By Steve Wittich

Exclusive Autosport rookie Parker Thompson led the way in first official Pro Mazda Presented By Cooper Tire session with the new PM-18 with a lap of 76.758 seconds. The Canadian enjoys Barber Motorsports Park, collecting one win, three podiums and never finishing outside of the top five in six races on the 2.3-mile, 17-turn natural terrain road course.

Juncos Racing’s Robert Megennis had the second quickest lap.  Team Pelfrey trio Rafa Martins,  Andres Gutierrez, and Sting Ray Robb started the weekend off strong, finishing with the fourth, sixth, and ninth quickest laps respectively.

Third quickest was David Malukas (BN Racing), who led March’s official test at Barber Motorsports Park, and rounding out the top five was reigning Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda champion Oliver Askew in the Soul Red No. 3 from the Cape Motorsports stable.

It took all of one lap for the first driver to go under the Pro Mazda track record of 80.249 seconds, which was set by current Verizon IndyCar Series driver Spencer Pigot during qualifying in 2014.

The 30-minute practice session began promptly at 8:45 am under stunning blue skies. However, the temperature was struggling mightily to break the 50F

With 18 minutes left in the session, the red flag came out so that the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team could retrieve the No. 91 Exclusive Autosport car of Antonio Serravalle which came to a stop off-track at the exit of Turn 1.

The car was towed back to the pits, and the green flag came back out with 15 minutes remaining in the lone practice session before the first qualifying session at 2:15 pm.

At that point in the session, the top quickest by Megennis,  Askew, Harrison Scott, Thompson, and VeeKay.

The second red flag of the session was shown to the 16 entries when one of the BN Racing cars came to a stop in the thick grass just before the sand trap in the Turn 5 – Turn 6 Charlotte’s Web complex. The AMR INDYCAR Safety Team returned the car to pit road, and the session went green for the final two minutes.

DEForce Racing’s Kory Enders was the only driver that didn’t turn any laps. The crew was pushing the No.11 Mazda/Tatuus back to the Pro Mazda paddock as the session began.

Current points leader VeeKay and the Juncos Racing technical team will have some work to do before qualifying. The 17-year-old Dutch driver had the eighth quickest time.

The teams each receive three sets of sticker Cooper Tire slicks for the Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Alabama Presented by Cooper Tires doubleheader and are allowed to use one set of tires carried over from a previous event during the first practice session. The carryover tires need to be turned in immediately after the first practice.

Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Alabama Presented by Cooper Tires Practice #1 timesheet

1 90 Parker Thompson 1:16.758 –.—- 14
2 9 Robert Megennis 1:16.946 0.1872 12
3 79 David Malukas 1:17.010 0.2511 9
4 80 Rafael Martins 1:17.040 0.2818 6
5 3 Oliver Askew 1:17.167 0.4088 15
6 81 Andres Gutierrez 1:17.302 0.5436 17
7 10 Harrison Scott 1:17.371 0.6127 16
8 2 Rinus VeeKay 1:17.431 0.6722 13
9 82 Sting Ray Robb 1:17.499 0.7409 16
10 1 Carlos Cunha 1:17.586 0.8272 15
11 8 Nikita Lastochkin 1:17.851 1.0927 17
12 78 Kris Wright 1:18.167 1.4084 12
13 27 Lodovico Laurini 1:18.265 1.5061 14
14 91 Antonio Serravalle 1:19.129 2.3706 7
15 83 Charles Finelli 1:23.818 7.0594 13
16 11 Kory Enders No Time