The good news for Kyle Kirkwood was that he needed only to start today’s Cooper Tires Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix Presented by Allied Building Products in order to clinch the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and a scholarship valued at almost $600,000 to advance one step on the Road to Indy to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires in 2020. So when he was involved in an accident on the opening corner of the final race of the season, it was nothing more than a disappointment and a minor inconvenience.
With Kirkwood out of contention for the win, his closest championship rival, polesitter Rasmus Lindh, was able to emerge from a dramatic 25-lap race to claim his third victory of the season and another PFC Award for Juncos Racing. In the final reckoning he was an agonizing two points shy of Kirkwood’s victorious tally of 419.
Canadian Parker Thompson charged through the field to finish second for Abel Motorsports, while Texan Kory Enders matched his career-best finish with a fighting third place for DEForce Racing.
The initial start was clean, with Lindh making a solid getaway from the pole and leading the way toward Turn 2, chased by Kirkwood, who had qualified second fastest for RP Motorsport USA. Behind, though, Kirkwood’s teammate Artem Petrov tangled with Sting Ray Robb (Juncos Racing), then lost control and spun directly into the path of Kirkwood. Both teammates were out on the spot.
After three laps behind the pace car while the two damaged cars were removed from the racing surface, Lindh took off again into the lead, chased by Danial Frost (Exclusive Autosport).
A mistake by Lindh on Lap 6 allowed Frost to take over the lead, but the Swedish driver recovered quickly enough to resume in second ahead of the DEForce pair of Enders and Moises de la Vara, and the two Abel cars of Thompson and Jacob Abel.
The next drama came on Lap 14, when Frost’s car suddenly speared off the road at Turn 9, out of the race due to a suspected suspension failure following contact on the first lap.
The pace car was scrambled again to remove Frost’s damaged car, whereupon Lindh took off once again into the lead. He quickly managed to eke out some breathing space over Enders, who in turn came under increasing pressure from Thompson.
Unfortunately, a slight slip by Enders with just four laps to go enabled Thompson to complete his impressive drive through the field. A second-place finish and the Tilton Hard Charger Award was his reward.
Enders held on for third ahead of teammate de la Vara, who claimed his best career finish, with Abel completing the top six just ahead of Robb, who did well to recover so well after being forced to make a pit stop following the first-lap incident.
“I had a good jump at the start and I saw that Kyle was on the outside, so I went inside to protect and we grabbed the lead,” said winner Lindh. “I did a mistake midway through the race that lost us the lead, but I was able to get it back when Danial had his problems. It’s good to end the season this way. The Juncos team did such a great job this year. We were fighting for podiums and wins at every single race. The car has been just perfect. It was a consistent year, so I’m happy in the end.”
Said new champion Kyle Kirkwood after the race: “We wanted to end the season with a bang, get into double-digit victories and take eight in a row, but the championship was the main goal. That’s all that matters now. We’re over the moon; the race is minute compared to that. But I can’t thank the RP Motorsports team enough — they’ve been flawless since Road America. The car has just been on rails. The only times we haven’t won were because we got crashed out.
“To walk away with this title means so much. I don’t know if I would have believed it possible before Road America — so many things had to go right. But Juncos was outstanding as well. Rasmus has been on the podium in almost every race; we needed every one of (our) wins.
“Honestly, I haven’t given a thought to next year yet. It will probably start to sink in tomorrow night at the banquet, but right now we’re going to enjoy this moment with the team.”