The exciting title battle between Alex Palou and Patricio O’Ward isn’t the only rivalry headed for its climax on the IndyCar circus, as the Road to Indy feeder series have champions to be crowned next week
IndyCar goes to the streets of Long Beach to end its season this weekend, while there’s a few more days before its usual supports head to Mid-Ohio to bring their action to a close.
The USF2000’s title looks set to go one way (but anything can still happen), Indy Pro 2000 has shaped up to be a titanic battle between the two most recent USF2000 champions, and Lights has culminated in a showdown between the Road to Indy most successful driver ever and arguably the ladder’s biggest improver of 2021.
We’ve written up a quick overview of the three series so far, and how each contender got to where they are now, as well as discussing them on the latest podcast which you can listen to below or find on Breaker, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Castbox, Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
Kiko Porto (DEForce) – 368pts Michael d’Orlando (Cape) – 319pts
Both Porto and d’Orlando won races as rookies in USF2000 and both carried that momentum into 2021. Christian Brooks and Yuven Sundaramoorthy of Exclusive Autosport and Pabst Racing respectively had the early momentum behind them, but that swung as the season progressed.
A flip at St. Petersburg, contact at Road America and a miserable race two at New Jersey Motorsports Park aside, a trio of wins combined with strong results vaulted d’Orlando into the mix. He was brilliant at the last visit to Mid-Ohio too, with two wins and a second (behind Porto).
Porto, provided he doesn’t finish outside of the top 10 for the first time, has the title in sight. His consistency and race-winning prowess (he has won more than anyone else) makes him clear favourite. He’s also handy at Mid-Ohio, with three poles to go along with his July win.
Indy Pro 2000
Christian Rasmussen (JHDD) – 392pts Braden Eves (Exclusive) – 374pts Hunter McElrea (Pabst) – 347pts Reece Gold (Juncos) – 337pts Artem Petrov (Exclusive) – 329pts
Realistically, McElrea, Gold and Petrov aren’t in this fight, but they mathematically will be until Rasmussen at least starts the final two races of the season.
Reigning USF2000 champion Rasmussen has six wins already and has forged a rivalry with USF2000 predecessor Eves, whose rookie IP2000 season last year was curtailed due to an injury at Indianapolis.
Rasmussen recovered from a monster shunt of his own at Road America to come through to win there, while Eves hasn’t won on a circuit with a right turn since the second round at St. Petersburg. But both drivers’ recent forms have been patchy.
McElrea is the driver with momentum behind him right now, with five podiums (two of which were wins) from the last five races, but he sits 45 points back on a weekend where Rasmussen may take 22 points simply by starting both races depending on how big the grid is. Either way, McElrea will have a role to play in the decider.
Rasmussen goes into Mid-Ohio having a modest points advantage and knowing he’s a winner there already this season, so Eves will have to pull something out of the bag to prevent the Dane from claiming back-to-back RTI titles.
Kyle Kirkwood (Andretti) – 488pts David Malukas (HMD) – 473pts
Ignoring the 2020 Indy Lights season that was cancelled after a single practice session, then Andretti Autosport’s Kirkwood has amassed some eye-watering statistics from his last five years in American junior single-seater racing..
Out of 102 starts from United States Formula 4 all the way up to Indy Lights, he’s won a whopping 55 times, taken four titles and is in the prime position to turn Indy Lights into his fifth. He’s the Road to Indy’s most successful driver ever in terms of wins and could well be the first driver win USF2000, Indy Pro 2000 and Indy Lights titles as a rookie – a feat nobody has achieved (although his fellow Floridian Oliver Askew came close).
HMD Motorsports and its partner Global Racing Group really hit the ground running when Lights returned from its 2020 hiatus, with Malukas and Formula Regional Americas champion Linus Lundqvist heading the way.
It’s a bit of a shock to the system, as Andretti has had the upper hand in recent years, but HMD is an outfit firmly on the up.
Kirkwood hit his stride from Detroit onwards, with eight wins from the next 12 races including an absolute decimation of the opposition at Laguna Seca. Malukas kept himself firmly in contention, however, by winning the four races Kirkwood didn’t come out on top in – including one at Road America where Kirkwood damaged his car after a rare error.
This one is close to call, but Kirkwood won both of the Mid-Ohio races earlier this year and has tended to be untouchable at that circuit through his career. Andretti hasn’t always been on top of its set-up in 2021 though, so there’s no guarantee he repeats his previous advantage.