MONTEREY, Calif. – Kyle Kirkwood is an unstoppable force in this year’s Indy Pro 2000 Championship presented by Cooper Tires.
The 20-year-old from Jupiter, Fla., overcame a deficit of more than three seconds to polesitter Sting Ray Robb in Saturday afternoon’s Cooper Tires Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix presented by Allied Building Products at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca before grasping the lead when Robb ran briefly off the road at turn five with four laps remaining.
Kirkwood needed no second bidding, as he reeled off the laps to claim his ninth victory in
10 races for RP Motorsport USA.
The result means Kirkwood needs only to take the green flag in tomorrow’s 16th and final race of the season to clinch his second successive Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires championship crown.
“This has relieved a lot of pressure on me and on the team. It was tough today, with both Juncos cars ahead of me, and I was nervous going in, especially with Rasmus on the pole tomorrow,” said Kirkwood. “Going into the race, we knew all we had to do was finish ahead of Rasmus, so going for a pass on his teammate was not something I was willing to do. I turned up the wick toward the end, so I did push for a few laps and the car kicked out on him, which created an opportunity for me.
“I never expected that to happen, but it worked out for the championship,” Kirkwood continued. “Tomorrow will be fun, which is a real change from all the pressure this year.”
Kirkwood has amassed a remarkable record of 21 Road to Indy race wins in just two years, following an equally dominant performance in last year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship.
A crestfallen Robb had to settle for second place – for the fifth time this season – while Juncos Racing teammate Rasmus Lindh’s championship aspirations were all but extinguished after his distant third-place finish.
Robb, from Payette, Idaho, maintained his recent run of form by securing his second pole position in the last three races during qualifying Friday.
He seemed to be sitting pretty after setting a torrid pace in the opening stages and opening up a commanding lead of over three seconds inside the first 15 laps.
But then, quite suddenly, the momentum shifted.
While Robb’s pace slowed by almost a second per lap as his tires began to wear on the notoriously slippery and immensely challenging 2.238-mile road course, Kirkwood began to reap the benefits of a conservative drive during the first half of the 25-lap contest.
The gap came down steadily, first to 2.8 seconds, then 2.5, 1.7 and 1.5 on consecutive laps. With five laps remaining, the two leaders were virtually nose to tail.
Then, agonizingly and to his intense frustration, Robb’s car suddenly slipped sideways on the approach to turn five.
He tried to retain control, but succeeded only in sliding wide onto the dirt, whereupon Kirkwood gratefully slipped past and into a lead he was able to hold comfortably until the finish.
Robb remained well clear of a surprisingly lackluster Lindh, from Gothenburg, Sweden, who nevertheless claimed his 12th podium of the season.
But his 20-point deficit to Kirkwood at the start of the weekend has now ballooned to 28 points, such that Kirkwood’s tally is now out of reach as long as the Floridian starts Sunday’s season finale.
In Lindh’s wake, Canadian Parker Thompson fought hard to hang onto fourth place after a race-long battle with Russia’s Artem Petrov and Singapore’s Danial Frost.
Thompson’s teammate, Jacob Abel, also was hot on the heels of this group after a tigerish drive. Abel, who started fifth, had to lift abruptly off the throttle soon after the start when he ran out of space while trying to pass teammate Thompson, costing him several spots.
He was trapped behind Los Angeles-based Russian Nikita Lastoshkin for the first 11 laps, but once past, he quickly erased a deficit of more than four seconds to finish directly behind Frost.
RP Motorsport USA gained its ninth PFC Award of the campaign, although it was not enough to keep Juncos Racing from clinching the Teams Championship for the second straight year.