Previewing the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires season

Here is Steve’s preview of the upcoming Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires season. Action gets underway at Road America tomorrow.

By Steve Wittich

The 2020 Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires season got underway in St. Petersburg, Fla., but the teams and drivers were only able to complete one practice session before the COVID-19 pandemic brought things to a screeching halt.

After 117-days with no racing, the second rung of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is ready to get back on track at one of America’s most iconic circuits.

The drivers will be fighting for an advancement scholarship that has been increased by 47% over the original 2020 value of $609,245.

Indy Pro 2000 at Road America

The Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires series will be visiting the 4.014-mile, 14-turn Road America natural terrain road course for the 17th and 18th times in 2020. The pair of Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix of Road America Presented by Cooper Tires Honoring First Responders are scheduled for 15-laps or 50-minutes.

The middle rung of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder returned to the Elkhart Lake, Wisc. track in 2016 after a five-year hiatus. In three of the four years since the series return, the same driver has won both races in three of the four years.

Only twice has the pole-sitter failed to finish on the podium and the last time that happened was in 2007 when Marco DiLeo (Maxwell Racing) finished eighth.

Juncos Racing, with Conor Daly (2010), Victor Franzoni (2017), and Rasmus Lindh (2019) lead all teams with three pole starts at Road America. The Speedway, Ind. team also leads all teams with seven podium finishes at Road America.

David Malukas and BN Racing hold the qualifying track record with a lap timed at 119.8151 seconds set in 2018. The same team, with Toby Sowery at the wheel, also holds the race track record with a lap at 121.3306 seconds, set the same year.

Indy Pro 2000 winners at Road America

2019 Race #2Kyle KirkwoodRP Motorsport
2019 Race #1Kyle KirkwoodRP Motorsport
2018 Race #2David MalukasBN Racing
2018 Race #1David MalukasBN Racing
2017 Race #2Anthony MartinCape Motorsports
2017 Race #1Victor FranzoniJuncos Racing
2016 Race #2Aaron TelitzTeam Pelfrey
2016 Race #1Aaron TelitzTeam Pelfrey
2010Conor DalyJuncos Racing
2008Peter DempseyAndersen Racing
2007Ron WhiteMaxwell Racing
2006Ron WhiteRoss Smith Racing
2005James HinchcliffeAIM Autosport
2004Michael McDowellStar Race Cars
2003Michael McDowellStar Race Cars
2002Guy CosmoRacers Edge Motorsports

Win in the opener, win the championship?

Winning on the season-opening weekend of Indy Pro 2000 action is NOT a good indicator of who will end up claiming the advancement scholarship at the end of the year. Only seven eventual champions won at the first event of the year.

Eventual champions that won at the season opening event are:

1999Joey Hand
2000Bernardo Martinez
2001Scott Bradley
2005Rafa Matos
2009Adam Christodoulou
2014Spencer Pigot
2018Rinus VeeKay

Win at Road America, win the championship?

The eventual Indy Pro 2000 champion has won at Road America a total of six times, including Aaron Telitz, Victor Franzoni, and Kyle Kirkwood in three of the last four years. The other winners in Wisconsin that went on to win the championship are Guy Cosmo (2002), Michael McDowell (2004) and Conor Daly (2010).

Here are your team-by-team and driver-by-driver season previews. (in order of how they finished in the team standings last year)

Juncos Racing

The Speedway, Ind. based Juncos Racing, led by Argentinian race Ricardo Juncos, came within two points of winning their third straight Indy Pro 2000 driver’s championship. That would have been the fifth driver’s title on the middle rung of the Road To Indy, for the family-oriented team.

Conor Daly (2010), Spencer Pigot (2014), Victor Franzoni (2017), and Rinus VeeKay (2018) are the drivers that have won for Juncos Racing. Of note: three of those four are scheduled to make NTT INDYCAR® SERIES starts in 2020.

The team has a total of 45 Indy Pro 2000 wins and has won at least one race in 11 straight seasons.

Juncos Racing will head into the 2020 season looking for their fourth straight Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires team title with team returnee Sting Ray Robb and newcomers Artem Petrov and Nate Aranda.

Robb is returning to the same team for the first time in his Road To Indy career, and that continuity should allow him to fight for a title. Still only 18-years-old, this will be Robb’s fourth year in the series, and over his 45 races, he has two poles, seven podiums, and 19 top-five finishes.

 Sting Ray Robb concentrates in the cockpit of his Juncos Racing PM-18 during testing at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

Robb, who has improved each year in the series, holds the Indy Pro 2000 track records for the streets of St. Petersburg and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

“My earliest memories are of wanting to drive something – anything fast – I had to be a race car driver,” said Robb, before St. Petersburg, in March. “There is no Plan B – I was born for this – my name is Sting Ray, after all! With Juncos, Road to Indy, and the amazing support of my fans, friends and family, I’m in hot pursuit of my dream. I’m super excited to be returning to Juncos for the 2020 season. We worked hard last year, with lots of progression throughout the season, capping it off on a high note with two poles.

