PALMETTO, Fla. – Eduardo Barrichello had been knocking on the door to victory lane in each of the first three rounds of the Ricmotech Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires iRacing eSeries.
Fittingly Saturday at his Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship team Pabst Racing’s home track, Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., the personable 18-year-old son of former Ferrari Formula One racer Rubens Barrichello drove a perfect race to earn the victory.
Singapore’s Danial Frost, who this year will contest the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires series for Andretti Autosport, scored his first virtual Road to Indy podium finish in second, edging out series leader Phillippe Denes, from Carmel, Calif., at the finish line by three-tenths of a second.
Denes, representing his Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires team RP Motorsport USA, led most laps, eight, during a dramatic 45-minute, 22-lap race. But Denes was left to rue a strategic error which has allowed Barrichello to close to within 19 points, 119-100, with one race left next weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
A field of 35 contenders took part in the official qualifying session with only the fastest 28 able to progress into the race.
Last year’s USF2000 champion, Braden Eves, earned the SimMetric Driver Performance Labs Pole Award with a lap of 2:01.707. Looking to bounce back from a heartbreaking loss to Denes one week ago at the virtual Indianapolis Grand Prix Road Course, Eves made an exemplary start to lead away at the rolling start. He was chased by Denes, Ireland’s Peter Dempsey and Australian-based New Zealander Hunter McElrea, making his eSeries debut for Pabst Racing.
Denes drafted past to lead the opening lap before Turn 3 Motorsport team principal and former Indy Lights race winner Dempsey took advantage of a massive slipstream to leapfrog into the lead at turn one. Sadly, it didn’t last for long. McElrea, who one year ago claimed his first Road to Indy win in the real world at Road America, elevated himself to second place as the field plunged downhill toward turn three, but his attempt to draw alongside Dempsey at the apex of the corner resulted in contact which sent both of them spinning off the road. Several other drivers, including the unfortunate Eves, also were unable to avoid the incident.
Denes emerged in the lead unscathed, chased by Legacy Autosport’s Andre Castro, from New York, N.Y., up from sixth on the grid, eSeries debutant and regular Indy Lights campaigner Ryan Norman and Barrichello, who had qualified seventh.
The top three remained in tight formation until lap six, when Denes made a mistake and ran off the road at the exit of turn 14. The Californian managed to regain control but not before he was already committed to entering the pit lane.
With one mandatory pit stop for a virtual fuel top-up necessary, Denes was able to cycle back into the lead after the other leaders made their own stops at around half-distance. But Denes’ early stop meant that he would need to make an additional stop before the finish. When he ducked back onto pit lane after 16 laps, Denes fell to fourth, directly behind Frost, who had driven an excellent, consistent race after starting a lowly 21st.
Barrichello had caught the other leaders when Denes made his initial stop, and moved to the front for the first time after 10 laps when Norman ducked into the pits. Barrichello then made his own stop one lap later, right at the half-distance mark, resuming in fourth.
But when the three cars ahead of him – Denes, Castro and a recovered Eves – all needed to make an additional fuel stop, Barrichello hit the front again on lap 20. He then stroked home to take the flag 18.533 seconds clear of the rest. Barrichello also claimed an additional championship point for posting the fastest lap of the race.
USF2000 driver Christian Brooks looked set for second place after another fine drive, but having made his pit stop one lap sooner than Barrichello turned out to be his undoing. Despite doing his best to preserve fuel, Brooks ran dry on the final lap. He was fortunate to make the final uphill run to the finish in ninth, after being pushed across the line by Jacob Loomis, who gets the nod for the sportsmanship award.
Brooks’ dramas ensured that the battle between Denes and Frost was now for second place, whereupon Frost timed his run to perfection to pip Denes by a scant 0.309-second.
Eves crossed the line in fourth, narrowly ahead of USF2000 racer Prescott Campbell, with last year’s Team USA Scholarship winner Josh Green taking his best finish to date in sixth. Fellow USF2000 aspirant Michael Myers also drove a strong race to seventh for Legacy Autosport ahead of Brazilian Lucas Kohl.