The increasing popularity of the recently instituted Ricmotech Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires iRacing eSeries has led to the adoption of stricter qualifying rules in time for this weekend’s third round to be held on the Indianapolis Grand Prix road course. More than three dozen entries are expected to battle it out in identically set up Pro Mazda cars, but only the top 28 will be permitted to start the 45-minute race which will go green at 1:04 p.m. EDT on Saturday, April 11.
Drivers from all three levels of the globally acclaimed open-wheel development ladder – the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires – will line up against several accomplished Road to Indy team principals. Among them are former NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver David Martinez (DEForce Racing), from Monterrey, Mexico, and Ireland’s Peter Dempsey (Turn 3 Motorsport), who finished among the top three in the Pro Mazda Championship in both 2008 and 2009, and in 2013 barely edged three others drivers to win a thrilling Freedom 100 Indy Lights race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in what was then the closest ever finish at the famed Brickyard.
“There are 28 spots reserved for the drivers that put in the time and practice to make the race,” said Indy Pro 2000 Race Director and five-time Indianapolis 500 starter Johnny Unser. “Just like practice in any other sport, the cream rises to the top. We find that the ‘back markers’ tend to have not done their homework, so we want to reward the top 28 for their effort and have a quality race.”
Californian Phillippe Denes, representing RP Motorsport USA, has opened up a commanding lead in the points chase after winning both of the first two rounds of the virtual racing series – at Barber Motorsports Park and Circuit of The Americas. Denes, 21, profited in the first race when polesitter Dempsey was run off the course by a back marker but was in a virtual class of his own last Saturday when he led from flag to flag at the current home of the United States Formula 1 Grand Prix.
Second generation Brazilian racer Eduardo “Dudu” Barrichello, who is now based in Orlando, Fla., has emerged as Denes’ closest challenger. The 18-year-old son of 11-time Formula 1 race winner Rubens Barrichello has finished on the podium in each of the first two races and, along with New Yorker Andre Castro (Legacy Autosport), is one of only two rivals to have legitimately overtaken Denes during the first two simulator events.
Barrichello currently trails Denes by 18 points, 65-47. Braden Eves, from New Albany, Ohio, who won last year’s USF2000 championship, along with a scholarship valued at over $300,000 to move up this year to Indy Pro 2000 with Exclusive Autosport, lies another eight markers back in third place. Eves will be hoping his double-win mastery of the Indy GP road course one year ago will translate into a similarly strong performance in the virtual world.
The eSeries mirrors the regular season in offering 30 points for a race win, plus bonus points for claiming the SimMetric Driver Performance Labs Pole Award, the TSOLadder.com Fastest Race Lap Award and for leading most laps.
After Denes once again posted the fastest time during online practice on Tuesday, additional sessions will be held today. One final 85-minute practice at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday will lead directly into an intense 15-minute qualifying at 12:45 p.m. which will set the 28-car starting grid for the race. All times are EDT.
All competitors will be racing for a cause as all registration fees to enter will be donated into a fund to support COVID-19 relief efforts. Utilizing the current Road to Indy points system, a champion will be crowned who will direct the distribution of the money raised to a good cause.
Fans can follow the weekly action on a series of outlets including the Cooper Tire Facebook page, the Road to Indy TV website and App, ApexRacingTV’s YouTube and Facebook, the iRacing eSports Network and the series’ respective Facebook platforms. In addition, live coverage will be carried by MAVTV Canada, which will be airing all Indy Lights races live in 2020 when the series returns to action as well as Indy Pro 2000 and USF2000 highlight shows.