“I’m looking forward to carrying that momentum to this season and working with the Juncos crew again. I’m stoked to be once again racing through the streets of St. Petersburg – street races are very demanding with no room for mistakes and no forgiving corners… that must be why I love it! The fans and crowd at St. Pete are fantastic, can’t wait to get back out there.”

Robb led the last two sessions at the recent Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course open test and ended up as the second quickest driver on the combined timesheet.

Petrov started the final five races of the 2019 season with RP Motorsport, showing that he has the pace to be competitive. The native of St. Petersburg, Russia, spent the 2016 and 2017 season racing in the Italian, Russian (SMP) and German (ADAC) Formula 4 series, where he won three times. In 2018, the 20-year-old made a move to the FIA Formula 3 European Championship.

Petrov qualified in the first three rows in all of his Indy Pro 2000 races, proving quickly that the Russian had the pace to fight at the front of the grid. However, a pair of first-lap mistakes resulted in some disappointing finishes.

Nate Aranda, a 19-year-old from Albuquerque, NM, and a Lucas Oil Formula Car Championship race winner, will be behind the wheel of the team’s third PM-18.

TSO Ladder quick thought(s)

  • Ricardo Juncos and technical director Ernesto ‘Ernie’ Gonella are known for the ability to develop drivers and turn them into winners. For Robb and Petrov, the raw talent is there, and it’s just a matter of when not if they’ll start winning races.

RP Motorsport

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 travel situation, RP Motorsport will be taking the season off.

Exclusive Autosport

The Canadian team, owned by Michael Duncalfe, is about to embark on their third season in the Indy Pro 2000. Over the course of the past two years, Exclusive Autosport has put together an impressive team resume, including five wins, four poles, and 26 top-five finishes.

Braden Eves will be joining the Brownsburg, Ind .based team, driving the No. 1 (TSO Note: Steve loves this) PM-18 in the new grey and blue scholarship winning livery as the reigning Cooper Tires USF2000 Champion.

The 21-year-old Meyer-Shank Racing affiliated driver won six USF2000 races last year, including a gutsy must-win performance in the final race of the season at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in September. Eves was also one of three USF2000 drivers to complete all 352 laps during the 2019 USF2000 campaign.

“I’m super excited to be heading to a race weekend,” said Eves. “We’ve had our time away, and now we’re back into race mode. This is a very competitive field, so it’s going to be difficult, just like it was for me last year. Hunter McElrea was extremely good all last year, so to win the title in a do-or-die moment was huge, and that’s what it’s going to take again this season. But having done that was such a confidence boost, and with all the testing we’ve had and the pace we’ve shown, we’re in an even better position than we were last year, so we just have to get the job done. I know Exclusive Autosport is up to the task.”

Eves took part in the recent open test at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course but had an issue with his transponder. Our spies at the track told us that he was among the quickest drivers at the test.

He also led the lone practice session in St. Petersburg, Fla. by an impressive half-second.

 Braden Eves up on the wheel of the No. 1 from the Exclusive Autosport stable during the lone Indy Pro 2000 practice in St. Petersburg, Fla. (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

TSO Ladder quick thought(s)

  • It probably surprised a few people when Eves didn’t follow Kirkwood’s lead and sign with RP Motorsport (which looks even better in hindsight), but sometimes it’s about feeling comfortable. With his results in testing, it appears that Eves made a wise decision. We will be watching if being a one-car team has an impact on their ability to improve the car throughout the weekend.

DEForce Racing

Angleton, Texas-based DEForce Racing will field the largest squad on the Indy Pro 2000 grid with four drivers. The David and Ernesto Martinez led team made their Road To Indy debut with Indy Pro 2000 entries for current drivers Kory Enders and Moisés de la Vara at the 2016 season finale.

Enders and de la Vara will be joined by Road To Indy veteran Parker Thompson and USF2000 grad Manuel Sulaiman.

All of Enders 47 career Road To Indy starts have been with DEForce Racing. The 22-year-old who lives in Sugarland, Texas, finished the 2019 season with some good momentum, with two podiums in the final three events.

Mexican born and Texas-based, de la Vara, like his teammate Enders has made all 36 of his Road To Indy starts with the same team.

With 78 career Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires starts under his belt, it’s hard to believe that veteran Parker Thompson is still only 22-years-old.

“PT” made his Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires debut with JDC Motorsports in 2015, and across five seasons has finished 5th (USF2000 2015), 2nd (USF2000 2016), 3rd (USF2000 2017), 2nd (Indy Pro 2000 2018) and 3rd (Indy Pro 2000 2019) in those championships.

