PORTLAND, Ore. – Kyle Kirkwood and RP Motorsport USA continued their remarkable run of success by romping to a clear victory in this afternoon’s Cooper Tires Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix at Portland International Raceway. After qualifying second, Kirkwood, 20, from Jupiter, Fla., took advantage of a first-corner miscue by Russian teammate Artem Petrov, who started third but left his braking too late at the entry to the Festival Curves and punted first-time polesitter Sting Ray Robb (Juncos Racing) into a spin.
Kirkwood wasn’t seriously challenged as he drove to a fifth straight victory – and seventh in eight starts – to move ahead of long-time leader Rasmus Lindh (Juncos Racing) by nine points, 349-340, with just three races remaining this season.
Singapore’s Danial Frost finished second for Exclusive Autosport, while Canadian Parker Thompson (Abel Motorsports) was gifted third after countryman Antonio Serravalle (Pserra Racing/RP Motorsport USA) was handed a 10-second penalty for an illegal track re-entry following the first-corner fracas.
Robb, who hails from Payette, Idaho, and considers PIR to be his home track, was justifiably delighted to claim his first career pole after starting second on three previous occasions this season. Unfortunately, his hope of adding an overdue maiden victory was effectively ended within a few hundred yards of the start when, with Kirkwood looking to make a move to the inside under braking for the tight Festival Curves, he was the innocent victim as Petrov plowed into the rear of his No. 2 Tatuus PM-18. Petrov was dealt a drive-through penalty for “avoidable contact” and ultimately finished a lap behind in 10th.
Kirkwood took full advantage of his good fortune by sweeping easily into the lead as others behind him took evasive action. Frost, who started fifth, emerged from the melee in second place ahead of erstwhile championship leader Lindh, from Gothenburg, Sweden, who started a lowly seventh after his efforts in qualifying were hindered by a mechanical problem.
Unfortunately, Lindh’s luck didn’t improve in the race. He ran well in the opening stages with a fresh motor installed, but then began to slip back when a bolt fell out of his front wing assembly and led to increasingly worsening handling. He ultimately slipped to fifth at the finish.
Serravalle, from Montreal, Que., whose small family team had struck up a new arrangement for technical support from RP Motorsport USA this weekend, swept past Lindh on the ninth lap and seemed to have done enough to hold off a charging Thompson at the checkered flag until the addition of his penalty dropped him to fourth.
Thompson came on strong in the closing stages, passing teammate Jacob Abel, from Louisville, Ky., and Lindh after losing a lot of ground following the first-corner incident. Abel took home the Tilton Hard Charger Award after working his way from 11th on the grid to seventh.
Kirkwood’s continued success secured yet another PFC Award for RP Motorsport USA as the winning team. He will also start from pole position for tomorrow’s 14th round of the 16-race season after setting the fastest time in qualifying this morning. Robb will start second ahead of teammate Lindh. The green flag is set for 3:10 p.m. PDT, immediately after the NTT IndyCar Series headline event.
Kyle Kirkwood (#28 Mazda/Firstex Industries/Bell Helmets/Sabelt-RP Motorsports USA Tatuus PM-18): “I’m not sure how I got through Turn One. I saw that Parker had a massive run and I went to the inside of Sting Ray to try to defend from ending up in a bad situation. It created an opportunity to go to the lead, and that’s what we needed. Danial was extremely quick early, and our car took a few laps to come in – if I’d make any kind of mistake, he’d have been right on my gearbox because he’s a good driver and he has nothing to lose in the championship. Having the championship lead doesn’t change my mindset at all – my goal is to finish ahead of Rasmus, and we’ve done just that.”
Danial Frost (#68 Den-Jet Exclusive Autosport Tatuus PM18): “My goal was to get past Artem and Parker at the start but Artem braked too late. Thankfully, I was able to get past and into second. I was able to stick with Kyle for a few laps but he got away. I think we were lacking a bit of pace overall to fight for the win but second is good with the circumstances we’re in. We’re (almost) tied with Parker for third in the championship, and that’s our focus right now.”
Parker Thompson (#8 Abel Construction/Badlands Motorsports Resort-Abel Motorsports Tatuus PM-18): “I’m not sure how I got through the pack – a lot of red mist, I think. I feel badly for Artem, he’s never done a rolling start on a road course. Usually we see that at St. Pete, because it’s the first race for so many of the drivers coming here from Europe, but I would argue that Portland is just as tight. The team didn’t tell me that a podium was on the table and they said something about a penalty and I just kept driving. So red mist turned into a celebration, and I’ll take it. We’re fast enough to win a race, we just need some racing luck in the next three races.”