MADISON, Ill. – Devlin DeFrancesco has proven to be a quick learner in his rookie season of competition on the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires.
Saturday at World Wide Technology Raceway, DeFrancesco drove like a veteran in his second start on an oval, leading throughout the closely contested Indy Pro 2000 Oval Challenge of St. Louis Presented by Cooper Tires.
The 20-year-old Toronto, Ontario, had to work hard for his laurels, heading an intense four-car battle throughout the 55-lap race. On the final lap, Braden Eves squeezed past Russia’s Artem Petrov to secure second, with Petrov’s Juncos Racing teammate Sting Ray Robb also close behind in fourth.
After securing the Cooper Tires Pole Award Friday, DeFrancesco made an exemplary start to lead the field into turn one. Petrov tucked into second place ahead of Singaporean Danial Frost, who managed to sneak past Robb. Manuel Sulaiman also made up a position on the opening lap at the expense of Eves, who had started fifth.
Frost was unable to maintain his early pace, soon slipping back to fifth position as DeFrancesco, Petrov, Robb and Eves settled into a rhythm at the head of the field.
DeFrancesco displayed admirable speed and consistency as he fought to keep his position at the head of a frantic four-car train. The leaders were never separated by more than a few car lengths, and while Eves seemed to have an especially quick car, it took him until lap 49 to finally find a way past Robb for third.
Next time around the 1.25-mile oval, Eves turned what was to stand as the fastest lap of the race. Last year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 champion quickly latched on Petrov’s tail, and just when it seemed as though the Russian could weather the storm, Eves swept to the high line entering turns three and four on the 55th and final lap, driving clear around the outside of Petrov and then winning the drag race to the finish line by less than a tenth of a second.
Just ahead of them both, DeFrancesco posted his fastest lap on the very last lap to secure a magnificent victory ahead of Eves, Petrov and Robb as the quartet were separated by only 1.2527 seconds.
“I haven’t had a win like this in such a long time and it’s the best feeling in the world! The team has done an unbelievable job,” said DeFrancesco. “They’ve really gotten me up to speed on the ovals quite quickly – what to look for, what not to look for. I’m really enjoying the ovals. We have had a very strong car all week, from the first test on, and I knew we’d be even stronger in the race. We took a gamble after practice with the downforce level and it really paid off; the car was so easy to drive. It’s great to add to the championship lead but honestly, I’m not thinking about the points. We’re just taking it race by race, and this one was extremely satisfying. It’s a great confidence booster.”
Frost slipped back to a disappointing fifth at the finish, just ahead of the DEForce pair of Parker Thompson and Sulaiman.