Oval Maestro Swanson Scores Sensational Road to Indy Debut Win
 August 22, 2020| 
  • Series News
IP2K LOR 2020

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Wow! Kody Swanson has been striving for years to gain an opportunity to compete in the Indianapolis 500. Now 32, from Kingsburg in California’s Central Valley, Swanson is a five-time USAC Silver Crown Series champion.

RTI_LOS_R1_082020_C_7563This evening at Lucas Oil Raceway, a 0.686-mile oval situated only 15 minutes or so from the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Swanson took a big step toward that goal by winning the Cooper Tires Freedom 90. Remarkably, it was Swanson’s very first race on the highly acclaimed Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder – and in a rear-engined car, a Tatuus PM-18 entered by Legacy Autosport and co-owned by Mike Meyer, whose great-grandfather Louis was the first-ever three-time Indy 500 winner.

After qualifying second last night, Swanson swept into the lead on Lap 40 of the 90-lap race, run entirely under green-flag conditions, and controlled the remainder of the 90-lap distance to secure an emotional victory in what was also the very first start in the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires for Legacy Autosport.

New Zealander Hunter McElrea also drove a fine race, rising from sixth on the grid to take second for Pabst Racing. Polesitter Manuel Sulaiman, from Puebla, Mexico, had to be content with third for DEForce Racing.

The effectiveness of Swanson’s sublime performance cannot be overstated. Sure, he had plenty of experience at Lucas Oil Raceway, but he had never before raced on radial tires. The driving style necessary to extract the maximum performance from his 275-horsepower, 2.0-liter Elite Engines-powered Tatuus was completely different to that demanded by his usual thunderous V8-powered steed. Yet he took to the new discipline immediately.

By his own admission, and unsurprisingly, Swanson struggled to come to grips with the car in the early stages of the race. He almost lost control early in Turns One and Two, under intense pressure from series veteran Sting Ray Robb (Juncos Racing), from Payette, Idaho, but quickly settled down.

Sulaiman, who claimed his second Cooper Tires Pole Award last night, took advantage of his greater familiarity with the car to pull out a useful advantage of almost three seconds over the course of the opening 20 laps. But by then Swanson was into his groove. The margin between them shrank steadily. By Lap 35, the two leaders were nose-to-tail, with Robb hanging on gamely in third.

Five laps later, as the leading trio worked to put a lap on Canadian Antoine Comeau (Turn 3 Motorsport) in Turns Three and Four, Swanson used his wealth of oval-track experience to sneak alongside Sulaiman on the preferred outside line. He then edged ahead as they crossed the stripe to begin another lap. Swanson never looked back, eventually taking the checkered flag almost a quarter-lap clear of the field to secure a first-ever PFC Award for Meyer and his father, Butch, as the winning car owners.

RTI_LOS_R1_082020_C_7842Then, after the victory celebrations, Swanson calmly headed off to climb aboard his USAC Silver Crown car in pursuit of yet another race victory.

With Swanson long gone in the lead, the focus centered instead on the battle for second. Sulaiman had seemed to be in control, but McElrea had other ideas. After making up one position at the start, the New Zealander had to wait until the 60th lap to make any more progress, when he scythed past Robb in Turns One and Two. Ten laps later he overtook Frost, whereupon it took only another handful of laps to reel in Sulaiman, whom he again passed in Turns One and Two.

There was no catching Swanson but it was still a fine drive by McElrea, earning him the Tilton Hard Charger Award.

Sulaiman held on for third, his maiden Indy Pro 2000 podium, while championship leader Devlin DeFrancesco (Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport), from Toronto, Ont., Canada, in his first-ever oval race, somehow found a way past Frost – a dominant winner at Lucas Oil Raceway one year ago – on the final lap to finish fourth.

Robb slipped to sixth at the finish ahead of Braden Eves (Exclusive Autosport), from New Albany, Ohio, who narrowly held off Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing), from Homer Glen, Ill., and Russian Artem Petrov (Juncos Racing). Canadian Parker Thompson (DEForce Racing) was the final unlapped finisher in 10th.

The Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires will return to action next week with the second oval race of the season, the Indy Pro 2000 Oval Challenge of St. Louis Presented by Cooper Tires on Saturday evening, August 29, at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill.

Provisional championship points after six of 17 rounds:

1. Devlin DeFrancesco, 136

2. Sting Ray Robb, 129

3. Danial Frost, 127

4. Artem Petrov, 118

5. Braden Eves, 115

6. Hunter McElrea, 104

7. Manuel Sulaiman, 103

8. Parker Thompson, 89

9. Colin Kaminsky, 83

10. Moises de la Vara, 70

Kody Swanson (#20 Fatheadz Eyewear/Metalloid/Rosewood Machine & Tool-Legacy Autosport Tatuus PM-18): “I’m 32 years old. I’ve been trying to do this for a long time, and to have the group of people around me, rallying around me to give me a chance, I’m so grateful. I can’t thank Legacy Autosport, Fred Edwards at Metalloid, and Fatheadz Eyewear enough for stepping up and making this possible this weekend.

“One of the advantages of being 32 is that I’ve seen a lot of lapped traffic and while the aero thing is killing me – it’s hard to learn! – I knew that it was so tight. The beauty of being second is you just go where the other guy isn’t. When he chose the bottom, I thought I could pin him in, and if that didn’t work, I’d just follow him later. But I pinned him in and rolled around him. We put dirty air on everyone behind us, and I just sat tight for a while and tried to manage the gap. I tried to be choosy getting around lapped traffic and not take any risks, so we could bring it home. The team gave me an amazing car for the first time in the series, and I’m just happy to be the guy driving it.”

Hunter McElrea (#18 Giltrap Group/Miles Advisory Partners/Doric NZ/Bell-Pabst Racing Tatuus PM-18): “That was awesome, it was the most fun I’ve ever had in a race car. The first time for the team on an oval with this car and they nailed it, I can’t thank them enough. We set the car to be good from the middle of the race to the end and it just got better and better. Everyone started fading and my car got better. I just kept throwing moves, just put my head down and picked them off. This is mega for our confidence, and we got a bucketload of points. We’re really happy with that but there’s a long way to go. There are eight guys in the fight and I’m loving it.”

Manuel Sulaiman (#8 Mandala/Viva Aerobus/Telcel/La Santa-DEForce Racing Tatuus PM-18): “It was a good race, the car was amazing. We lost some pace midway through the race, so we couldn’t hold the lead. It was a good fight to the end; we just wanted to bring the car home. The team did a great job but unfortunately it didn’t go our way. Thanks to the team and to everyone who has helped me – this is for them. It’s good for my confidence, on my second oval ever, so I am ready for next weekend.”

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