MONTEREY, Calif. – Kyle Kirkwood is an unstoppable force in this year’s Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. The 20-year-old from Jupiter, Fla., overcame a deficit of more than three seconds to polesitter Sting Ray Robb in this afternoon’s Cooper Tires Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix Presented by Allied Building Products at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca before grasping the lead when Robb ran briefly off the road at Turn Five with just over four laps remaining. Kirkwood needed no second bidding as he reeled off the laps to claim his ninth victory in
10 races for RP Motorsport USA.
The result means Kirkwood needs only to take the green flag in tomorrow’s 16th and final race of the season to clinch his second successive Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires championship crown. Kirkwood has amassed a remarkable record of 21 Road to Indy race wins in just two years following an equally dominant performance in last year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship.
A crestfallen Robb had to settle for second place – for the fifth time this season – while Juncos Racing teammate Rasmus Lindh’s championship aspirations were all but extinguished after his distant third-place finish.
Robb, from Payette, Idaho, maintained his recent run of form by securing his second pole position in the last three races during qualifying yesterday. He seemed to be sitting pretty after setting a torrid pace in the opening stages and opening up a commanding lead of over three seconds inside the first 15 laps. But then, quite suddenly, the momentum shifted. While Robb’s pace slowed by almost a second per lap as his tires began to wear on the notoriously slippery and immensely challenging 2.238-mile road course, Kirkwood began to reap the benefits of a relatively conservative drive during the first half of the 25-lap contest.
The gap came down steadily, first to 2.8 seconds, then 2.5, 1.7 and 1.5 on consecutive laps. With five laps remaining, the two leaders were virtually nose to tail. Then, agonizingly and to his intense frustration, Robb’s car suddenly slipped sideways on the approach to Turn Five. He tried his darnedest to retain control but succeeded only in sliding wide onto the dirt, whereupon Kirkwood gratefully slipped past and into a lead he was able to hold comfortably until the finish.
Robb remained well clear of a surprisingly lackluster Lindh, from Gothenburg, Sweden, who nevertheless claimed his 12th podium of the season. But his 20-point deficit to Kirkwood at the start of the weekend has now ballooned to 28 points, such that Kirkwood’s tally is now out of reach as long as the Floridian starts tomorrow’s season finale.
In Lindh’s wake, Canadian Parker Thompson (Abel Motorsports) fought hard to hang onto fourth place after a race-long battle with Artem Petrov (RP Motorsport USA), from Saint Petersburg, Russia, and Singapore’s Danial Frost (Exclusive Autosport). Thompson’s teammate, Jacob Abel, also was hot on the heels of this group after a tigerish drive. Abel, who started fifth, had to lift abruptly off the throttle soon after the start when he ran out of space while trying to pass teammate Thompson, costing him several positions. He was trapped behind Los Angeles-based Russian Nikita Lastoshkin for the first 11 laps, but once past he quickly erased a deficit of more than four seconds to finish directly behind Frost.
RP Motorsport USA gained its ninth PFC Award of the campaign, although it was not enough to prevent Juncos Racing from clinching the coveted Teams Championship for the second straight year.
Canadian Antonio Serravalle (Pserra Racing/RP Motorsport USA) earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award after improving from 13th on the grid to 10th at the finish line.
Kyle Kirkwood (#28 Mazda/Firstex Industries/Bell Helmets/Sabelt-RP Motorsports USA Tatuus PM-18): “This has relieved a lot of pressure on me and on the team. It was tough today, with both Juncos cars ahead of me, and I was nervous going in, especially with Rasmus on the pole tomorrow. Going into the race, we knew all we had to do was finish ahead of Rasmus, so going for a pass on his teammate was not something I was willing to do. I turned up the wick toward the end, so I did push for a few laps and the car kicked out on him, which created an opportunity for me. I never expected that to happen but it worked out for the championship. Tomorrow will be fun, which is a real change from all the pressure this year.”
Sting Ray Robb (#2 Go Out Local/Big Idaho Potato Truck/OMP/Intervention.com-Juncos Racing Tatuus PM-18): “I don’t know what happened. I nearly spun in a spot I shouldn’t have spun. It was just one of those things that happens so fast. I tossed the race away and then frustration kicks in. But this is my first time here, so to come out of practice fourth and take pole in one race and qualify third in the second, I was really happy. It was good to get a jump on the weekend. Hopefully we can get it tomorrow.”
Rasmus Lindh (#10 Chicago Pneumatic/PWR Junior Team/SKF-Juncos Racing Tatuus PM-18): “The team has done a great job with the car, (although) we’ve been struggling with qualifying lately. We didn’t focus so much on the race pace so I think we need to do that for tomorrow, so we can win tomorrow and make the championship a bit closer in the end. We’ve had a very consistent year and I’m getting experience every step of the way. This is only my second year in cars so I’m learning every time I go out.”