Canadian Parker Thompson secured a hard-earned victory this morning for Exclusive Autosport on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix road course. The Red Deer, Alberta native’s third victory of the season moved him back into the lead of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires after six of the 16 races. Up for grabs is a Mazda Scholarship worth close to $800,000 which will assist the champion in progressing to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires – the third and final step on the Mazda Road to Indy – in 2019.
Brazilian Carlos Cunha led almost half of the 25-lap race before finishing second for Juncos Racing. Sting Ray Robb, 16, from Payette, Idaho, claimed a career-best third for Team Pelfrey.
Oliver Askew (Cape Motorsports), the winner of last year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, led away from pole position at the start. Behind him, there was drama as outside front row qualifier Harrison Scott, the winner yesterday for RP Motorsport Racing, and Chicago’s David Malukas, who had started third for BN Racing, collided while trying to tuck into Askew’s draft.
Championship leader Rinus VeeKay, who had lined up in fifth for Juncos Racing, was left with nowhere to go, ending his race with severe suspension damage.
Teammates Robert Megennis and Cunha took advantage by moving into second and third place at Turn 1, only for contact between the pair at Turn 2 to leave an aggrieved Megennis in the gravel trap.
After a lengthy full-course caution, Cunha, who had started seventh, made a bold move around the outside of Askew under braking for Turn 1 to take over the lead. Askew immediately lost several places as incidental contact caused some minor damage to his car’s front suspension. Unfortunately, in his haste to make up time, Askew’s attempt to relieve Italian Lodovico Laurini’s RP Motorsport Racing Tatuus from fourth place in Turn 12 resulted in a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact.
Laurini continued, but only for another few laps before his race was ended by contact with yet another rival.
Cunha, Thompson and Scott enjoyed an exciting battle for the lead through the middle stages of the race until Scott suffered an electrical failure while running in second place. Thompson then placed Cunha under increasing pressure. Finally, on Lap 17, Thompson made his move to the inside of Cunha under braking for Turn 1. He then posted a series of fastest laps to cement the victory in fine style. Thompson posted a new race lap record for good measure, and Exclusive Autosport gained the PFC Award as the winning team.
“I was tearing up at the checkered flag and my engineer, Tim Lewis, was just screaming on the radio,” Thompson admitted. “It was so awesome to get a win here – it doesn’t get much better than winning at the Racing Capital of the World!
“It was tough out there today. We made a gamble on a low-downforce setup and it played out. I avoided the melees at the start and kept everything intact. We set fastest lap after fastest lap and that makes weekends like this so special, starting from back in sixth and taking the victory. This win is dedicated to my Exclusive Autosport team and to Elite Engines, because without them we wouldn’t have been able to qualify yesterday. We did an engine swap between qualifying sessions yesterday because of a part failure that was no one’s fault, really. It’s amazing that they were able to do that in such a short amount of time.”
Cunha remained unchallenged in second place, while Robb made a bold pass on Mexican teammate Andres Gutierrez for third on the final lap at Turn Seven. Askew, who had recovered well from his earlier penalty, also took advantage of the maneuver to nip ahead of Gutierrez for fourth.
“It was crazy – like yesterday, but more,” said Cunha. “I saw two cars take off at the start and I just tried to avoid everything. I did a good job on the restart and kept a strong pace and distanced myself from the guys behind, but we had another yellow which took my lead away, then I had a problem with the brakes after the restart and I couldn’t hold the position. It’s hard – I’m always there but we can’t break through for the win. But we have 10 more chances, I will just keep at it.”
Gentleman racer Charles Finelli steered clear of all the drama to claim the Tilton Hard Charger Award after rising from 14th on the grid to a career-best seventh at the flag.
Thompson’s third win of the season enabled him to open out a substantial points lead over VeeKay, 150-128, as the series heads next to Lucas Oil Raceway in nearby Brownsburg, Ind., for the first of two oval races this season.