By Tony DiZinno

Two years ago, Parker Thompson had led the majority of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda race at Lucas Oil Raceway. But he got balked in traffic trying to pass a slower car. He didn’t lose the championship solely on that night, but the loss of victory coupled with the momentum gained then helped propel then-Cape Motorsports teammate Anthony Martin forward to the title.

On Friday night, Thompson would not be denied, even as he had more traffic to deal with in the Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tires’ Freedom 90 at Lucas Oil Raceway. He had a number of different cars to get past and a couple of them made it more difficult than normal, but he held on by a slim margin over Carlos Cunha to win the race.

His third win of the season with Exclusive Autosport may stand as a bigger one later this year.

Just after 7:10 p.m., the green flag flies and Thompson gets an early jump on the rest of the field despite Cunha’s attempts to get by on the inside, while Megennis leaps up to third with Malukas fourth and Scott fifth at the end of the first lap. VeeKay and Askew, the 2017 USF2000 title combatants, are sixth and seventh ahead of the rest of the field.

Ten laps fly by very quickly at 21-odd seconds per lap, and the order here is Thompson, Cunha, Megennis, Malukas, Scott, VeeKay, Askew, Laurini, Robb, Serravalle, Lasochkin and Finelli.

By Lap 15 of the scheduled 90-lap race, Thompson is closing on Finelli at the back of the field. He’s past him exiting Turn 2 on the low side, and is easily past the 12th-place driver.

At Lap 25, Thompson has 2.0253 seconds on Cunha. Megennis is still third, Malukas still fourth and Scott still fifth. The rest of the order remains as it was on Lap 10. By Lap 29, Thompson has lapped Finelli a second time only just after lapping his teammate, Serravalle, the first time.

Malukas is closing on Megennis for third in what appears to be the closest battle on the track, and they’ll have to get around Finelli shortly. Both do so but Megennis loses momentum attempting to pass him on inside.

Robb is by Laurini for eighth on Lap 32, only just ahead of Thompson, who’s balked a bit in traffic. As we noted at the top, Thompson lost the USF2000 race in traffic in 2016; he’s keen not to make the same mistake this year.

Thompson is initially stuck behind Laurini, and the gap is down to 1.2248 seconds. It’s then three wide into Turn 1 as Lastochkin runs high, Thompson is finally by Laurini and Cunha has the momentum going into Turn 3 where he tries to pass Laurini on the inside of the corner. On Lap 37, 0.7516 is the gap between Thompson and Cunha, but by Lap 38 it is opened to 1.4277 as Cunha is stuck behind Laurini.

Scott is just 0.1 of a second behind Malukas and tries on inside of him on Lap 41, and again on Lap 42. Remember these two collided at the start of IMS road course. Cunha is now 3.6695 back of Thompson on Lap 43. Scott continues to try low on Malukas and is by coming out of Turn 2 on Lap 44 for fourth.

Malukas then is into Scott at Turn 4 as Malukas went back down the inside of him on Lap 45. They both make contact. Scott’s back-end comes around and he has heavy left rear damage to the RP Motorsport Racing car. Malukas catches air and comes down after the contact. They’re both out of their cars, but Scott looks livid as he’s walking down pit road. Malukas makes it back to pit lane as well.

With this contact the revised order under yellow, past the halfway point (on laps) at Lap 48 is Thompson with his lead erased ahead of the three Juncos cars. Cunha is second, Megennis third, VeeKay fourth and Askew now fifth. Robb, Laurini, Serravalle, Lastochkin and Finelli are the remaining runners.

The field gets one to go back to green at the end of Lap 53. At the end of Lap 54 and start of Lap 55, we are back to green.

Thompson gets a great restart, while Cunha tries past Laurini into Turn 1. He is finally by the Italian exiting Turn 2. Megennis holds off VeeKay’s charge for third, barely. Megennis makes it past Laurini but VeeKay can’t until a lap later, and loses valuable time.

At two-thirds laps complete, Lap 60 of 90, Thompson leads Cunha by 0.982. Gap is fluctuating between 0.7 and 1.1 seconds. Megennis is third, VeeKay fourth and Robb up to fifth by Askew. Laurini, Serravalle, Lastochkin and Finelli still running.

With 25 laps to go, it’s likely going to come down to traffic again, because Thompson and Cunha are about three to five laps away from catching Finelli once more. No issues as he’s past him on Lap 72.

Lastochkin is the next car Thompson will have to deal with. Meanwhile for third, Robb is catching the pair of Juncos drivers, Megennis and VeeKay.

Just 10 to go and Thompson leads Cunha by just over two seconds.

However there is more traffic ahead – Thompson is behind Askew, and Cunha is within just 0.7861 of a second!

Thompson gets past Askew on Lap 89 with two to go. But he almost gets stuck behind Laurini, again, which brings Cunha to within just 0.2213 of a second at the checkered flag. He remains just that fraction behind.

Thompson now has his third win of the year and after the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, a hugely important one in the championship chase.

Cunha continues his streak of having at least one podium finish at each weekend this year – same as Thompson has – while Megennis is finally on the podium for the first time this year.

So what’s the funny thing about Thompson’s traffic conquest tonight? He told TSO Ladder post-race he was actually not great in traffic preparing for the race, and he, like most of the Pro Mazda field, had no idea how good or bad the cars would be over long runs. No one had done more than a 20 or 30 lap run. But Thompson, who called May the “toughest month of the year” for a Mazda Road to Indy driver, was incredibly humbled and thrilled with his and the team’s achievements.

Cunha continues the momentum he’s had all year. Even though he raced the old Pro Mazda chassis at Gateway Motorsports Park last year, he called this a completely different type of car. He knows his first win is coming given both his pace and consistency.

For Megennis, he’s just had bad luck most of the year. He’s had enough pace. He felt good with how handled the gap over the race and avoided falling into VeeKay’s presence.

Pro Mazda now heads to Road America for its next event, the weekend of June 22-24.

Cooper Tires Freedom 90 – Unofficial Results

P No Name Team Laps Diff
1 90 Parker Thompson Exclusive Autosport 90
2 1 Carlos Cunha Juncos Racing 90 0.2213
3 9 Robert Megennis Juncos Racing 90 9.9004
4 2 Rinus VeeKay Juncos Racing 90 10.5090
5 82 Sting Ray Robb Team Pelfrey 90 11.2897
6 3 Oliver Askew Cape Motorsports 89 1 LAPS
7 27 Lodovico Laurini RP Motorsport Racing 89 1 LAPS
8 91 Antonio Serravalle Exclusive Autosport 88 2 LAPS
9 8 Nikita Lastochkin Cape Motorsports 87 3 LAPS
10 83 Charles Finelli BN Racing/Fatboy Racing 87 3 LAPS
11 79 David Malukas BN Racing 45 Contact
12 10 Harrison Scott RP Motorsport Racing 45 Contact