 Parker Thompson, a championship contender, behind the wheel of the No. 9 DEForce Racing PM-18 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

Thompson’s impressive career numbers in his 78 starts include 12 wins, 12 poles, 32 podiums, 53 top fives, 17 races led, and 14 races with the quickest lap.

Rounding out the DEForce Racing foursome is 2018-2019 FIA Formula 4 NACAM champion, Sulaiman. The Mexico City, Mexico native, grabbed two podiums on the way to a sixth-place USF2000 championship finish in 2019.

Thompson and Sulaiman finished the recent Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course test with the 3rd and 4th quickest lap times.

TSO Ladder quick thought(s)

  • The team has brought in driver coach Jonatan Jorge to work with the team. The former driver has recently worked with Kyle Kirkwood, Rinus VeeKay, and Oliver Askew. How Thompson responds to “JJ” is something we’ll be watching closely.
  • Can Enders, de la Vara, and Sulaiman find consistency? All three have all shown at various times that they have the pace to be regulars on the podium, but will need to be more steady from race to race, and lap to lap.

Fatboy Racing!

If you are looking for the team having the most fun at the track, just find team owner Brendan Puderbach, driver Charles Finelli, super mechanic Jim Locke, and Tiny Tim, the best pit cart in any racing paddock.

Finelli is an experienced racer, who is back for another season of Indy Pro 2000 action.

To learn a little more about the Fatboys, watch this documentary by David Porteous.

TSO Ladder quick thought(s)

  • It’s clear that this group always has fun at the track, but they can also be serious racers, and it would be great to see them add a second car for a younger driver.

Turn 3 Motorsport

The Peter Dempsey led Turn 3 Motorsport made their Indy Pro 2000 debut halfway through the 2020 season with an entry for 2019 Radical Cup Champion Antoine Comeau.

Comeau, a Canadian based in Chicago, Ill. will be back for a full season and will be joined by Indy Lights refugee Danial Frost.

 Turn 3 Motorsport driver Antoine Comeau at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for testing (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

Comeau got up to speed quickly for his first time in an open-wheel car, finishing in three of his seven starts in the top ten.

Frost, who was set to contest the 2020 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season with Andretti Autosport returns to take another shot at the Indy Pro 2000 title.

The Singaporean won Indy Pro 2000 races at Lucas Oil Raceway on the Streets of Exhibition last year. Still only 18-years-old, Frost finished the season with six podiums and a fifth-place championship placing.

TSO Ladder quick thought(s)

  • The addition of Frost should help push Comeau forward by allowing him to see the data from a quicker driver.
  • If he takes it, Frost has an opportunity to improve every part of his craft by learning from Dempsey.

BNRacing w/Team Benik

Two prominent names, in the karting world, Nick Mitchell & Bryn Nuttall, have joined forces to form BN Racing with Team Benik to field cars for Sabre Cook and Jacob Loomis.

Cook was busy in 2019. Off-track, she won the Infiniti Engineering Academy US engineering award that included a year-long placement with the Renault Formula One team.

On-track the 26-year-old was one of 20 drivers chosen to take part in the inaugural season of the W Series. Cook had three top-ten finishes, which equates to a 12th place finish and a return trip to the series in 2020.

With the cancellation of the 2020 W-Series, it would be great to see Cook contest the whole Indy Pro 2000 season.

Before her move to cars in 2017, the Golden, Colorado resident was a stand-out in the ultra-competitive shifter-kart category.

Loomis made four Indy Pro 2000 starts in 2019 with his family team. That included an impressive sixth-place finish at Road America.

The 20-year-old Texan moved from karts to cars in 2016 and has four podium finishes across the 2017 and 2018 F4 United States Championship Powered By Honda seasons.

The team missed the recent test at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, but the drivers should have quick cars this weekend. Nuttall, with David Malukas, won a pair of Indy Pro 2000 races at Road America in 2018.

What TSO Ladder is watching.

  • Cook only got better as the W-Series got deeper into their season, and the higher horsepower Indy Pro 2000 car should better match her background in shifter-karts.

Andretti Steinbrenner Racing

Devlin DeFrancesco will be joining with Andretti Steinbrenner Racing to contest the 2020 Indy Pro 2000 season. For all three, it’s some type of return.

For Andretti, it’s a return to Indy Pro 2000, where they won 25-races and one championship between 2011 and 2015.

For Steinbrenner, it’s a return to the Road To Indy, where he teamed with Colton Herta to win six races across a pair of Indy Lights seasons.

Canadian DeFrancesco’s a return to North America after spending the last nine years racing in Europe.

The 20-year-old from Toronto scored wins in the F4 British Championship, the Euroformula Open Championship, and Spanish Formula 3 Championship.

