If you could write a storybook beginning for a one-off driver, with a brand new Indy Pro 2000 team, it would parallel the Friday that Abel Motorsports and Parker Thompson had.
The rookie team that had made a quintet of Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires starts in USF2000 in 2018, and veteran driver broke the qualifying track record, won the first Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Allied Building Products race of the weekend and turned the quickest race lap.
Less than two weeks ago, the 21-year-old was not sure he was going to be able to continue his open-wheel career but was thrown a lifeline when he was able to work out a deal with Abel Motorsports to help them get their season off on the right foot.
“This is huge for us, especially since we’re under the pressure of a one-race deal,” said the clearly thankful Red Deer, Alberta, Canada driver. “It’s great to finally stand on the top step of the podium since a win in St. Pete has always eluded me. It’s one of my favorite races and I’m always fast here but somehow I haven’t won it, so my mission is complete. I knew how good the car was; the Abel Motorsports guys gave me a rocket ship. I knew I was faster than Rasmus, though he did a better job at the start, but I worked him over, used my experience and the raw pace of the car to come through with the victory.”
The win is Thompson’s fourth Indy Pro 2000 victory, his 11th Road To Indy win and first trip to victory lane in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Juncos Racing, who has fielded the past two series scholarship winners, started off their season well, placing Rasmus Lindh and Sting Ray Robb on the podium.
The podiums for the pair of 17-year-olds were the 17th and 18th for the Speedway, Ind. based team on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit.
The seven rows of two came to the start zone, and Thompson was able to get a good jump, with Lindh falling line, before popping late to the outside to surprise Thompson, who had to brake a little earlier on the inside defensive line. The rookie held the preferred inside line going into Turn 2 to grab the lead.
Thompson later told TSO Ladder that he was distracted on the start and early in the race when the caution lights came on in his car for the first three laps of the race.
Thompson was also starting on new Cooper Tire slicks. Lindh told TSO Ladder that was a disadvantage on the first few laps that he knew he had to take advantage of the Canadian’s slick, fresh rubber. Note: those new tires came into play a little later on in the race
At the end of the first lap, the running order was Lindh, Thompson, Robb, Moisés de la Vara (Exclusive Autosport), Kyle Kirkwood (RP Motorsport), Nikia Lastochkin (Exclusive Autosport), Danial Frost (Exclusive Autosport), Antonio Serravalle (Pserra Racing), Kory Enders (DEForce Racing), Phillippe Denes (Fatboy Racing!), Jacob Abel (Abel Motorsports), Parker Locke (Exclusive Autosport), Damiano Fioravanti (RP Motorsport) and Charles Finelli (Fatboy Racing!).
Kirkwood had contact with what appeared to be Sting Ray Robb in Turn 5 on the first lap of the 25 lap event, which along with a non-functioning radio, led to him not realizing his RP Motorsport team wanted him to come to pit road.
The Jupiter, Fla. native had another incident as he fell to the rear of the 14-car field, bringing out the caution on Lap 5. Kirkwood’s first career Road To Indy DNF (Did Not Finish) also ended a personal 11-race Road To Indy winning streak that started last May on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
The green flag came back out to start Lap 8 with Lindh, Thompson, Robb, de la Vara and Lastochkin the top five.
Behind the front two, it was a pair of veteran competitors along with a pair of Exclusive Autosport pilots providing some excitement. Robb got in a little too deep into in Turn 1, and de la Vera was able to go to the inside of the Exclusive Autosport No. 2. Behind them, Lastochkin and Frost went side by side through Turns 1 & 2, before Lastochkin wisely yielded to his teammate who had the preferred line head to the high-speed Turn 3.
Three laps later Robb gets the final spot of the podium back from de la Vera, who lost a place on the next lap to Frost.
Fourth to ninth is all nose-to-tail on track, and up front, Thompson is starting to put pressure on Lindh.
By Lap 15, Thompson had cut Lindh’s lead to 0.2 seconds, while Robb was the quickest driver on the track. On the next lap, the pole-sitter got a better drive off the final corner and was able to complete the pass of Lindh on the inside in Turn 1. Lindh told TSO ladder that it was a fair pass, and not a surprise that Thompson was able to get by him.
Over the next two laps, Thompson was able to pull out a 1.2 second gap, before the yellow flag came back out for the second time. This time it was the DEForce Racing No. 7 of Kory Enders, which came to a stop along Bayshore Drive after making contact with the concrete barriers in Turn 10.
The green flag came out for the final time with five laps to go, and Thompson was able to get a significant jump over Lindh, who had teammate Robb right on his tail.
“My goal for the year is to win the championship, so to get the points is a benefit, explained Robb after the race. “I fell back on the restart but made a good move on Moises (de la Vara) to start getting back toward the leaders. I was laying down qualifying laps, but I didn’t have enough to get it done in the end. We’ll make a few changes to the car and come out faster tomorrow.”
The best battle in the last five laps was between Fioravanti and Locke for the tenth spot with the American Locke getting by the Italian with two laps to go.
Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Allied Building Products Race #1 Results
|1||8||Parker Thompson||Abel Motorsports||–.—-|
|2||10||Rasmus Lindh||Juncos Racing||-1.324|
|3||2||Sting Ray Robb||Juncos Racing||-1.791|
|4||68||Danial Frost||Exclusive Autosport||-3.106|
|5||90||Nikita Lastochkin||Exclusive Autosport||-4.933|
|6||6||Moises de la Vara||DEForce Racing||-5.463|
|7||11||Antonio Serravalle||Pserra Racing||-7.287|
|8||98||Phillippe Denes||FatBoy Racing||-7.651|
|9||51||Jacob Abel||Abel Motorsports||-8.239|
|10||91||Parker Locke||Exclusive Autosport||-11.023|
|11||5||Damiano Fioravanti||RP Motorsport Racing||-11.239|
|12||83||Charles Finelli||Fatboy Racing!||-34.5580|
|13||7||Kory Enders||DEForce Racing||-9 laps|
|14||28||Kyle Kirkwood||RP Motorsport Racing||-22 laps|