By Aaron Bearden, Contributing Writer
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Parker Thompson had a month to think about the race win he’d let slip away on the streets of St. Petersburg.
So when he got an opportunity to redeem himself at Barber Motorsports Park, the Canadian made it count.
“It was on the back of my mind, but I had a month-long break to get over the fact that I lost a race in Race 1,” Thompson said. “I think that really helped, because I came into this weekend with my elbows up, going, ‘No one is going to beat me this weekend.'”
Thompson led wire-to-wire to claim a dominant victory in the 25-lap Race 1 of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, delivering Exclusive Autosport their first win in the Pro Mazda Championship. The rookie driver gave all credit to his rookie team after the effort.
“I can’t talk about the victory without talking about the (No.) 90 car, because it was on rails,” Thompson said. “By far the best car I’ve ever had at Barber Motorsports Park.
“I’m focused on tomorrow, and I don’t want to sound overconfident, but man the car was good. My team was telling me to slow down for most of the entire race to conserve tires, and I radioed back a couple times saying, ‘I’m conserving as much as I can without feeling like stopping the car on the track.'”
Harrison Scott followed in second, crossing the line 5.2269 seconds behind Thompson to claim his career best Pro Mazda finish.
“I’m really happy to be standing here on the podium,” Scott said. “It’s only our second round for myself and the team. To already be standing in (second) position, right off the top step, is a great achievement, and a credit to the team behind me.”
The lead duo cruised home with relative ease in the race, which ran caution-free outside of an early caution for debris on Lap 2. But the battle for the third step on the podium was much more intense.
David Malukas held the spot, but was forced to drive defensively for multiple laps to do so. He fended off a fierce challenge from both Andres Gutierrez and Rinus Veekay to earn a third-place result.
Afterward Malukas claimed his car’s setup was the cause of his struggles.
“Once the green flag went, I stayed with Scott and thought it was good,” Malukas said. “On the restart we ended up not having a good run, and ended up losing him.
“With the setup of the car, we made it so it would run well behind him. When I lost him the car had massive overseer, so I lost the pace. I ended up having to look behind in my mirrors and make sure Gutierrez wouldn’t get around.”
Gutierrez slotted behind Malukas in fourth, with St. Petersburg winner Veekay following in fifth. Rafael Martins, Oliver Askew, Cory Enders, Carlos Cunha and Laurini Lodovico completed the top 10.
With Veekay, Askew and Cunha all finished outside of the podium, Thompson made a significant leap in the championship standings. He trails Veekay by just three points for the overall points lead heading into Sunday’s Race 2 at Barber.
But despite his gains, Thompson refused to place emphasis on the championship.
“A couple years ago I made a grave mistake in trying to manage a championship early on,” he said. “Right now, I’ll let everyone know that I’m coming with my elbows up. I don’t care about the championship until we get to probably the last race.
“Really not even in my mind. I don’t care where Rinus finished. I don’t care where the other guys finished. I only care about going out and getting wins right now.”