 Devlin DeFrancesco returns to the North American racing scene with Andretti Steinbrenner Racing in the Indy Pro 2000 series (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

“I’ve had an incredible time racing in Europe over the past nine years but I’m really looking forward to coming home to North America and racing with Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport,” said DeFrancesco. “My season in Asian Formula 3 was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ability to travel to and from Europe for the rest of 2020 is very much up in the air.

“We have been talking about the possibility of coming back to race in North America and those plans have now been brought forward. I’m very appreciative of the opportunity from Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport.

“I can’t wait to get started and be back on track. I’ve been doing a lot of virtual racing with my sponsor Allinsports in The Race All-Star Series but I can’t wait to be back on track for real.”

“My goal and ambition is to eventually follow the ‘Road to Indy’ and compete in the NTT IndyCar series but I know I have a lot to learn and many steps to take prior to that.

“The car will be new for me, many of the tracks are new and of course the team is new for me as well. However, I know what they have achieved in the past and I’m fully aware of what an amazing opportunity I have ahead of me. I am extremely grateful.”

DeFrancesco, who also has experience in GP3 and the FIA Formula 3 Championship, got his first taste of the PM-18 in the recent open test at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. He ended up with the fifth quickest lap.

What TSO Ladder is watching.

  • I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it. Results, especially for Americans and Canadians, in Europe don’t always indicate pace. Also, the disparity between teams in Europe is much bigger, and DeFrancesco spent the past two seasons with mid-level teams. This opportunity with Andretti Steinbrenner Racing should be his best chance to show his pace since 2017 when he finished third in the Euroformula Open Championship while driving for Carlin.

Pabst Racing

Last but not least is Pabst Racing. The USF2000 stalwart is making a move up the Road To Indy ladder with a pair of familiar drivers. Hunter McElrea and Colin Kaminsky, who both drove for the team in USF2000, will be behind the wheels of the team’s PM-18s.

McElrea, an American born Kiwi, who calls Australia home, missed out on the USF2000 championship by a slim five-point margin.

The 20-year-old won four races, including one at Road America, started on five poles, and stood on 12 podiums in his first season of racing in the United States.

“This race (Road America) last year was a turning point for me, with my first win, so to start the season here is very cool,” said McElrea. “We’ve had really good tests as well, so it gives us a great deal of confidence going into the weekend, especially since it’s the team’s home track. Because of the extra time we’ve had, I feel that the team and I are even more prepared than we were at the start of the year, so I’m ready to get the season started.”

Kaminsky, who began his racing career in the SCCA, has made 38 USF2000 starts across three seasons, but made a big leap forward in 2019.

The 21-year-old won three poles and grabbed six podiums on the way to fourth place (tied for third in points) championship finish.

The dynamic Pabst Racing duo will be joined at Road America by Kaminsky’s dad, Bob. The Illinois native is an Indy Pro 2000 stalwart and has many laps logged on the 4.014-mile, 14-turn natural terrain road course.

What TSO Ladder is watching.

  • McElrea and Kaminsky’s relationship is more like brothers than teammates, and that unique relationship has brought out the best in each driver. The two were quick in the Chris Griffis Memorial Test at IMS last fall, and all indications are that they have been quick in private testing.
  • Usually, when a team moves to a new category, it can take a season to work out the kinks. With an experienced group, including team owner Augie Pabst, and engineer Tonis Kasemets, it would be surprising if the Oconomowoc, Wisc. based team missed a beat.
 Pabst Racing team-owner Augie Pabst at the Portland International Raceway (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

By Steve Wittich

The 2020 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship season got underway in St. Petersburg, Fla., but the teams and drivers were only able to complete one practice session before the COVID-19 pandemic brought things to a screeching halt.

After 117-days with no racing, the lowest rung of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is ready to get back on track at one of America’s most iconic circuits.

The drivers will be fighting for an advancement scholarship that has been increased by 50% over the original 2020 value of $328,225.

 A fleet of USF2000 cars streams into Turn 3 at Road America in 2018 (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

USF2000 at Road America

The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship first made an appearance on the 4.014-mile, 14-turn Road America natural terrain road course in 1993 with current Chip Ganassi Racing Director Chris Simmons winning that race.

The pair of USF2000 Grand Prix of Road America Presented by Cooper Tires Honoring First Responders 12-lap / 40-minute races will be the 29th and 30th for the lowest rung of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires at Road America.

If you need proof that passing at Road America is plentiful, look no further than the less than 50% winning percentage for the pole sitter. In the six races since the introduction of the USF-17, the pole sitter has only won once.

The qualifying track record was set by Pabst Racing’s Rasmus Lindh in 2017 and stands at 129.2583 seconds. The race track record is 8-years-old and was established by Scott Anderson (Belardi Auto Racing) in 2012.

Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship winners at Road America

2019 Race #2Braden EvesCape Motorsports
2019 Race #1Hunter McElreaPabst Racing
2018 Race #2Kyle KirkwoodCape Motorsports
2018 Race #1Kyle KirkwoodCape Motorsports
2017 Race #2Rinus VeeKayPabst Racing
2017 Race #1Rinus VeeKayPabst Racing
2016 Race #2Anthony MartinCape Motorsports
2016 Race #1Anthony MartinCape Motorsports
2012 Race #3Scott AndersonBelardi Auto Racing
2012 Race #2Matthew BrabhamCape Motorsportsm
2012 Race #1Matthew BrabhamCape Motorsports
2011 Race #2Petri SuvantoCape Motorsports
2011 Race #1Spencer PigotAndretti Autosport
2010 Race #2Sage KaramAndretti Autosport
2010 Race #1Sage KaramAndretti Autosport
2006 Race #2J.R. HildebrandCape Motorsports
2006 Race #1Dane CameronCape Motorsports
2005 Race #2Jay HowardAiken Racing
2005 Race #1Joey FosterCape Motorsports
2004 Race #2Bobby WilsonCape Motorsports
2004 Race #1Adam PecorariAndersen Racing
2003 Race #2Charlie KimballPR1 Motorsports
2003 Race #1Charlie KimballPR1 Motorsports
2001 Race #2Tonis KasemetsPabst Racing
2001 Race #1Tonis KasemetsPabst Racing
2000 Race #2Marc-Antoine CamirandKey Motorsports
2000 Race #1Aaron JustusCape Motorsports
1993Chris SimmonsSOTARE Racing

Cape Motorsports at Road America

The now Brownsburg, Ind. team, led by Nicholas and Dominic Cape, have won 13 races at Road America, including race #2 last year.

Aaron Justus, in 2000 was their first winner, and he is joined by Matthew Brabham, Dane Cameron, Braden Eves, Joey Foster, J.R. Hildebrand, Kyle Kirkwood, Anthony Martin, Petri Suvanto and Bobby Wilson, as driers that have won at Road America for “The Capes.”

Cape Motorsports is also the team leader for poles (nine) and podiums (26) at Road America.

Win in the opener, win the championship?

It certainly doesn’t hurt to win at the first race of the season, but it’s not the end of the world if a driver doesn’t win. The eventual champion won the first race of the season in 14 out of 33 seasons. That does include the last two USF2000 champions, Braden Eves (2019) and Kyle Kirkwood (2018). It does not include 2017 champion and current NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver Oliver Askew.

Win at Road America, win the championship?

Eventual champion Chris Simmons was a winner the first time USF2000 visited Road America in 1993. Scott Dixon’s race engineer is joined by Aaron Justus (2000), Bobby Wilson (2004), Jay Howard (2005), JR Hildebrand (2006), Sage Karam (2010), Petri Suvanto (2011), Matthew Brabham (2012), Anthony Martin (2016), Kyle Kirkwood (2018) and Braden Eves (2019) as USF2000 champions that have won at Road America.

And now, here is our team-by-team and driver-by-driver preview of the 2020 USF2000 season.

Pabst Racing

Pabst Racing has won the last three USF2000 team championships but is still looking for their first driver’s championship. They have been close though, taking home a quartet of second-place championship finishes (Hunter McElrea, Rasmus Lindh, Rinus VeeKay & Jake Eidson) in the last five seasons.

Augie Pabst, a second-generation team owner, assembled an impressive team of three sophomores to wrest the driver’s championship away from Cape Motorsports.

Note from TSO Ladder: This is one of the most heated and fun to watch rivalries from weekend-to-weekend. Both teams know who their competition is and badly want to win.

The lone returnee to the Wisconsin based team is Badger State-born Yuven Sundaramoorthy. The recent high school grad was one of only three drivers to complete all 352 laps in 2019 and collected five top tens on the way to a 12th place championship finish.

The 17-year-old spent the off-season racing in the MRF Challenge Formula 2000 Championship, where he won twice and finished on the podium four times.

Sundaramoorthy made three USF2000 starts at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 2018, and that was where he had his best race weekend in 2019, so don’t be surprised to see him be near the pointy end of the grid as he returns to tracks in the USF-17 for the second time.

“Confidence is key in this series, and with a solid year under my belt, I’m excited to return with Pabst Racing and tackle 2020,” said Sundaramoorthy, before St. Pete. “I developed some good chemistry with the crew, and I tried to absorb learnings at each racetrack. Even in this recent October test at IMS., I could feel so many improvements. I know it’s going to be a successful year.”

Second generation pilot Eduardo Barrichello confirmed that he would be joining the Oconomowoc, Wisc. based team. The 18-year-old spent the 2018 USF2000 season with two different teams where he finished in the top 10 on seven occasions.

