ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Kyle Kirkwood has raced three times at Road America during his short career, but the native of Jupiter, Fla., is now three-for-three following a victory in Indy Pro 2000 competition Saturday.
Kirkwood, a double winner last year en route to a dominant Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship title, was chased home by unheralded but impressive RP Motorsports USA teammate Ian Rodriguez. Polesitter Parker Thompson had to settle for third place at the conclusion of a dramatic 15-lap race following a pair of full-course cautions.
The drama began at the first corner when Singapore’s Danial Frost ran wide at the exit and thumped the curb heavily enough to cut his car’s electrical system completely. The resulting non-finish represented a stark contrast in emotions following a spectacular maiden victory in the most recent race last month at Lucas Oil Raceway.
The Pace Car was scrambled while Frost’s stricken car was removed from the racing surface, and at the restart Thompson found himself a sitting duck as Kirkwood took advantage of vastly superior straight-line speed to tow past on the start/finish straight and claim the lead comfortably before the braking area for turn one. Kirkwood immediately romped away in the lead, leaving Thompson to come under increasing pressure from Rodriguez, who had started sixth.
The other big early mover was Mexico’s Moises de la Vara, who vaulted from 10th on the grid to fourth on the opening lap ahead of the Juncos Racing pair of Sting Ray Robb and championship leader Rasmus Lindh, who found himself shuffled back from second to sixth in the early stages. Lindh quickly made his way past Robb for fifth, then finally found a way past de la Vara on lap five.
Lindh rapidly reduced a deficit of over three seconds to the ongoing battle for second between Thompson and Rodriguez to less than a second, at which point the caution flags waved again following an incident for de la Vara at turn one.
The ensuing restart once again proved disastrous for Thompson, who was freight-trained by Rodriguez and Lindh before turn one. The Canadian only just managed to stem the tide before Nikita Lastochkin found a way past too.
As Kirkwood romped away once again in the lead to claim a first Indy Pro 2000 win, teammate Rodriguez narrowly held onto second as Thompson expertly took advantage of a brief loss of momentum by Lindh on the final lap to reclaim a hard-won third place. Rodriguez’s drive also earned him the Tilton Hard Charger Award after starting the race in sixth.
“This was my most enjoyable win ever, given the amount of work we’ve put in,” said Kirkwood. “We’ve been pushing to get this every weekend but have come up just shy so I’m glad to finally get it under our belt. To finally get it done will be a big step forward for us. I knew I could get a run on Parker then draft down the front straight, but I actually didn’t get that good of a jump. I slowed a bit out of turn 14 but that created such a big run for me that I got clear of him. Once I was in the lead, I knew I had to keep my head down and focus forward. I had plenty of experience out front last year so to do something I was used to really felt good. I hope we can get a streak going – we’re pretty far back in the championship right now but hopefully we can come back.”