Manuel Sulaiman today became the seventh different winner after just 11 rounds of an intensely competitive Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. Sulaiman held off a determined challenge all race long from Danial Frost (Turn 3 Motorsport), although both trailed Sulaiman’s unfortunate DEForce Racing teammate Parker Thompson until the Canadian suffered an engine failure midway through the 25-lap race.
Hunter McElrea finished third for Pabst Racing, notching his fifth podium finish from his last seven starts.
The grid for the first of two races which will comprise this weekend’s Surgere Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio was set in qualifying yesterday, with Frost claiming his first Cooper Tires Pole Award, fractionally ahead of Thompson and Sulaiman. All three were blanketed by just .057s.
The two front row starters battled side by side as they entered Turn 1, but it was Thompson who gained the upper hand to grasp the lead for the first time this season. Sulaiman slotted into third ahead of McElrea, who found a way past series points leader Sting Ray Robb (Juncos Racing) on the opening lap.
Devlin DeFrancesco (Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport) held onto sixth, under intense pressure from the second Juncos Racing Tatuus PM-18 of Russia’s Artem Petrov until the Italian-Canadian also experienced a mechanical problem which caused him to pull off the track after five laps and brought out the caution flags for the first time.
Thompson led away at the restart, only for his hopes of victory to expire dramatically just a handful of laps later. Cue another full-course caution.
Sulaiman, who already has two poles to his credit this season, took up the running once the green flags flew again, and even though Frost was never more than a few car lengths in arrears, held on expertly to secure the victory. He also secured a first-ever PFC Award for DEForce Racing.
“This is just amazing, to achieve this win. We had the speed all weekend but we missed pole so that wasn’t a good start, but we made up for it by getting the victory,” said a happy winner. “It was so fun out there – especially since it is so difficult to pass. I knew we had the speed, I just waited to make my move.
“It’s the first win for DEForce Racing, so that’s so important for me and the team,” Sulaiman continued. “They did a great job and they deserve this. I’m happy for them but I’m sorry for what happened to Parker. We could easily have been one-two.”
McElrea lost a place to Robb after 10 laps but regained it again with just five laps remaining, and then added another championship point to his tally by posting the fastest lap on the last lap of the race.
After slipping back into clutches of teammate Petrov in the closing stages, Robb just managed to maintain the position, thereby extending his championship lead to 28 points over DeFrancesco.
Colin Kaminsky (Pabst Racing) finished sixth after a race-long battle with Jacob Abel (Abel Motorsports) who earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award after starting from 12th on the grid.
The second leg of the Surgere Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio is slated to start tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. EDT. Sulaiman again will start up front after edging Robb by just a scant .0291s during a separate qualifying session yesterday afternoon.