The Brazilian who calls Orlando, Fla. home, spent the 2018 season in the F4 United States Championship Powered By Honda championship.

Barrichello led three of the five sessions, and ended up second on the combined timesheet in preseason testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and was the quickest driver in the lone practice session in St. Petersburg, Fla. With increased pace, comes increased expectations.

 Pabst Racing newcomer and USF2000 sophomore, led the lone practice session on the streets of St. Pete. (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

“I had no expectations going into St. Pete last year, but this year I’m more relaxed,” Barichello said in March. “I know what I need to do to get it right, and with experience comes confidence. And, it’s great to be so close to IndyCar – it’s an extra boost because we all want to be there. It’s great motivation.”

Before his rookie Road To Indy campaign, Matthew Round-Garrido was well known to Formula Ford fans in the United Kingdom. The oldest of the Pabst Racing trio at 20, Round-Garrido spent three years in the popular category, finishing 3rd in the hotly contested 2018 Avon Tyres National Formula Ford Championship.

Mechanical issues meant that the native of Stourbridge in the United Kingdom got off to a forgettable start to his rookie season, where he raced in two series and for two different teams. The highlight of his season split across USF2000, and Indy Pro 2000 was a podium finish in Toronto.

TSO Ladder quick thought(s)

  • It will be interesting to see how the addition of an Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires program impacts the team’s successful USF2000 program.
  • Last year’s four-driver USF2000 squad had a chemistry that was fun to watch from the outside. All four drivers were clearly having fun and equated to top results on track. Will the 2020 trio be able to replicate the on and off-track chemistry?

Cape Motorsports

Until proven otherwise, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship drivers championship runs through Cape Motorsports. The team, founded and run by brothers Nicholas and Dominic Cape, has won a baker’s dozen USF2000 driver’s championships, including the last nine in a row.

The team that made a move from St. Petersburg, Fla. to Brownsburg, Ind. during the off-season, will run a quartet of cars. A trio of veteran drivers, Michael d’Orlando, Kyle Dupell, and Reece Gold, will be joined by rookie Josh Green.

The team had four of the top five times in the recent open test at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, so expectations should once again be high.

Gold, still only 15-years-old, returns to the team for a second straight season. The Floridian, who was the 2018 Lucas Oil Formula Car Series, finished the 2019 USF2000 season in 10th place.

Gold was one of only three drivers to complete all 352 laps year, had eight top 10 finishes. If Gold can improve his qualifying pace, his consistency should allow him to be in championship contention.

“I’m super happy to be back with Cape for 2020,” Gold offered, before St. Pete. “With the team having just won another championship, I am feeling ready to give it my all this year and try to continue that success. After a lot of learning in my rookie year, I feel that I can fight for wins and podiums this season. Thank you to Cape Motorsports and to my sponsor – The Ticket Clinic – for their continued support.”

At 21-years-old, Kyle Dupell is the eldest and most experienced of the Cape Motorsports quartet, making 18 USF2000 starts across the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

The Oregonian finished 15th in his rookie season, a full-campaign with Team Pelfrey that included four top 10 finishes. Duppel returned to USF2000 action with Newman Wachs Racing for the final four races of the 2019 season.

Michael d’Orlando returns to USF2000 competition after a partial season of F4 United States Championship Powered By Honda action that saw the 18-year-old nab five top 10 finishes, including a trip to the podium at Circuit of The Americas in the final race of the year.

The Hartsdale, New York native, took part in nine USF2000 races with Team Benik.

d’Orlando was the quickest driver in the series open test at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and relishes the opportunity to get back at the track with his teammates.

 Michael d’Orlando on track during the recent open test at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course where he topped the combined timesheet. (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

“I’m lucky to have such great teammates as well – Reece, Kyle, Josh and I, we all push each other to do better,” said d’Orlando after the Mid-Ohio test. “I have a brother that I race against, but I feel as though these guys are my brothers as well. Through the Road to Indy iRacing eSeries, we kept in communication, and that made the three months better, but it was difficult not to see each other and not get out racing. It’s taken a toll, but that’s behind us, and now it’s time to go racing again.”

The final member of the Cape Motorsports squad is Team U.S.A. Scholarship winner Josh Green. Before taking part in the USF2000 event at Portland International Raceway last year, Green completed a full season of F1600 Championship Series action. The 17-year-old had eight wins, five poles, and 18 podiums on the way to a second-place championship finish.

“I’m extremely excited to join Cape Motorsports for the 2020 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship,” said Green, when signing with the legendary team. “The team has an enormous pedigree, and, after testing with them earlier this year, I’m super excited to continue working with them and get my head down for the 2020 championship. I’m extremely lucky to have had so many things come my way over the course of this last year, and I’m hugely thankful for all the opportunities that have been given to me. Being given the chance to work with such a prestigious team as Cape Motorsports is a huge honor.”

