MONTEREY, Calif. – The good news for Kyle Kirkwood is that he needed only to start today’s Cooper Tires Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix Presented by Allied Building Products in order to clinch the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and a scholarship valued at almost $600,000 to advance one step on the Road to Indy to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires in 2020. So when he was involved in an accident on the opening corner of the final race of the season, it was nothing more than a disappointment and a minor inconvenience.
With Kirkwood out of contention for the win, his closest championship rival, polesitter Rasmus Lindh, from Gothenburg, Sweden, was able to emerge from a dramatic 25-lap race to claim his third victory of the season and another PFC Award for Juncos Racing. In the final reckoning he was an agonizing two points shy of Kirkwood’s victorious tally of 419.
Canadian Parker Thompson charged through the field to finish second for Abel Motorsports, while Kory Enders, from Sugar Land, Texas, matched his career-best finish with a fighting third place for DEForce Racing.
The initial start was clean, with Lindh making a solid start from the pole and leading the way toward Turn Two, chased by Kirkwood, who had qualified second fastest for RP Motorsport USA. Behind, though, Kirkwood’s teammate Artem Petrov, from Saint Petersburg, Russia, tangled with Sting Ray Robb (Juncos Racing), then lost control and spun directly into the path of Kirkwood. Both teammates were out on the spot.
After three laps behind the pace car while the two damaged cars were removed from the racing surface, Lindh took off again into the lead, chased by Singapore’s Danial Frost (Exclusive Autosport).
A mistake by Lindh on Lap Six allowed Frost to take over the lead. Lindh recovered quickly enough to resume in second ahead of the DEForce pair of Enders and Moises de la Vara, from Guadalajara, Mexico, and the two Abel cars of Thompson and Jacob Abel.
The next drama came on Lap 14, when Frost’s car suddenly speared off the road at Turn Nine and out of the race due to a suspected suspension failure following contact on the first lap.
The pace car was scrambled again to remove Frost’s damaged car, whereupon Lindh took off once again into the lead. He quickly managed to eke out some breathing space over Enders, who in turn came under increasing pressure from Thompson. Unfortunately, a slight slip by Enders with just four laps to go enabled Thompson to complete his impressive drive through the field. A second-place finish and the Tilton Hard Charger Award was his reward.
Enders held on for third ahead of teammate de la Vara, who claimed his best career finish, with Abel completing the top six just ahead of Robb, who did well to recover so well after being forced to make a pit stop following the first-lap incident.
Kyle Kirkwood (#28 Mazda/Firstex Industries/Bell Helmets/Sabelt-RP Motorsports USA Tatuus PM-18): “We wanted to end the season with a bang, get into double-digit victories and take eight in a row, but the championship was the main goal. That’s all that matters now. We’re over the moon, the race is minute compared to that. But I can’t thank the RP Motorsports team enough, they’ve been flawless since Road America. The car has just been on rails. The only times we haven’t won were because we got crashed out. To walk away with this title means so much. I don’t know if I would have believed it possible before Road America, so many things had to go right. But Juncos was outstanding as well. Rasmus has been on the podium in almost every race; we needed every one of those wins.
“Honestly, I haven’t given a thought to next year yet. It will probably start to sink in tomorrow night at the banquet, but right now we’re going to enjoy this moment with the team.”
Rasmus Lindh (#10 Chicago Pneumatic/PWR Junior Team/SKF-Juncos Racing Tatuus PM-18): “I had a good jump at the start and I saw that Kyle was on the outside, so I went inside to protect and we grabbed the lead. I did a mistake midway through the race that lost us the lead, but I was able to get it back when Danial had his problems. It’s good to end the season this way. The Juncos team did such a great job this year. We were fighting for podiums and wins at every single race. The car has been just perfect. It was a consistent year, so I’m happy in the end.”
Parker Thompson (#8 Abel Construction/Badlands Motorsports Resort – Abel Motorsports Tatuus PM-18): “We went in fighting for third in the championship, which was especially on my mind since I was starting back in 10th. It was funny how the points unrolled through the race – my position in the championship kept changing based on who was leading. I just kept pushing and suddenly ended up second. I took a lot of chances, and it paid off. I was side-by-side with more than a few cars. They gave me room – not a lot – but enough to bring it home. But I’m playing the game of survival. I’m constantly proving that I deserve a shot at IndyCar. I know it’s not first today, but it gives me some notoriety that I’ve taken another new team to a podium in the championship.”
Kory Enders (#7 MBSugar Land/Caliber Construction/McLaren Houston – DEForce Racing Tatuus PM-18): “That was insane. Starting fifth, we knew we had the chance to go for our first win. But no one could have seen that kind of start coming. On the restart, I was second behind Rasmus and went side-by-side with him, and I was thinking we had the win right there. I thought I could wrap it up for the team. But to get a podium at my favorite track, there’s nothing better. We couldn’t ask for much more.”