Teen-aged Swedish rising star Rasmus Lindh showed ability in a fine run to second place as a rookie in last year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, but was never quite able to break through into Victory Lane.
Moving up a step this year on the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder, Juncos Racing’s Lindh set that record straight today, holding off a late challenge from 2018 nemesis Kyle Kirkwood to claim a well-earned victory in the Indy Pro 2000 Championship race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Kirkwood, from Jupiter, Fla., overcame a penalty at the start to chase all the way from last to second, posting a new lap record along the way for RP Motorsports USA, while Singapore’s Danial Frost kept the momentum of his strong start going for Exclusive Autosport by finishing third.
Lindh laid down a marker this morning, breaking Oliver Askew’s year-old lap record in qualifying to claim the pole position. He was then granted a gift when Kirkwood, who started second, was penalized by Race Director Johnny Unser for jumping the first attempt at a start and sent to the back of the field.
Frost, who was himself penalized two positions on the starting grid for failing to slow sufficiently for waving flags in qualifying, made full use of the open position ahead of him to chase Lindh into Turn One at the next attempt at a start. Lindh’s Juncos Racing teammate Sting Ray Robb slotted into third as a fine qualifying effort for FatBoy Racing’s Phillippe Denes was sadly annulled when he was hit from behind by Mexico’s Moises de la Vara (DEForce Racing). Several other cars also were delayed, which allowed Nikita Lastochkin (Exclusive Autosport) to vault all the way from ninth on the grid to fourth ahead of points leader Parker Thompson who had qualified his Abel Motorsports Tatuus PM-18 a dismal 12th.
Kirkwood was the other major beneficiary of the first-corner fracas, last year’s dominant USF2000 champion picking his way through the carnage to emerge in sixth. A lap later, Kirkwood was up to third after slipping past both Lastochkin and Thompson, and benefitting also when Robb locked up into Turn Seven, costing himself three positions.
The two leaders were by then three seconds up the road, but Kirkwood began whittling away at the deficit, Frost keeping leader Lindh firmly in his sights. On lap 16, the leaders were virtually together as Kirkwood caught up, seting a new Indy Pro 2000 lap record of 1m 19.3332s, an average speed of 110.677 mph.
Frost tried his hardest to keep Kirkwood behind, and succeeded in doing so until lap 20, when Kirkwood drafted alongside him on the high-speed approach to Turn One, then braved it out around the outside to emerge in second at Turn Two. It was an impressive maneuver but it also cost him some valuable time to Lindh, who maintained an admirably consistent pace to ensure himself of a hard-earned victory.
A disappointed Robb finished fourth, 13 seconds behind Frost, while Thompson, after his travails in qualifying, was happy to finish fifth, well clear of teammate Jacob Abel and securing the Tilton Hard Charger Award.
Ricardo Juncos, whose eponymous team is based within earshot of the Speedway, took home the PFC Award as the winning team owner.
Tomorrow’s weekend Race 2 will see Lindh once again start from the pole, after establishing yet another new lap record during a separate qualifying session this morning. Juncos Racing teammate Robb will start alongside on the front row of the grid.