ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Two weeks ago, Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires veteran Parker Thompson wasn’t even sure he would be on the grid this season. How quickly things can change. After concluding a late deal to join debutant team Abel Motorsports, Thompson, from Red Deer, Alb., Canada, came from behind to take the checkered flag comfortably clear of impressive rookie Rasmus Lindh (Juncos Racing).
Lindh’s teammate, Sting Ray Robb, from Payette, Idaho, matched his career-best finish in third.
Unlike the earlier Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship curtain-raiser, the start for this afternoon’s opening round of the newly rebranded Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires was relatively clean. Thompson, mindful of the notoriously problematic Turn One, elected to take a conservative approach which allowed an opportunist Lindh, who qualified second, to drive around the outside and assume the lead at Turn Two. Robb, who started fourth, also snuck past last year’s USF2000 champion, Kyle Kirkwood (RP Motorsport USA) in the opening sequence of turns, whereupon Kirkwood’s attempt to regain third place in Turn Five resulted in contact between the pair and a broken front wing for Kirkwood.
Lindh, who finished second in last year’s USF2000 Championship, also as a rookie, put his head down on the opening lap to open up over two seconds on the field, but it didn’t take Thompson long to reduce that deficit to just a few car lengths. Robb, too, followed in Thompson’s wheel tracks such that the three leaders were back in nose-to-tail formation as they completed the fifth of 25 laps.
Their battle was then interrupted by the first of two full-course cautions. Kirkwood’s troubled Indy Pro 2000 debut had ended prematurely in Turn Three after he had slid almost to the back of the field and then made additional contact with Parker Locke (Exclusive Autosport), who was fortunately able to continue unscathed.
Lindh picked up from where he left off at the restart. So, too, did Thompson, who, on Lap 15, used his superior traction out of the final corner to gain a run on race leader Lindh, then take the lead in style under braking for Turn One.
One more brief interruption, when Kory Enders (DEForce Racing), from Sugar Land, Texas, dropped out of eighth place in Turn 10, proved to be of little consequence to Thompson, who powered away at the restart to finish 1.3238 seconds clear of Lindh. Robb took the flag close behind in third, chased by Singaporean rookie Danial Frost, who had started sixth for Exclusive Autosport.
Teammate Nikita Lastochkin, from Los Angeles, Calif., earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award after rising from eighth on the grid to fifth. Along the way he had been embroiled in an entertaining tussle for position with Frost and Mexican Moises de la Vara (DEForce Racing), who briefly ran as high as third before slipping to sixth at the finish.
A second qualifying session at 7:55 a.m. EST tomorrow will set the starting grid for a 30-lap Race Two, for which the green flag is scheduled to fly at 11:25 a.m.
Parker Thompson (#8 Abel Construction/Badlands Motorsports Resort-Abel Motorsports Tatuus PM-18): “This is huge for us, especially since we’re under the pressure of a one-race deal. It’s great to finally stand on the top step of the podium, since a win in St. Pete has always eluded me. It’s one of my favorite races and I’m always fast here but somehow I haven’t won it, so my mission is complete. I knew how good the car was; the Abel Motorsports guys gave me a rocket ship. I knew I was faster than Rasmus, though he did a better job at the start, but I worked him over, used my experience and the raw pace of the car to come through with the victory.”
Rasmus Lindh (#10 Chicago Pneumatic/PWR Junior Team/SKF-Juncos Racing Tatuus PM-18): “We saw that Parker was starting on new tires so we knew he would be a bit slower in the beginning, so when he braked a bit early on the start, I threw it out there to get past him. I made a mistake in the last corner and he got a run and got past me, but it’s good points in the championship and we’ll come out better tomorrow. I’m feeling confident in the car, in getting used to a new car. There are things to get used to, like not wearing out the tires early, but we’re working hard and this finish feels good.”
Sting Ray Robb (#2 Go Out Local/Big Idaho Potato Truck/OMP/Intervention.com-Juncos Racing Tatuus PM-18): “My goal for the year is to win the championship, so to get the points is a benefit. I fell back on the restart but made a good move on Moises (de la Vara) to start getting back toward the leaders. I was laying down qualifying laps but I didn’t have enough to get it done in the end. We’ll make a few changes to the car and come out faster tomorrow."