Andretti recovers in Indy Lights from a slow start at Barber, a tight four-way battle for the title in Indy Pro 2000 and Christian Brooks takes the lead in USF2000!
The opening weekend at Barber was always going to be an outlier in this year’s Indy Lights season. The HMD Motorsports/Global Racing Group had spent a lot of time testing in Alabama, so it was no surprise that HMD/GRG set the pace there. Add to that some unusual issues in the Andretti camp, and as a result the HMD camp was on top of the world.
How different it was on the streets of St Petersburg. Many expected there to be a more level playing field in Florida, and so it turned out. Sure, David Malukas and to a lesser extent Linus Lundqvist continued to build on their fine Barber form, but Andretti Autosport’s boy wonder Kyle Kirkwood quickly erased any lingering doubts about his title chances after a less than stellar opening weekend.
The American took the win in Race 1, followed by a 2nd in Race 2, and is now firmly back in the title race. Malukas also scored a 3rd and a win, and has now taken over the lead in the standings from teammate Lundqvist. The Swede, who had never seen an American street course up close before, took some time to adjust and finished a distant 9th in race 1, but got another podium with a strong performance in Race 2.
Behind the three top runners, the remaining hopefuls all lost some ground. Devlin DeFrancesco seemed to be on his way to another podium finish in Race 1, before he binned it in the final turn and was classified a lowly 12th. In Race 2 he recovered somewhat with a solid 5th. Teammate Danial Frost bounced back from a sluggish Barber weekend to score a strong 2nd in Race 1 and a 4th in Race 2.
HMD/GRG’s Benjamin Pedersen got a 10th in Race 1, before improving to 6th on Sunday. Carlin front man Alex Peroni continued to adjust to a new series and car, but made sure to finish in both races and score valuable points. Juncos Racing struggled all weekend with set-up and technical issues, leaving both Toby Sowery and Sting Ray Robb adrift at times.
The overall conclusion is that Lights this year will be a nail biter. “We’re leading the championship but it’s so close and it’s going to be that way all season,” said Malukas. “The drivers this season are just insane.” Added Kirkwood: “Every driver who started up front finished up front, so it shows how competitive it is and how important qualifying is.”
And while he did not reach the heights of Barber, Lundqvist was well aware that consistency will be key this season. “The championship is tight so it will be key to minimize mistakes and keep it on track,” the Swede said. “For me as a driver, and as a team, we know the speed is there. Honestly, this feels like a win for us.”
Provisional championship points after 4 of 20 races:
1. David Malukas, 94; 2. Linus Lundqvist, 91; 3. Kyle Kirkwood, 86; 4. Devlin DeFrancesco, 70; 5. Danial Frost, 67; 6. Benjamin Pedersen, 65; 7. Alex Peroni, 62; 8. Toby Sowery, 58; 9. Robert Megennis, 56; 10. Sting Ray Robb, 49
Indy Pro 2000
If you think Indy Lights is tight, have a look at Indy Pro 2000. Based on the first two weekends, it seems like the championship is going to be fought out between three sophomores and a rookie. Braden Eves, Hunter McElrea and Artem Petrov were all expected to play a role in the title chase, but clearly they’ll also have to contend with Danish newcomer Christian Rasmussen this season.
The Danish driver only just lost the Race 2 win at Barber, and he dominated the proceedings at St Pete on Sunday. A first series win and a strong 2nd on Saturday means that Rasmussen and his team Jay Howard Driver Development will definitely be a contender this year.
For Exclusive Autosport, the weekend was slightly more of a mixed bag. Braden Eves won the first race and retains the lead in the standings, but he struggled somewhat in Race 2 and couldn’t do better than 6th. Teammate Artem Petrov seemed to be slightly off the pace all weekend, but he collected valuable points with a 4th and 8th respectively.
As for McElrea, his results were hampered by some issues. In Race 1 he couldn’t hold off the storming Rasmussen and had to settle for 3rd, but he had pole position for Race 2 and was looking to add to his win at Barber. Unfortunately, his car developed a loss of power that became worse as the race progressed, meaning he couldn’t get further than 4th in Race 2.
“I was lucky to salvage 4th, being a sitting duck in a straight line,” said McElrea. “It sucks a lot, as I know I had the car to win, but I’ll take the points and move onto IMS.” Rasmussen, on the other hand, was elated. “I had an amazing car all weekend and I’m so happy to get my first Indy Pro win. It’s all about the championship, it’s all we’re thinking about. Getting max points today is crucial.”
Eves reflected on his strong record at St Pete, where he won two races in USF 2000. “I came here in 2019 as a rookie and that first race, and first win, gave me the confidence to go on my championship run,” the American said. “It may not be the season-opener this time but I’m getting shades of 2019 with our success right off the bat.”
Provisional championship points after 4 of 18 rounds:
1. Braden Eves, 98; 2. Christian Rasmussen, 94; 3. Hunter McElrea, 87; 4. Artem Petrov, 79; 5. Reece Gold, 67; 6. Colin Kaminsky, 57; 7. Manuel Sulaiman, 55; 8. Enaam Ahmed, 55; 9. Jacob Abel, 50; 10. Cameron Shields, 42
In USF2000, Christian Brooks took the double and is now solidly on top of the table. In Race 1, the American avoided the carnage behind him (which took out eleven cars altogether) to win ahead of Exclusive Autosport teammate Matt Round-Garrido and Yuven Sundaramoorthy.
In Race 2 Brooks repeated his win, while Kiko Porto got a strong 2nd after starting from pole. Sundaramoorthy, however, eliminated himself after a run-in with Myles Rowe. The Force Indy driver had climbed up from 8th to 4th, but both drivers ended in the wall after a passing move gone wrong. Instead Michael d’Orlando took the final podium, after ending Race 1 upside down.
“This is the best weekend of my life,” commented Brooks after his second win. “It’s unbelievable, after such a tough weekend at Barber, to be the points leader and a back-to-back winner. I can’t thank everyone at Exclusive Autosport enough.”
The next Road to Indy weekend is on May 14-15 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Provisional championship points after 4 of 18 races:
1. Christian Brooks, 97; 2. Kiko Porto, 74; 3. Prescott Campbell, 73; 4. Josh Pierson, 69; 5. Yuven Sundaramoorthy, 67; 6. Michael d’Orlando, 54; 7. Spike Kohlbecker, 54; 8. Billy Frazer, 51; 9. Matt Round-Garrido, 46; 10. Josh Green, 46