Green was the second quickest driver at the recent Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course test and will look to become the ninth Team U.S.A. Scholarship winner to also win the USF2000 championship, joining, Braden Eves, Kyle Kirkwood, Oliver Askew, Matthew Brabham, J.R. Hildebrand, Bryan Sellers, Clay Collier, and Mike Brokowski.

TSO Ladder quick thought(s)

  • All four drivers showed race-winning pace during the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course open test. If that is any indication of what to expect this season, the inner squad battle to determine who the team number one is, could take the whole season.

Jay Howard Driver Development

The only five-car team on the grid, Jay Howard Driver Development, finished an impressive rookie USF2000 campaign with three wins, one pole, seven podiums, and 15 top-ten finishes.

Returnee Christian Rasmussen finished third in the championship, but was most impressive in the second half of the season, outscoring all other drivers in the final four events (eight races) of the 2019 season.

The 20-year-old finished the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course open test with the seventh quickest time.

 One of the title favorites, Christian Rasmussen, on track at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for testing (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

“I’ll try and continue where I left off at the end of last season,” said the Dane after that test. “I’m pretty calm about me being the ‘favorite’ – I don’t plan to let it affect me, I will come to each day with the same approach as always, with the same preparation and the same mindset. We have a good team, and I’m ready to be back at the racetrack.”

The second Jay Howard Driver Development driver is another returnee and is also named Christian. At 6′ 4″, Christian Bogle is the tallest Road To Indy driver and is planning on another busy season of racing. The 19-year-old competed in the USF2000 championship and F4 United States Championship Powered By Honda, with a pair of race wins in the latter series.

The driver from Louisiana was new to racing in 2018 and is once again planning a joint USF2000 and F4 program, with some Indy Lights testing thrown in to help his development.

Bogle’s confidence should be high headed to Road America. He won a pair of F4 races on the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course the weekend before the USF2000 open test at the same track.

The third sophomore to join the team is Nolan Siegel, who spent the 2019 USF2000 season with Newman Wachs Racing.

The former standout karter, who is still only 15-years-old will look to build on a successful test at Homestead-Miami Speedway where he ended up with the seventh quickest time, less than one-tenth off championship favorite and teammate Rasmussen.

The fourth driver is a native Hoosier and 19-year-old who ended the recent open test only a tenth of a second behind championship contending teammate Rasmussen.

Wyatt Brichacek made his USF2000 debut in the finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in September. His move to the Road To Indy comes after two seasons of F4 United States Championship Powered By Honda competition and a season spent in the Lucas Oil Formula Car Series.

The final member of the Jay Howard Driver Development quintet is Bijoy Garg, a Californian, who will be making his Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires debut.

Garg turned the 12th quickest lap during the recent open test at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, and he finished in second and eighth in the pair of F4 events at the same track this year.

TSO Ladder quick thought(s)

  • We’re curious to see how Rasmussen reacts to being the clear championship favorite to start the season.
  • While Rasmussen is the clear leader at the team, it will be fascinating to see which of the other four drivers becomes Rasmussen’s wingman.

DEForce Racing

The D and E in DEForce Racing are David and Ernesto Martinez, who founded the team in 2016.

David is a former Indy car driver, who finished in the top 10 in three of his four starts. Ernesto was a standout karter, team manager, and is known for his ability to develop drivers.

In addition to a four-car Indy Pro 2000 effort, the Angleton, Texas-based team has entered a pair of drivers in the lowest rung on the Road To Indy ladder. Last year, a trio of drivers combined for two podiums, and ten top-five finishes.

Despite being only 16-years-old, Francisco Porto, who is better known as Kiko, has made 31 F4 starts in North America, including three wins and eight podiums on the way to a second-place finish in the 2019 F4 United States Championship Powered By Honda title chase.

Porto was the second quickest rookie during the lone practice session in St. Pete in March.

Unfortunately, Mathias Ramirez, who is one of the best shifter kart pilots in the U.S.A., is not able to make the grid, but the Texas-based team has found a replacement.

Nicholas ‘Nico’ Christodoulou may only be 15-years-old, but he has had a ton of seat time for someone his age.

 The familiar brilliant blue livery of DEForce Racing with Nico Christodoulou at the wheel during testing at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship will be the third championship that the Canadian will take part in this season. The Toronto, Ontario native has two wins and seven podiums in the currently paused 2019–20 NACAM Formula 4 Championship season. He also made two starts at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in the F4 United States Championship Powered By Honda at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

TSO Ladder quick thought(s)

  • Given their past success, it’s clear that both drivers have plenty of talent. How quickly they adapt to USF2000 will determine their ceilings during their rookie seasons.

