ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Danial Frost and Artem Petrov each collected a victory in Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires competition on Friday afternoon at Road America.
Frost produced a stunning comeback in the opener, fighting his way from last to claim a memorable first win for Turn 3 Motorsport, while Petrov was equally impressive for Juncos Racing en route to snaring his maiden Road to Indy checkered flag later in the afternoon.
Canadian Devlin DeFrancesco also shone during his North American debut. After competing with distinction in Europe and Asia over the course of the past four years, DeFrancesco had to settle for second after leading virtually throughout the first race, then added a solid fourth-place finish in race two
The action-packed day began with Frost posting the fastest time in the lone qualifying session held in damp but drying conditions. It came as no surprise after the second-year Indy Pro 2000 racer had led the way in testing yesterday and headed last week’s pre-season test at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. But his euphoria didn’t last long. Instead he was banished to the back of the 16-car grid after his car failed post-qualifying technical inspection.
Undaunted, Frost produced a mesmerizing performance as he blitzed his way into fourth position inside just three laps. He didn’t stop there. Road to Indy veteran Parker Thompson was his next victim, after nine laps, whereupon he quickly dispatched Indy Pro 2000 debutant Colin Kaminsky for second place next time around.
By this point DeFrancesco had opened up a seemingly unassailable lead of 3.6 seconds after inheriting the Cooper Tires Pole Award on his Road to Indy debut. But Frost wasn’t finished. The gap came down steadily, inexorably, until the leading pair were separated by only a few car lengths as they sped onto their final lap.
DeFrancesco clung onto his narrow lead through each of the 14 turns, only for Frost to make a perfect exit to the final corner to begin a drag race to the checkered flag. Frost timed his run to perfection, inching alongside as the two cars raced up the hill, then nosing ahead mere yards before the checkered flag to win by a scant 0.0556 of a second.
“Coming out of the first race week with the championship lead is all that matters. Now we have to maintain that spot,” said Frost. “We’re happy with what we’ve gotten this week, especially with the difficulties we had this morning, but we have to keep pushing. With the win and the podium, it’s a good way to finish. The team has done an excellent job this week and I know we’ll be fighting for the championship all year, but right now our goal is to be on the podium every race and limit our mistakes – and we’re on the right path to that.”
Kaminsky rounded out the podium after the unfortunate Thompson retired with a mechanical problem in the closing stages. Last year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Champion Braden Eves battled some handling difficulties to finish fourth, just ahead of Indy Pro 2000 veteran Sting Ray Robb, who battled his way from 15th on the grid after an issue in qualifying.
Mexican rookie Manuel Sulaiman rounded out the field in 16th after a mid-race pit stop to replace a damaged rear wing. Crucially, though, his DEForce team also took the opportunity to bolt on a set of fresh Cooper Tires, which Sulaiman used to excellent effect by posting the fastest lap of the race which also meant he would start race two from the pole position.
Despite starting the year as one of the title favorites, Thompson’s day went from bad to worse as he was involved in an incident with New Zealander Hunter McElrea just a few seconds after the start of the second race. Both were eliminated from the race, which was immediately neutralized by a full-course caution.
Frost, who started second, drafted past Sulaiman to take the lead at the restart. He was chased by Petrov, who also had hit problems during the opening race but started third for the second encounter.
Frost’s hopes of sweeping the opening day were dashed when Petrov drafted past into the lead, then began to edge clear. Sulaiman settled into third, with Robb completing a four-car train when the caution flags waved briefly again following a spin by FatBoy Racing’s Charles Finelli.
Petrov marshaled himself for the restart, timed it perfectly, and drove comfortably to the victory.
“I’m really happy for the team to get the 1-2 in the second race,” said Petrov. “We did a very good job today and I’m happy to get them the win. It wasn’t easy out there with the heat and I made a few small mistakes, but it was all about maintaining the pace once I was out in front. It’s great to get my first Road to Indy win.”
This time it was Robb who provided the final flurry of activity, overtaking Frost with three laps remaining to match his career-best finish of second.
Frost followed by in third, narrowly ahead of DeFrancesco, who earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award after starting from ninth on the grid. Eves posted the fastest lap of the race in the closing stages as he wrested fifth position away from Kaminsky two laps from the finish. Sulaiman slipped down the order after spinning at turn one.