By Road to Indy
MADISON, Ill. – 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.
Sweden’s Rasmus Lindh of Juncos Racing captured his fourth pole position of the season, setting a new qualifying track record at the 1.25-mile oval in the process, while Kirkwood of RP Motorsport USA saw his qualifying run disqualified due to a technical infraction and was slotted to the back of the grid. DEForce Racing’s Kory Enders posted his best qualifying effort to date to start alongside Lindh on the front row.
The opening laps saw tremendous side-by-side racing with three lead changes 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 with 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, was able to find a way past. The pair made slight contact which sent de la Vara spinning and into the Turn 3 wall. Thankfully, 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 with Lindh completing the last lap gasp just before the finish line.
Enders had to settle for third – his best result to date this season while setting the fastest lap of the race in the process – followed by Danial Frost of Exclusive Autosport, who brought home his eighth top-four finish of the year, and Sting Ray Robb (Juncos Racing) rounding out the top five.
Two relative newcomers to the series boasted impressive performances with Artem Petrov of Saint Petersburg, Russia, finishing seventh in his series debut and Antoine Comeau of 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 now holds a slim six-point lead over Kirkwood, 323-317.
Next on the calendar for the entire Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is a doubleheader at Portland International Raceway on August 31/September 1 as the season finale looms at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on September 21/22.
Provisional championship points after 12 of 16 rounds:
1. Rasmus Lindh, 323
2. Kyle Kirkwood, 317
3. Parker Thompson, 259
4. Danial Frost, 254
5. Sting Ray Robb, 241
6. Nikita Lastochkin, 190
7. Moises de la Vara, 148
8. Phillippe Denes, 146
9. Jacob Abel, 140
10. Ian Rodriguez, 132
Kyle Kirkwood (#28 Mazda/Firstex Industries/Bell Helmets/Sabelt-RP Motorsports USA Tatuus PM-18): “It was just disbelief when I saw the checkers. My team was just screaming on the radio, half in Italian, half in English! 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. We needed to do that and I wanted to redeem my team, with the mistake we made yesterday. This should get my engineer, Stefano, some sleep tonight because he was really down last night. I am so thankful to everyone on the team.”
Rasmus Lindh (#10 Chicago Pneumatic/PWR Junior Team/SKF-Juncos Racing Tatuus PM-18): “It’s hard to get the lead and get a gap here, and I think we had a different gear than they did on the straight because they were a bit faster. We maximized what we could this weekend. I had a good run on de la Vara, he went inside and I went outside. He touched my rear and spun around, and it felt as though something might have been bent on the rear. I don’t know if we could have gotten the win, but I got a good run on Kory to get second. I want to win this championship and we have to get every point we can, so I will keep focusing on that.”
Kory Enders (#7 MBSugar Land/Caliber Collision/McLaren Houston-DEForce Racing Tatuus PM-18): “It was an awesome start. We had the lead for a lap or two and that was exhilarating. I wish we could have held it longer, but Kyle came up from the back and was super-fast. It was great to battle with Moises – he had a lot of pace. It’s so unfortunate what happened. I wish we both could have gotten a podium. That would have been great, to get a double podium for DEForce, but the most important thing is that he’s okay. We had a good shot at the win, and we were catching Kyle before the yellow. Rasmus made a great move on the outside that caught me off guard, but it was an awesome race from start to finish.”