Kyle Kirkwood is an unstoppable force in this year’s Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. The 20-year-old overcame a deficit of more than three seconds to polesitter Sting Ray Robb in this afternoon’s Cooper Tires Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix Presented by Allied Building Products at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca before grasping the lead when Robb ran briefly off the road at Turn 5 with just over four laps remaining.
Kirkwood needed no second bidding as he reeled off the laps to claim his ninth victory in 10 races for RP Motorsport USA.
The win means Kirkwood needs only to take the green flag in tomorrow’s 16th and final race of the season to clinch his second successive Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires championship crown. Kirkwood has amassed a remarkable record of 21 Road to Indy race wins in just two years following an equally dominant performance in last year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship.
“This has relieved a lot of pressure on me and on the team,” said the young Floridian. “It was tough today, with both Juncos cars ahead of me, and I was nervous going in — especially with Rasmus on the pole tomorrow. Going into the race, we knew all we had to do was finish ahead of him, so going for a pass on his teammate was not something I was willing to do.
“I turned up the wick toward the end, so I did push for a few laps and the car kicked out on him, which created an opportunity for me. I never expected that to happen but it worked out for the championship. Tomorrow will be fun, which is a real change from all the pressure this year.”
A crestfallen Robb had to settle for second place — for the fifth time this season — while Juncos Racing teammate Rasmus Lindh’s championship aspirations were all but extinguished after his distant third-place finish.
Robb maintained his recent run of form by securing his second pole position in the last three races during qualifying yesterday. He seemed to be sitting pretty after setting a torrid pace in the opening stages and opening up a commanding lead of over three seconds inside the first 15 laps. But then, quite suddenly, the momentum shifted. While Robb’s pace slowed by almost a second per lap as his tires began to wear on the notoriously slippery and challenging 2.238-mile road course, Kirkwood began to reap the benefits of a relatively conservative drive during the first half of the 25-lap contest.
The gap came down steadily, first to 2.8 seconds, then 2.5, 1.7 and 1.5 on consecutive laps. With five laps remaining, the two leaders were virtually nose to tail. Then, agonizingly and to his intense frustration, Robb’s car suddenly slipped sideways, wide into the dirt, on the approach to Turn 5. Kirkwood pounced, and grabbed a lead he was able to hold comfortably to the finish.
Robb remained well clear of a surprisingly lackluster Lindh, who nevertheless claimed his 12th podium of the season. But his 20-point deficit to Kirkwood at the start of the weekend has now ballooned to 28 points, such that Kirkwood’s tally is now out of reach as long as the Floridian starts tomorrow’s season finale.
In Lindh’s wake, Canadian Parker Thompson (Abel Motorsports) fought hard to hang onto fourth place after a race-long battle with Russian Artem Petrov (RP Motorsport USA) and Singapore’s Danial Frost (Exclusive Autosport). Thompson’s teammate, Jacob Abel, also was hot on the heels of this group after a tigerish drive.
RP Motorsport USA gained its ninth PFC Award of the campaign, although it was not enough to prevent Juncos Racing from clinching the coveted Teams Championship for the second straight year.
Canadian Antonio Serravalle (Pserra Racing/RP Motorsport USA) earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award after improving from 13th on the grid to 10th at the finish line.