By Tony DiZinno
Harrison Scott and Andres Gutierrez put on a show in the second Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Alabama presented by Cooper Tires races at Barber Motorsports Park, with Scott and RP Motorsport Racing prevailing for their first Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires victories as Gutierrez fell victim to the treacherous conditions in Birmingham. On the whole, the field put on a very impressive show in tough weather.
Rain fell consistently throughout the 25-lap race, Round 4 of the Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tires season, but its intensity varied. Sometimes light, sometimes heavy, this forced the 14 drivers that started the race to be on their toes all the time. And for good measure, the field all started on Cooper Tire slick tires, which provided the young stars of this series an opportunity to learn how to race with dry weather tires on a damp track.
The second Pro Mazda race of the weekend begins with a single lap under yellow flag to give the drivers a quick overview of the Barber Motorsports Park circuit under damp conditions, as they had not been on the track prior to the race this morning. As noted, drivers are running slicks, even though it’s wet out. Serravalle and Finelli are scratches, so this will only be a 14-car race.
The race went green on Lap 2. At the end of the lap, Thompson led but Scott climbed up to second after starting fourth, getting past Malukas and Cunha.
Scott made it past Thompson at Turn 5 for the lead on Lap 3, and as Thompson lost momentum on the drive off, Gutierrez was able to get past as well for second place.
Scott and VeeKay are the two fastest drivers on the track, with VeeKay running laps 0.6 of a second faster at a 1:24.9 to the leaders’ 1:25.5.
On Lap 5, the order is Scott, Gutierrez, Thompson, Martins and Malukas in the top five with VeeKay sixth, Cunha seventh, Megennis eighth, Askew ninth and Laurini 10th.
Track conditions are improving by Lap 6 as Scott, then Cunha go quicker than VeeKay at 1:24.1 and 1:23.9, respectively. Cunha is down to 1:23.1 by Lap 7.
Laurini is assessed a drive-through penalty for contact with Lastochkin, taking the second RP Motorsport driver out of a top-10 position.
Scott only leads Gutierrez by 0.5 of a second. Meanwhile just 0.6 of a second covers Martins, Malukas and VeeKay in fourth, fifth and sixth.
Times continue to drop by Lap 8 as the leaders get into the 1:22 bracket for the first time this race. It is still about six seconds off the qualifying pace, but they’ve picked up several seconds since start of race.
Gutierrez is within just 0.2 of a second now on Lap 10. He then tried to outside exiting Turn 5, which set him up to be on the inside for the following straight. Gutierrez is able to power past for the lead going into Turn 7, at the chicane.
The Juncos teammates of VeeKay and Cunha close on the top batch of cars on Lap 11. Fourth placed Martins leads Malukas by just two tenths, with VeeKay and Cunha only just behind.
Gutierrez gaps his lead from 0.6 to 1 second on Lap 11 over Scott. Malukas is by Martins for fourth on Lap 12, and Martins falls into the clutches of the Juncos drivers.
At the halfway point, Gutierrez leads Scott by 1.1759, with Thompson third, Malukas fourth, Martins fifth, then VeeKay and Cunha.
Thompson meanwhile tries outside of Scott at Turn 5, but unlike Gutierrez is unable to complete the move on the exit down to the inside at Turn 7. It’s so close, but the Canadian is unable to pass the Englishman into the slowest portion of the track.
The Martins/VeeKay/Cunha battle takes a turn on Lap 14, with Cunha able to leapfrog past both his teammate VeeKay and his former team, Pelfrey’s, new driver Martins up to fifth. Martins falls to sixth and VeeKay down to seventh.
On Lap 15 with 10 laps to go, the revised order is Gutierrez, Scott, Thompson, Malukas, Cunha, VeeKay now past Martins, then Megennis, Askew and Robb completing the top-10.
Scott closes the gap from 1.7 down to 1.1 on Lap 16 on Gutierrez, and pulls out four tenths on Thompson for second.
On Lap 17 though the gaps change again, as Gutierrez loses another half second and is only 0.6 clear of Scott. Thompson is down to just 1.1 behind Gutierrez. Malukas, Cunha, VeeKay and Martins meanwhile all run 1:21 laps to close down even further on the top three.
