfrey|
|2013 Race #2||Matthew Brabham||Andretti Autosport|
|2013 Race #1||Matthew Brabham||Andretti Autosport|
|2006||Ryan Justice||Northwest Autosport|
|2005||Rafa Matos||Ocean Tomo Racing|
|2004||Michael McDowell||Star Race Cars|
|2002||Guy Cosmo||Racers Edge Motorsports|
- In the seven races over the last two seasons, five different teams have visited victory lane at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
- Juncos Hollinger Racing has six wins, four poles, and 25 podiums to lead all teams in those categories.
- The average starting spot of the winner is 1.9 and a driver starting on the front row in 20 of the 26 previous races has gone on to victory.
- The average finishing spot of the pole sitter is 3.2, and only once have they failed to finish.
- Only five of the previous 26 Indy Pro 2000 races at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course have had a first-lap caution.
- Only twice has an Indy Pro 2000 race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course finished under caution.
- The margin of victory was less than one second in ten of the 24 races that have finished under green.
- The closest margin of victory came in 2013 Race #2 when Matthew Brabham crossed the line only 0.155 seconds ahead of Diego Ferreira.
- In 2017 Race #3, Anthony Martin beat Victor Franzoni to the checkered flag by 13.9957 seconds, the widest gap between first and second.
Indy Pro 2000 weekend schedule
Friday, October 1
- 4pm – 4:30 pm – Indy Pro 2000 Practice #1
Saturday, October 2
- 10:20am – 10:50am – Indy Pro 2000 Qualifying #1
- 2:05pm – 2:50pm – Indy Pro 2000 Race #1
Sunday, October 3
- 9:30am – 10am – Indy Pro 2000 Qualifying #2
- 1:10pm – 2pm – Indy Pro 2000 Race #2
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- 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
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