The two leading contenders currently in the battle for the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires crown started on opposite ends of the grid for this afternoon’s Cooper Tires Oval Challenge of St. Louis at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, but it was Kyle Kirkwood who emerged victorious following a nail-biting 55-lap race.
Juncos Racing’s Rasmus Lindh captured his fourth pole position of the season, setting a new qualifying track record at the 1.25-mile oval in the process. RP Motorsport USA’s Kirkwood, though, lost his qualifying tie due to a technical infraction and was slotted to the back of the grid.
Kory Enders (DEForce Racing) posted his best qualifying effort to date to start alongside Lindh on the front row.
There was plenty of side-by-side racing and three lead changes in the opening laps before the Kirkwood freight-train-charged to the front to take the top spot on Lap 7, while Lindh found himself shuffled back to fourth behind Moises de la Vara (DEForce Racing) and Enders.
As battles continued throughout the field, Kirkwood and Enders briefly checked out, pulling away to a 3.5-plus second lead over the field by Lap 25.
The first and only caution came on Lap 40 when Lindh, who had been stalking de la Vara, finally found a way past, but in the move, the pair made slight contact sending de la Vara spinning and into the Turn 3 wall. He was subsequently checked and released from medical.
The green flag flew once again on Lap 48 with seven to go. While Kirkwood took off into the lead, Enders had his hands full with a charging Lindh and the riveting battle continued until the final dash to the checkers, Lindh taking second just before the finish line.
“It was just disbelief when I saw the checkers. My team was just screaming on the radio, half in Italian, half in English!” Kirkwood related. “I was going to be happy with a top five — top three was optimistic, going into the race. It was incredible to come through the field like that.
“I don’t remember half the passes I made; I was in the zone, just pushing as hard as I could to get to the front, and it gave me chills once I got into the lead. We set the car up to be fast right away, because we knew that’s where we would be able to pass. The car wasn’t ideal once we got to the lead, because we never thought about being out front the whole time. But we had to go for it; we’re behind in the championship – and we almost came away with the lead.”
Enders had to settle for third — his best result to date this season — setting the fastest lap of the race in the process. He was followed home by Danial Frost of Exclusive Autosport, who brought home his eighth top-four finish of the year. Sting Ray Robb (Juncos Racing) rounded out the top five.
Two relative newcomers to the series boasted impressive performances, Russian Artem Petrov finishing seventh in his series debut and Antoine Comeau (Turn 3 Motorsport) ninth after a strong fourth-place qualifying effort.
Kirkwood, by virtue of his charge from last to first, to claim his sixth win of the season — and sixth out of the last seven races — earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award, with RP Motorsport USA picking up another PFC Award as the winning team.
Lindh still holds the points lead, but his margin over Kirkwood is just six, 323-317.
Next on the calendar for the entire Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is a doubleheader at Portland International Raceway, Aug. 31-Sept. 1, with the Sept. 21-22 season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca looming.