LEXINGTON, Ohio – More than three months after the first attempt to start the season in Florida was thwarted by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires took its first steps toward some degree of normalcy Monday at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Sweltering conditions greeted competitors in the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship as they took an opportunity to test at the scenic and challenging 2.258-mile road course in advance of a pair of visits during the heavily revised 2020 schedule.
Indy Pro 2000 veteran Danial Frost marked an impressive maiden appearance with the relatively new Turn 3 Motorsport team by turning the fastest times of the day. By contrast, Cape Motorsports assumed its regular position at the top of the USF2000 charts, with young New Yorker teenagers Michael d’Orlando and Josh Green at the top of the timing charts.
Three months ago, after finishing fifth in the 2019 Indy Pro 2000 championship with two race wins to his credit, Singaporean Frost was contemplating his rookie campaign in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires. But with Indy Lights now on hiatus until 2021 as a result of the effects of the pandemic, Frost instead will return for a second season in Indy Pro 2000. Judging by today, that could turn out to be a smart move, with the season champion set to earn a scholarship which will guarantee the cost of a 2021 season in Indy Lights.
Frost immediately gelled with Peter Dempsey’s Turn 3 team and turned what was to stand as the fastest lap of the day, 1:16.6264, an average speed of 106.084 mph, in the first session this morning.
“We tested last week, to get the chemistry and understanding with the team a bit better before the official series test today,” said Frost. “Last week was good and I expected the same thing today. The results were there and I think we’re in pretty good shape. We worked on the feel and the rhythm of the car in the first session, and to put in a good lap time because we knew that would be the best time given the track conditions.
“It’s a great team to work with and an easy environment – they seemed fast last year and I expected them to be fast this year, and they proved that today. I’m excited to drive with them this season.”
Although Frost held a handy margin of more than 0.8 seconds in that opening period, his margin reduced dramatically as the day wore on. Indeed, Juncos Racing’s Sting Ray Robb, from Payette, Idaho, set the pace in each of the final two sessions, including a best of 1:16.7320 – less than 0.2 shy of Frost’s benchmark – at the end of the day .
Road to Indy veteran Parker Thompson was third quickest for DEForce Racing at 1:17.1863.
Mexican rookie Manuel Sulaiman impressed aboard a second DEForce Tatuus PM-18. Sulaiman, who is stepping up to Indy Pro 2000 after one year in USF2000, improved his pace steadily throughout the day, ending up with the fourth fastest time at 1:17.5739.
After gaining extensive experience in Europe and Asia over the past five years, Devlin DeFrancesco (Andretti Steinbrenner Racing), 20, acclimated quickly to the different surroundings of a new car, team and race track by ending the day a promising fifth quickest.
Fellow Canadian Antoine Comeau also acquitted himself well in a second Turn 3 Motorsport entry with the sixth fastest time.
Cape Motorsports has been a dominant force in USF2000 over the past decade, claiming an unbroken streak of nine consecutive driver championships. So it was no surprise to see the squad once again at the top of the timing charts, with 18-year-old d’Orlando posting the fastest time of all, 1:21.8805, an average speed of 99.276 mph, during the second session of the day, shortly before the lunch break.
Green, 17, was barely a tenth of a second behind on 1:21.9810, comfortably quickest of the USF2000 rookies. Stepping up to USF2000 after finishing second in last year’s F1600 Championship Series in his debut season of car racing, Green displayed admirable consistency by placing among the top three in each of the three sessions he contested. Having taken part in a private test at Mid-Ohio a couple of weeks ago, neither d’Orlando nor Green ventured out for the final session this afternoon.
Kyle Dupell, from Portland, Ore., and Reece Gold, from Miami, Fla., also flew the Cape flag with distinction. Both finished the day among the top five overall combined times, with Gold, who finished 10th in the 2019 championship, fastest of all in both the first and last sessions.
The only interloper at the end of the day was Jack William Miller, from Carmel, Ind., whose best lap, 1:22.118, for the Miller Vinatieri Motorsports team topped the charts in the first afternoon session and remained good enough for third fastest overall.
Californian teenager Nolan Siegel ended the day sixth fastest, edging out Jay Howard Driver Development teammates Christian Rasmussen, from Copenhagen, Denmark, who overcame some electrical gremlins, and Wyatt Brichacek, from Johnstown, Colo.
Christian Brooks (Exclusive Autosport), from Santa Clarita, Calif., posted the ninth fastest time of the day ahead of Englishman Matt Round-Garrido, who was the only Pabst Racing representative to make the trip.