By Road to Indy
LEXINGTON, Ohio – The Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course has been a happy hunting ground for Kyle Kirkwood. One year ago he swept all three rounds of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship en route to winning the title and a Mazda Scholarship to ensure his graduation to the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires in 2019. He also won all three F3 Americas races last season and claimed one F4 victory in 2017. This afternoon he added to that tally by leading from flag to flag in Round 11 of the Indy Pro 2000 series.
Kirkwood’s fourth win from the last five races for RP Motorsports USA has vaulted him to second in the championship standings, just 24 points adrift of series leader Rasmus Lindh, from Gothenburg, Sweden, who finished a slightly fortuitous second for Juncos Racing after starting sixth.
Kirkwood’s teammate Ian Rodriguez, from Guatemala, completed the podium in third.
After the first attempt at a start was waved off, polesitter Kirkwood, 20, from Jupiter, Fla., jumped hard on the throttle as soon as the green flag waved and immediately pulled a car’s length lead over his title rival Lindh, who had started second. Teammate Rodriguez also made a lightning-fast start, leaping from fifth on the grid to third inside the opening half-lap.
The next lap spelled disaster for a pair of championship aspirants, with early season points leader Parker Thompson, from Red Deer, Alb., Canada, suffering a mechanical problem and Abel Motorsports teammate Jacob Abel tangling with fourth-in-the-points Danial Frost (Exclusive Autosport), from Singapore, at the kink on the main straight while disputing fourth place. All three cars were out of the race and the Pace Car was scrambled while the damaged cars were removed.
Kirkwood quickly reasserted himself at the restart, eventually winning by 2.7028 seconds, while Rodriguez continued his charge by slipping past Lindh for second place at Turn Four.
The focus remained on the battle for second as Kirkwood made his escape, with Rodriguez doing his best to fend off the two Juncos cars of Lindh and Sting Ray Robb, from Payette, Idaho. The pair exchanged positions on Lap 13, when Robb sliced past at Turn Four, then continued to circulate in close formation as the 25-lap race reached toward its conclusion.
A brief full-course caution to retrieve Mexican Moises de la Vara’s DEForce Racing Tatuus PM-18, which had succumbed to a suspension failure, set the scene for a three-lap dash to the finish. Rodriguez and Robb raced side by side for most of the first lap following the restart, before a coming together at the exit of Turn Four sent Rodriguez bouncing across the grass.
Lindh took full advantage of the melee by sneaking through into second, and even though Robb resumed ahead of Rodriguez, he was instructed by race officials to redress the order prior to the finish. Robb did so, but at the same time inadvertently allowed Los Angeles-based Russian Nikita Lastochkin to nip through to fourth place for Exclusive Autosport.
RP Motorsports took home its season-leading fourth PFC Award as the winning team, while Antonio Serravalle (Pserra Racing) earned his first Tilton Hard Charger Award after climbing from 13th on the grid to seventh.
Provisional championship points after 10 of 16 rounds:
1. Rasmus Lindh, 262
2. Kyle Kirkwood, 238
3. Parker Thompson, 217
4. Danial Frost, 210
5. Sting Ray Robb, 190
6. Nikita Lastochkin, 156
7. Phillippe Denes, 133
8. Moises de la Vara, 125
9. Kory Enders, 120
10. Antonio Serravalle, 119
Round 11 will take place tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. EDT, with Kirkwood looking to add to his victory tally after earlier today emerging comfortably fastest during qualifying.
Kyle Kirkwood (#28 Mazda/Firstex Industries/Bell Helmets/Sabelt-RP Motorsports USA Tatuus PM-18): “The race may have been easy but the entire season leading up to it hasn’t been easy, so it makes up for it! It’s different when you’re racing hard, around other drivers, because that situation is more consistent, you’re just push push push. In a race like this, you’re thinking more – about the gaps, the track, the tires. There are so many more things that come into play when you’re out in front like that. But finally, we have a really good car that I’m confident. Our momentum is huge and that’s what’s making it seem easy right now, though it’s not. We need to do the same thing tomorrow that we did today, especially with Rasmus starting sixth.”
Rasmus Lindh (#10 Chicago Pneumatic/PWR Junior Team/SKF-Juncos Racing Tatuus PM-18): “Qualifying wasn’t the best, starting P6, and I made a few mistakes in the race. I have to work on that for tomorrow to keep the lead in the championship. I’m still happy with P2 but we were lucky today. We have to keep pushing so we’ll do our best tomorrow.”
Ian Rodriguez (#5 epicura/Masterpack Innovative Printing-RP Motorsports USA Tatuus PM-18): “We had a great start and I was able to keep both Juncos cars behind me for most of the race. Kyle and I both had great race cars, the team did a great job for us both. But the restart just caught us out. I didn’t get the perfect jump and I had to defend too much going into Turn One. Both cars got around me but luckily I was able to get back by one and get back onto the podium. It was a solid finish even though, honestly, we should have been one-two.”