INDYCAR Rising Star Kirkwood to Address Road to Indy “Oval Clinic”
PALMETTO, Fla. – The first two steps on the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder will venture onto an oval track for the first time this season when the traditional Carb Night Classic – “The Race Before the 500″ – takes place this Friday evening, May 27, at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park. Both the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship will be in action on the demanding 0.686-mile oval just a few miles to the west of the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which on Sunday will host the 106th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
As tradition also demands, every driver will benefit from the knowledge of others who have passed through the program during a special Oval Clinic to be held on Thursday morning, prior to the commencement of on-track activities. The competitors will be addressed by a panel of experts comprised of former IRP race winners Kyle Kirkwood, Christian Rasmussen and Parker Thompson.
The trio has notched a total of 62 Road to Indy race wins between them, with Kirkwood last year becoming the first driver ever to win championships and scholarships on every level of the world-renowned ladder when he claimed top honors in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires title-chase. Kirkwood on Sunday will make his Indy 500 debut with the legendary four-time winner A.J. Foyt’s team.
“Because I [had] a karting background and [had] never driven an oval in my life, I was never really a fan of oval racing. In my mind, it was all just turning left,” said Kirkwood back in 2018, moments after his oval track debut resulted in a dominant USF2000 victory at IRP. “But my perspective on it has totally changed after this weekend, after I learned how much strategy was involved and how technically challenging it actually was. Getting the car setup right is huge. I love it now – that was the most fun I’ve had with all the passing, both in practice and in the race.”
Parity in Indy Pro 2000
Different teams have tasted the fruits of victory in the Cooper Tires Freedom 90 during each of the last three years, and no clear favorite for top honors in Friday’s race has emerged following an exciting start to the season which has seen 10 drivers and seven teams claim at least one podium finish from the first seven races.
Nolan Siegel, 17, from Palo Alto, Calif., currently leads the point standings for DEForce Racing on the strength of two race wins. He therefore has the initial edge in the quest for a scholarship valued at almost $615,000 to ensure graduation to Indy Lights in 2023.
This week’s race represents the first of two oval races on the calendar. The second will take place at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill., in August. Both events carry extra significance with a 50 percent points bonus on offer – 45 to the winner of each race, instead of the usual 30, plus the regular singleton points for pole, fastest race lap and leading most laps.
A long list of challengers this week will include Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Reece Gold, from Miami, Fla. Gold, who also has a pair of wins to his name this year, has finished second at IRP in each of the past two seasons, firstly in USF2000 and then last year in Indy Pro 2000 when he qualified on the pole and led 77 laps before being overhauled by Rasmussen in the late stages.
English rookie Louis Foster has excelled in each of the opening events for Exclusive Autosport, notching four fastest race laps, despite never having raced previously in North America. Foster ultimately scored his maiden victory in the most recent race on the Indianapolis Grand Prix road course.
Josh Green (Turn 3 Motorsport), from Mount Kisco, N.Y., and fellow rookie Salvador De Alba (Jay Howard Driver Development), from Guadalajara, Mexico, also have finished on the top step of the podium in 2022.
A pair of 45-minute test sessions on Thursday afternoon will precede single-car qualifying at 5:30 p.m. EDT, during which drivers will each complete two flying laps to determine their starting positions for the 90-lap event. An additional 15 minutes of practice at 4:25 p.m. on Friday will allow teams to make final changes to their cars’ setups prior to the race at 8:05 p.m.
Live streaming will be available at RoadToIndy.TV, the Road to Indy TV App and indypro2000.com.
Jones Looks to Extend USF2000 Lead
Almost 59 years after Parnelli Jones’ victory in the 1963 Indianapolis 500, his grandson, Jagger Jones, will seek to extend a slender one-point lead in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship which ultimately will award a scholarship valued at almost $407,000 to graduate to Indy Pro 2000 in 2023.
Jones, 19, from Scottsdale, Ariz., has amassed plenty of experience on the ovals during the past few years in stock cars and has adapted very quickly to open-wheelers during his rookie campaign with powerhouse team Cape Motorsports. Jones scored a breakthrough victory at Barber Motorsports Park at the beginning of the month, then claimed three successive Cooper Tires Pole Awards in the most recent event on the Indianapolis road course.
Jones currently holds a one-point edge over New Zealander Billy Frazer (Exclusive Autosport), who in turn is only one point clear of preseason title favorite Michael d’Orlando (Cape Motorsports). The native of Hartsdale, N.Y., finished as runner-up in the championship last year and will have high expectations this week after scoring his own maiden USF2000 triumph last year at Indianapolis Raceway Park.
Pabst Racing teammates Myles Rowe, from New York, N.Y., and Jace Denmark, a near neighbor of Jones in Scottsdale, Ariz., also are in the thick of the title mix. Rowe, who in 2021 was chosen as the first representative of INDYCAR’S Race for Equality & Change initiative, has won twice this year, while Denmark emerged on top in the opening race of the season on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. Denmark also has a positive experience at IRP already under his belt after securing his first-ever USF2000 podium finish in 2021.
Others to watch will include Jackson Lee (Cape Motorsports), from nearby Avon, Ind., who will have substantial support in the grandstands, and Trey Burke, 17, from Alvin, Texas, who made the transition to road racing last year with Joe Dooling Autosports – Curb/Agajanian after gaining extensive experience of short-track oval racing in high-horsepower Sprint cars.
As with their Indy Pro 2000 brethren, a pair of 45-minute test sessions on Thursday will allow the USF2000 contenders to apply the knowledge gained during the Oval Clinic earlier in the day in advance of single-car qualifying at 4:45 p.m. Similarly, a 15-minute warmup practice at 4:05 p.m. on Friday will provide one more opportunity to prepare for the 75-lap Cooper Tires Freedom 75 at 7:05 p.m.
Global live streaming can be found at RoadToIndy.TV, the Road to Indy TV App as well as usf2000.com.