By Tony DiZinno
Saturday marked a perfect day at the office for Red Deer, Alberta’s Parker Thompson and Michael Duncalfe’s Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based Exclusive Autosport team, in the first of two Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires races at Barber Motorsports Park.
From pole, Thompson took his first career Pro Mazda win – and eighth overall in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires – in Saturday’s first Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Alabama presented by Cooper Tires races. Thompson led flag-to-flag in the 25-lap race in his No. 90 Tatuus PM-18 Mazda.
The race went green, with the front five or six rows able to get going but contact further back as two cars collided, with one catching a bit of air.
Apparent contact on Lap 2 took Megennis out of play, with the Juncos Racing driver falling from fifth at the end of Lap 1 to the rear of the field. This brought out the first full course caution of the race.
On Lap 4, the race restarted with Thompson leading Scott, Malukas, Gutierrez, and VeeKay. On the same lap, Enders passed Cunha for eighth.
Thompson and Scott are pulling away from the rest of the field on Lap 7. Only seven-tenths of a second separates them, but they have more than two seconds on Malukas in third.
VeeKay is up from seventh to fifth, and Askew is up from ninth to seventh, at this point in the race.
Thompson extends the gap from 0.7 to 1.4 seconds over Scott by Lap 9, with Malukas now 3.7 seconds back. Thompson’s gap is even bigger by the end of Lap 12, with 2.5 seconds to Scott and 6.2 seconds to Malukas. Malukas has 0.6 of a second on Gutierrez for third.
On Lap 15 of the 25-lap race, Thompson leads Scott by 3.3 seconds while Malukas only has 0.3 of a second on Gutierrez for third. VeeKay is fifth ahead of Martins, Askew, Enders, Cunha, and Robb in the top 10.
The final podium position came up for grabs with BN Racing’s Malukas needing to defend against Team Pelfrey’s Gutierrez, and their scrap allowing VeeKay to get closer in his Juncos car. At the end of Lap 18, just 1.2 seconds covered all three drivers.
With just five laps to go, Thompson led Scott by 4.2 seconds. The battle for third stabilized without anyone able to make a passing attempt.
Thompson took the white flag at the end of Lap 24 with a 5.2-second lead over Scott.
The Canadian driver then took the checkered flag a lap later, by 5.2269 seconds over Scott.
Malukas was third, just 0.3 of a second ahead of Gutierrez with VeeKay fifth.
This marks Thompson’s eighth MRTI win (seven in USF2000 between 2016 and 2017) and 20th career podium, and he’s set to make his 50th MRTI start on Sunday. Scott and RP Motorsport visit the MRTI podium for the first time, while Malukas has his third MRTI podium, second this season.
Unofficially this moves Thompson to within three points of VeeKay in the championship. The Dutchman swept St. Petersburg and now has 62 points, while the Canadian is second with 59. Malukas moves into third with 47.
An emotional Thompson could not hide his excitement and exuberance with this victory. He also noted the importance of what he and Exclusive Autosport have been able to do to pay tribute to the Humboldt Broncos hockey team, who lost 16 members of its team in a bus accident.
“The Exclusive Autosport team has done an amazing job to get this car set up. It’s on rails on both short and long runs,” Thompson told TSO Ladder.
“For us to wear the shirts on podium, and be Humboldt strong… there are a lot emotions for my team owner as he’s from Saskatchewan, and with me being from Alberta one province over. It’s in our hearts. Hockey is a huge part of Canada and any way we can support the team, we are. Having the sticker on car, helmet and shirts is our contribution. It’s awesome to get to a win with it.”
Scott said this would be a better track for RP Motorsport compared to St. Petersburg, but there is still a lot of learning as they grow in their first season in North America.
“I suppose it’s a little bit more of what we’re used to, but it’s all new,” Scott said. “The car is new. The Cooper Tires are new. The race distances are all new. It’s about managing that all. We’re all improving. That’s all we can do is keep doing so every time on track.”
Scott laughed that because he’s British, he’s used to the rain provided it arrives tomorrow for the second race.
Malukas’ team set up his car to not struggle with understeer. He was able to defend throughout the race.
Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Alabama Presented by Cooper Tires Race #1 Results
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