The 2021 USF2000 season has been life-changing for Yuven Sundaramoorthy on and off the track.
It began in the offseason at Sebring International Raceway, where the 18-year-old tested often at the Florida road course. The track simulates street course conditions and is a favorite test track for drivers in the Road to Indy ladder system and in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. But for Sundaramoorthy, the task was simple: Hone his craft.
Sundaramoorthy struggled with qualifying in his first two USF2000 seasons and finished 12th in the points standings in 2019 and ’20. Feeling there was a direct correlation, Sundaramoorthy worked on hitting what he called his “theoreticals.” He could put together portions of a good lap, but the driver of the No. 22 for Pabst Racing needed to put together a full lap.
At his first true test of the season at Barber Motorsports Park, all his hard work paid off. Sundaramoorthy scored the pole position for Race 1 of the weekend, even though he spun out in qualifying.
“We eventually just put it all together in qualifying, like I’ve been saying we needed, and getting that lap together,” he said. “I hit that lap. Definitely all the offseason work came together there.”
Now with the best spot in the field, Sundaramoorthy was able to show he had what it takes to win.
He convincingly won his first USF2000 race that day, pacing the field from start to finish in the black No. 22. It was a relief for the driver who had never finished better than fifth in a race. Sundaramoorthy followed up that breakthrough win with doubleheader sweeo on Friday in the first two of the three USF2000 races during the GMR Grand Prix weekend on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Sundaramoorthy said having such a strong car at Barber allowed him to soak in the win before he crossed the finish line. He spent the final few laps thinking about the trophy he was about to receive. And in typical driver fashion, once the race was over, his sights were set on the road ahead.
“It felt really great, especially because it was the first race of the year, so I’d be leading the championship,” he said. “It kind of sets in after a while. It’s probably not the greatest thing, but it put more championship focus into my mind, which is probably a little too early to focus on that. Overall, it felt really good.”
The win was a big moment for Sundaramoorthy and his family, but it was also a big moment for the motorsports industry. With the win at Barber, he became the first driver of Indian descent to win a race in INDYCAR and in the Road to Indy ladder system.
He’s also one of just a handful of drivers of Asian descent to win in INDYCAR and the Road to Indy since 2010, following Weiron Tan (Malaysia) in Indy Pro 2000 in 2015, Yufend Luo (China) in USF2000 in 2016, Danial Frost (Singapore) in Indy Pro 2000 in 2019-20, Robert Megennis (Asian-American) in Indy Lights in 2019 and Takuma Sato in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, who is the defending Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner.
Sundaramoorthy is from Wisconsin, but his mother is from India, while his father was born in Malaysia and lived in India.
“It felt really good to bring more mention to the other side of the world, to bring more attention to this sport,” Sundaramoorthy said. “I definitely believe INDYCAR is some of the best racing in the world, and I definitely feel like it deserves a lot more attention than what it’s getting.”
Sundaramoorthy said in the moment, he didn’t know the history he had made in North American open-wheel racing. It wasn’t until a few nights later when he was at home with his parents that they realized what his win truly meant.
“It feels really good to lead this field and make it clear that there is a path for different people to be able to win races and move forward in this series and in this country,” he said. “There’s a significant amount of Indian drivers in India racing in MRF Challenge. That was really big because I got a couple wins, and to see all the Indian fans in the crowd and everything felt really good, especially to act like a figure and supporting and showing the country that this is possible.”
Sundaramoorthy’s win was one of the latest on-track milestones in IMS and INDYCAR’s Race for Equality & Change program, which began last July with the goal of supporting diversity and inclusivity across the INDYCAR industry.
After just 10 months, the Road to Indy has seen an Indian winner with Sundaramoorthy and the first woman to go over the pit wall for a winning car in INDYCAR history with Danielle Shepherd on the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. Both happened at Barber Motorsports Park April 17-18.
Also at Barber, Force Indy, an African American-led team with African American driver Myles Rowe, made its debut in USF2000. And this month, Paretta Autosport, a female-led team with driver Simona De Silvestro, will make its on-track debut as it attempts to make the field for the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 30.
For Sundaramoorthy, a computer science major at University of Wisconsin, the win at Barber was a sign of what’s to come. He showed speed at St. Petersburg, finishing third in Race 1. Race 2 didn’t go according to plan, and he finished 24th after completing 11 of 20 laps. But then he rebounded with the win Friday at IMS after qualifying third. His best finish last year at IMS was eighth.