By Aaron Bearden, Contributing Writer
Parker Thompson and Exclusive Autosport had their breakout performance in a dominant Barber Motorsports Park drive.
Sunday’s triumph at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) felt even sweeter.
“I think this one feels even better, because at Barber the crew and I expected to win with starting on pole and having as strong of a car as we did,” Thompson told Motorsports Tribune. “Here with a tough start yesterday, we had a mechanical part failure at no part to Elite Engines or Exclusive Autosport, that set us back. It took us out of qualifying one and almost made us miss qualifying two.
“That was a tough start to the weekend for us, but my hat is off to Exclusive Autosport and Elite Engines. If it wasn’t for those two groups, we would have never got an engine in within an hour-and-a-half timeframe to get out for qualifying two, qualify sixth and give us a car to win today.”
Thompson rose through the field from sixth after a chaotic race start and passed Carlos Cunha for the lead on Lap 17 to win Saturday’s Royal Purple Synthetic Motor Oil Grand Prix of Indianapolis, his second Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires victory of 2018.
Thompson rising from sixth to win wasn’t the result most would have pictured entering the race, but an attrition-filled opening gave Thompson and others a chance.
An early battle between David Malukas and Harrison Scott led to a crash on the opening circuit that collected championship contender Rinus Veekay, eliminating him from the race before he had an opportunity to compete.
“They hit each other, Malukas got sideways and spun and I was on his tail,” Veekay told Motorsports Tribune. “I had no where to go, so I just flew over it.
“I flew through the air, and just missed the wall. Unfortunately we couldn’t even actually start the race.”
The others involved continued on, and Scott rose up to second in the ensuing green-flag run, but afterward the Friday winner suffered an electrical failure.
“The dash just switched off with no warning,” Scott said. “I couldn’t change gear, was stuck in gear. The dash wouldn’t kick back on or anything, so I came into the pits to see if we could fix it. But when we came in the car just wouldn’t turn on or anything.”
The issues for Veekay and Scott opened the door for the rest of the field. Cunha was the first to take advantage, leading through the early stages of the race. But Thompson had the faster car, and quickly closed up the gap.
Cunha tried his best to hold the lead, but in the end he couldn’t quite keep Thompson at bay.
“Out setup wasn’t too bad but had a little bit too much understeer,” he said. “I needed to fix this during the race with my driving style. But our biggest problem is the braking.
We had big problems with braking yesterday. I don’t know what broke in the brake, but we broke something. I was locking up every time on the brakes. It was a little difficult to drive with that, and that’s why my guys on the team said, “Parker’s coming, and he’s faster. Just try to do your best.”
“It was quite difficult, but I saw in the mirrors that he was coming,” Cunha continued. “I was like, ‘Okay, he’s faster than me. I will try to defend a little bit.’
“I actually did for a while. It took a lot of laps for him to overtake me. But once he did, he was faster. We didn’t have pace to be there at the end with him.”
In the end Cunha settled for a comfortable second-place run – a positive result with Juncos, but one position short of his end result.
“We’re doing a good job,” he said. “The problem is on qualifying, we’re losing a couple places. So we need to figure out those couple problems.
“The bad thing is that we are always there – P2, P3, fastest lap of the race. But every weekend until now something went wrong. We still have 10 races this year. We can put everything together to win those, so let’s go get it.”
The best battle in the closing laps came for third. Team Pelfrey teammates Sting Ray Robb and Andres Gutierrez fought fiercely for the spot in the race’s late stages, with Cape Motorsports’ Oliver Askew following closely behind.
In the end it was Robb that claimed the spot, overtaking Gutierrez on the final circuit to earn his first-career Pro Mazda podium.
“I made a last-lap move on my teammate, so that’s kind of a bittersweet moment,” Robb said. “But it’s my first podium and it’s at IMS, so that’s kind of a whole range of emotions by itself.
“Yesterday I had a bit of a rough run. It was kind of mayhem – same deal as today with lots of wrecks. But I let it get to me, and I made a mistake and didn’t finish the race because of it. Today I took what I learned yesterday, applied it and it worked out well. I was able to survive and finish P3.”
Askew and Gutierrez rounded out the top five, with Kris Wright, Charles Finelli, Robert Megennis, Nikita Lastochkin and David Malukas completing the top 10.
They all followed Thompson, who completed what he believed to be his best drive of 2018.
“Obviously winning at the Racing Capital of the World is amazing, but doing it in the fashion we did it in,” Thompson said. “Starting sixth, everyone kind of counted us out. But my engineer Tim Lewis put on a beautiful setup. We really worked overnight to rub some pixie dust on it and make it pretty shiny for today, and we came out with a really good package.
“To put on some really nice passes – I would say some of the best that I’ve put on in 2018 – and then pull away from the field and set fastest lap after fastest lap, is a statement to what this Exclusive Autosport crew is capable of.”
The Pro Mazda Field will return to action for a test at Lucas Oil Raceway on May 24, followed by the tour’s first oval race of 2018 at the same facility on May 25.
- Parker Thompson
- Carlos Cunha
- Sting Ray Robb
- Oliver Askew
- Andres Gutierrez
- Kris Wright
- Charles Finelli
- Robert Megennis
- Nikita Lastochkin
- David Malukas
- Antonio Serravalle
- Harrison Scott
- Lodovico Laurini
- Rinus Veekay