MONTEREY, Calif. – Another exciting season of Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires competition was capped by Monday evening’s Road to Indy Championship Celebration.
The Monterey Plaza Hotel, overlooking Monterey Bay on the scenic California Central Coast, provided a glorious setting for more than 250 members of the close-knit racing community, including drivers, families, teams and sponsors.
The evening followed a momentous weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, where all three championship titles – the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, Indy Pro 2000 Championship presented by Cooper Tires and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship crowns – were settled in conjunction with the finale to the NTT IndyCar Series.
The Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires is unique in the world of auto racing, offering scholarships and awards valued at more than $2.2 million for young drivers to progress all the way from the grassroots level to the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500.
The open-wheel development ladder’s global appeal was underscored this year by the fact that 16 different nationalities from five continents were represented on this year’s grids.
“This completes our 10th season operating the Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires and this program continues to do its job of providing the best and most complete training for tomorrow’s IndyCar stars,” noted Road to Indy promoter Dan Andersen. “The evening highlighted so many fantastic seasons by the talented young drivers who make up our fields, and we are very proud to be a small part of their ongoing careers in motorsports.
“We offer a tremendous thanks to all of our partners, and especially to Cooper Tires for all they do to allow us to operate at such a high level. Thanks as well to the Andersen Promotions staff and congratulations to all of our winners. Now, we’ll all move on to a great 2020 season.”
The champions’ roll was topped by 22-year-old Oliver Askew, from Jupiter, Fla.
The Andretti Autosport driver’s payday included a scholarship valued at $1.1 million to guarantee entry into a minimum of three NTT IndyCar Series races in 2020, including the 104th Indianapolis 500.
Askew, who has made a meteoric progression from karting to Indy cars inside four years – after earning the inaugural Mazda Road to Indy $200K USF2000 Scholarship Shootout in 2016 and the 2017 USF2000 title – also won the Indy Lights Rookie of the Year Award.
Coincidentally, Askew’s childhood friend and longtime former karting rival Kyle Kirkwood enjoyed an equally productive evening.
One year on from dominating the USF2000 title chase, Kirkwood became the first driver since Matthew Brabham in 2012 and 2013 to claim consecutive championships in USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000.
Kirkwood’s roller-coaster season with RP Motorsport USA saw him encounter some early season dramas, then overcome a deficit of as much as 45 points to virtually clinch the title with his ninth victory of the season on Saturday at WeatherTech Raceway.
All that was required the following day was to start the 16th and final race of the season.
It was just as well, because Kirkwood was eliminated in a crash at the first corner, while his primary rival Rasmus Lindh ended up in victory lane.
Kirkwood’s final margin was a mere two points to secure a $500,000 scholarship to advance to Indy Lights, a Cooper Tires Tire Allotment Award valued at $66,900 toward his 2020 season and a Race Entry Fee Award valued at $29,800, for a total value of $596,700.
The most exciting title-chase of the weekend came in USF2000. Braden Eves, 20, arrived in California with a six-point deficit to New Zealander Hunter McElrea, which then became a 12-point hole after McElrea finished second on Saturday while Eves crossed fourth.
But when McElrea hit trouble in qualifying for the final event and Eves made a spectacular pass for the lead on the opening lap and then held on through a nail-biting 20 laps to win his series-leading sixth race of the year, an emotional first Road to Indy title was assured.
In addition to claiming a record-extending 13th USF2000 crown – and ninth in a row – for Cape Motorsports, Eves guaranteed himself a $250,000 scholarship to advance to Indy Pro 2000, a Cooper Tires Tire Allotment Award valued at $31,000 and a Race Entry Fee Award valued at $24,600, for a total payday worth $305,600.
Another traditional element to the evening included the induction of three new members to the Road to Indy Hall of Fame.
The Class of 2019 was comprised of Ed Carpenter, who won the inaugural Indy Lights Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and now runs a successful NTT IndyCar Series team; Gerardo Bonilla, a race winner in the 2006 Indy Pro 2000 Championship who is now director of operations for the Lucas Oil School of Racing; and Augie Pabst, a third-generation racer who made 22 USF2000 starts in 1996 and 1997, is a highly valued member of the Road to Indy family as a team owner, and this weekend claimed his third straight USF2000 Team Championship.
To view a full list of this year’s Road to Indy award winners, advance to the next page.