Gutierrez answers with a 1:21.1407 lap on Lap 18, and builds another two tenths on Scott. Cunha and VeeKay, meanwhile, continue their quick laps with the first two laps in the 1:20.9 bracket at 1:20.9141 and 1:20.9387, respectively. Just 3.2725 cover the top six.
Malukas goes quicker then everyone else on Lap 19 with a 1:20.6521, the new fastest race lap.
The rain has now intensified with just five laps to go, and it’s still anyone’s guess who will win or podium in these conditions.
Gutierrez exits on Lap 20 with only a 0.3646 gap to Scott, Thompson right behind, Cunha now past Malukas for fourth and VeeKay in sixth, just 2.0630 seconds back of the overall lead.
Within one lap, at the end of Lap 20, lap times drop by four to five seconds from a 1:20 lap to 1:24 or 1:25
On Lap 21 the race complexion changes drastically at Turn 7, as Gutierrez goes off from the lead at this corner. He resumes, but has lost his first career win following this excursion. Race officials throw the second full course caution of the race.
The new leader is Scott, ahead of Thompson, Cunha, VeeKay, Malukas, Megennis and Gutierrez now down to seventh. Martins is eighth with Askew and Robb completing the top 10.
Askew and Robb both pit on Lap 21, with lap times of 1:58.1 and 2:01.3, respectively, indicating that they may have issues. The public address system indicates Askew has changed onto wet weather Cooper Tires and if this race restarts, he could leapfrog up the order. Askew leaves the pits on the wet-weather tires.
Under yellow at the end of Lap 22, the order is Scott, Thompson, Cunha, VeeKay, Malukas, Megennis, Gutierrez, Martins, Laurini and Robb. Lastochkin is 11th, with Askew 12th. Enders pits for wets at the DEForce Racing pits, and Wright runs 14th, a lap down.
As the pace car brings the field past start/finish at the end of Lap 23, there are only two laps remaining, which means the only chance to finish under green flag conditions will be a one-lap green and white flag run.
The pace car stays out at the end of Lap 24, so it will be yellow and white flags simultaneously to ensure this race ends under caution.
This means Scott will win from Thompson, Cunha in third after a rollercoaster day, then VeeKay and Malukas completing the top five.
Scott led twice for 12 laps, Gutierrez once for 11 and Thompson once for two as this race had three leaders and three lead changes.
Scott and RP Motorsport win their first race on the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires. Thompson takes his third podium finish in four races this season with Exclusive Autosport, and Cunha is on the podium for the second time this year (third in St. Petersburg race two) with Juncos Racing.
Unoffically Thompson moves into the points lead. He was down three to VeeKay after Saturday, 62-59, and now is ahead 85-81 heading to the month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Scott is third on points on 68, Malukas fourth on 65 and Cunha fifth on 64. This means four different teams are represented within the top five in Pro Mazda points.
Scott reflected on what was a “crazy race” that he told TSO Ladder was “absolute chaos.” He said the RP Motorsport Racing team went “middle of the road” on setup between wet and dry. They struggled when it was wetter out and Gutierrez got ahead, but the track came to them as it dried out. The first wins, Scott called “a great capper to the weekend.”
Thompson didn’t like a couple of Scott’s defenses during the race but hailed an important weekend for both he and the Exclusive Autosport team.
“This was an important weekend for us to not throw a championship away. Just don’t be stupid and bank valuable points. We did that,” he told TSO Ladder.
Cunha had a crazy race where he started third, fell back to sixth, and ultimately recovered back to third. He described his race.
“Man it was good. This start today didn’t go well. I went off twice off the start in race one so I took it easy today, and relaxed, but a bit too much,” Cunha told TSO Ladder.
“But the relaxing helped though in the rain because it got crazy. We had really good pace when it got wet. I saw the guys get close ahead of me which brought me even closer. I tried to make space.
“At one point I made a move on two drivers in one pass. I still don’t know how I did it! Because I had to be careful to not take out my teammate Rinus when I passed him.
“If we had more green laps, I think we would have got them.”
Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Alabama Presented by Cooper Tires Race #2 Results
|10||82||Sting Ray Robb||25||9.8971|
|14||78||Kris Wright||24||1 LAPS|