Harrison Scott, from Chelmsford, England, and RP Motorsport Racing profited from a mistake by Mexican teenager Andres Gutierrez to claim victory in treacherous conditions this morning at Barber Motorsports Park. The Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Alabama Presented by Cooper Tires finished under caution when a light drizzle turned into a little more serious precipitation with the entire Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires field still running on slick tires.
Yesterday’s winner, Parker Thompson, from Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, capped an impressive weekend by finishing second for the Canadian-based Exclusive Autosport team. Carlos Cunha, from Campinas, Brazil, rounded out the podium for Juncos Racing.
The picture-perfect conditions of Saturday were replaced this morning by a heavy overcast and predictions of significant rain. Thankfully, despite a few sprinkles prior to the start, everyone started on dry-weather Cooper Tires, with Thompson making full use of his pole position, earned yesterday in qualifying, to maintain his advantage at the green flag.
Scott leapt from fourth on the grid to second on the opening lap, followed by 17-year-old Gutierrez, who had charged from sixth on the grid for Team Pelfrey. Gutierrez’s teammate, Rafael Martins, from Brazil, ran fourth in the early stages, chased by front row qualifier David Malukas (BN Racing) and Dutch rookie Rinus VeeKay (Juncos Racing), who still held the championship points lead following his double victory last month on the streets of St. Petersburg.
After Thompson went wide and lost a couple of positions, the man to watch in the early stages was Gutierrez. As more spots of rain began to fall on the challenging and undulating 2.3-mile road course, Gutierrez placed the vastly more experienced Scott under intense pressure before, on Lap 10, moving alongside on the straightaway prior to Turn Nine and sneaking through on the inside under braking.
Gutierrez looked comfortable in the lead as he actually extended a small margin over the pursuing pack which comprised Scott, Thompson, Martins, Malukas, VeeKay and Cunha. The youngster stayed in front until Lap 21, when the rain intensified just a little more and caught him out under braking for Turn Nine. At virtually the same time, race officials called for the Mazda Safety Car to be dispatched due to the poor conditions.
The race duly finished under caution, with Scott taking the win ahead of Thompson and Cunha, who had recovered superbly after falling from third on the grid to seventh in the early stages.
“I am so happy to come away with the victory for myself and the team in only our second round together here in America,” said Scott. “We only received the cars in March and so much hard work has gone into this behind the scenes, to be standing in Victory Lane already is great.
“It was very unpredictable today but being British, we’re used to this weather – a lot of rain and changing conditions. I know what to expect and how to go about it. I started P4 and got into second at the start, going around the outside in Turn 1. I got around Parker but it’s so hard being out in front – you just don’t know how the conditions are evolving. Andres passed me and he was quite quick, but as soon as the rain came down we both slid, though I managed to keep it on the black stuff and come out in the lead. Thankfully, the safety car came out.”
“I had a little moment out there – I left my tear-offs on and when it started to rain, I didn’t see it,” said Thompson. “I went into Turn 12 and I’m surprised I’m still standing here.
“Harrison was adapting to the conditions a little better, which is usually the case when you’re in second place and you can watch the lines the leader is taking. He found more grip and made a very nice pass. We had a car set up for more dry conditions so I’m happy that I kept the car on track, and happy that the yellow came out as it was getting worse by the moment.”
VeeKay finished fourth, earning himself the Tilton Hard Charger Award after starting from ninth. He was followed across the line by Malukas, Robert Megennis (Juncos Racing), who had closed up onto the tail of the leading train after starting eighth, and the unfortunate Gutierrez.
For the second day in a row, a new team, RP Motorsport Racing, claimed its first PFC Award.
Thompson’s strong weekend has moved him into the championship lead by a four-point margin, 102-98, over VeeKay as the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires heads next to Indiana for the Royal Purple Synthetic Oil Grand Prix of Indianapolis supporting the Lupus Foundation of America on May 11-12.