Legacy Autosport

Last year, Legacy Autosport ran a total of six different drivers in their two USF-17s and, despite the rotating amongst the seats, had solid results, with the sextet combining for two podiums and a dozen top-ten finishes.

The team added experienced NTT INDYCAR SERIES engineer Matt Curry to help move the program forward this year.

Returning to the series after missing the last three events is Cameron Shields. The Aussie, who is mentored by Will Power, won the Freedom 75 on the Lucas Oil Raceway oval last May.

When his season ended, the 19-year-old from Toowoomba, Australia, was seventh in points with a win, two podiums and five top-ten finishes in nine starts.

 Legacy Autosport pilot Cameron Shields on track at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course during Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship testing. (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

Shields was the quickest driver in the final test session at Homestead-Miami Speedway and ended the two-days of testing fifth on the combined timesheet.

High school freshman Ayrton Ori returns to Legacy Autosport after contesting the final four races of the 2019 USF2000 season with the team. The native of Orlando, Florida, has extensive experience in F1600 machinery.

TSO Ladder quick thought(s)

  • It was clear that Shields was dejected after his rookie season came to a premature end. However, Sheilds kept coming to the race track, and through hard work, was able to put together a deal to get back into the series in 2020. In a year that should have a wide-open battle for the advancement scholarship, TSO Ladder will be watching to see if the perseverance Shields has shown off the track translates to the same fire on the track.

Miller Vinatieri Motorsports

Back for a second year of action is Miller Vinatieri Motorsports and lead driver Jack William Miller.

The team owned by former Indy car driver Jack Miller and N.F.L. kicker Adam Vinatieri will run a pair of cars for the second straight season.

A native Hoosier, Miller, is still only 17-years-old and will be starting his fourth season in formula cars. His rookie season of USF2000 action followed a season and a half of F4 United States Championship Powered By Honda competition.

During the recent open test at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Miller led a test session and ended up with the third-quickest time on the combined timesheet.

 Jack William Miller during testing at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The second generation had the third quickest lap of the test. (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

Pairing with Miller will be Max Kaeser, a fellow 17-year-old who resides in Keystone Colo. Kaeser tested with the team at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test last fall after two seasons of SCCA Formula F competition.

The team has brought on Skip Essma to engineer the two-car effort. Essma has INDYCAR engineering experience at Chip Ganassi Racing and Newman Haas Racing.

“We are glad the restart to the season is here,” expressed Jack Miller, Co-Owner of the M.V.M. program. “We were ready to go in St. Pete, but we all know how that ended. With the extended time off, we have been able to complete multiple days of testing at Road America and Mid-Ohio as they will be important locations due to the quantity of the events at each facility this year.”

TSO Ladder quick thought(s)

  • After four DNFs and an avoidable contact penalty in his first five races, Miller settled in and finished nine of the last ten laps. “JWM” clearly has the pace but needed to slow down to speed up. That mission was accomplished in the final third of the season, and TSO Ladder will be watching to see if the pace comes back with the improved race-craft.

Exclusive Autosport

Last but certainly not least. (I went by the 2019 team standings)

After three wins, nine podiums, and a third (Parker Thompson in 2017) and fourth (Igor Fraga in 2018) place championship finishes, Exclusive Autosport only took part in the first five rounds of the 2019 championship with a single driver.

This year, the Canadian team with a shop in Brownsburg, Ind. is back on the grid in a big way, signing a roster of potential race-winning drivers.

 Prescott Campbell in the No. 1 Lucas Oil School Of Racing sponsored USF-17 from the Exclusive Autosport stable (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)

In what we hope becomes a tradition, Prescott Campbell will be carrying the No. 1 as the Lucas Oil Formula Car Series champion. The 19-year-old Campbell was able to win the hotly contested championship despite missing a round with a broken leg sustained in a karting mishap.

Campbell, a 19-year-old Californian who is pursing a motorsport engineering degree at Oxford-Brookes University, was the fastest driver during the recent test at Homestead-Miami Speedway but understands that he has a lot to learn.

A second 19-year-old Californian, Christian Brooks, will hope to duplicate his previous career success. A standout karter with multiple marquee wins, Brooks made a move into formula cars last year. He collected a pair of wins and eight podiums on the way to a third-place finish in the 2019 F4 United States Championship Powered By Honda.

Replacing Manuel Cabrera in the third Exclusive Autosport entry will be karting standout Josh Pierson, a 14-year-old from Wilsonville, Ore.

TSO Ladder quick thought(s)

  • Campbell and Brooks should be able to push each other up the grid, and it will be interesting to see if the Exclusive Autosport duo will be able to challenge that Pabst Racing and Cape Motorsports drivers for wins.

Don’t miss any of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires action:

Note – Unfortunately due to split Road To Indy and INDYCAR schedule there will be no video this weekend. However, you will be able to listen to Rob Howden’s call.