LEXINGTON, Ohio – The Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course has been a happy hunting ground for Kyle Kirkwood.
One year ago he swept all three rounds of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship en route to winning the title and a Mazda Scholarship to ensure his graduation to the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. He also won all three F3 Americas races last season and claimed one F4 victory in 2017.
Saturday afternoon he added to that tally by leading from flag to flag in round 11 of the Indy Pro 2000 series.
Kirkwood’s fourth win from the last five races for RP Motorsports USA has vaulted him to second in the championship standings, 24 points adrift of series leader Rasmus Lindh, who finished a slightly fortuitous second for Juncos Racing after starting sixth.
Kirkwood’s teammate Ian Rodriguez completed the podium in third.
After the first attempt at a start was waved off, polesitter Kirkwood jumped hard on the throttle as soon as the green flag waved and immediately pulled a car’s length lead over his title rival Lindh, who had started second. Teammate Rodriguez also made a lightning-fast start, leaping from fifth on the grid to third inside the opening half-lap.
The next lap spelled disaster for a pair of championship aspirants, with early season points leader Parker Thompson suffering a mechanical problem and Abel Motorsports teammate Jacob Abel tangling with Danial Frost at the kink on the main straight while disputing fourth place. All three cars were out of the race and the Pace Car was scrambled while the damaged cars were removed.
Kirkwood quickly reasserted himself at the restart, eventually winning by 2.7028 seconds, while Rodriguez continued his charge by slipping past Lindh for second place at turn four.
“The race may have been easy but the entire season leading up to it hasn’t been easy, so it makes up for it,” said Kirkwood. “It’s different when you’re racing hard, around other drivers, because that situation is more consistent, you’re just push push push. In a race like this, you’re thinking more – about the gaps, the track, the tires. There are so many more things that come into play when you’re out in front like that. But finally, we have a really good car that I’m confident. Our momentum is huge and that’s what’s making it seem easy right now, though it’s not. We need to do the same thing tomorrow that we did today, especially with Rasmus starting sixth.”
The focus remained on the battle for second as Kirkwood made his escape, with Rodriguez doing his best to fend off the two Juncos cars of Lindh and Sting Ray Robb. The pair exchanged positions on lap 13, when Robb sliced past at turn four, then continued to circulate in close formation as the 25-lap race reached toward its conclusion.
A brief full-course caution to retrieve Mexican Moises de la Vara’s DEForce Racing Tatuus PM-18, which had succumbed to a suspension failure, set the scene for a three-lap dash to the finish. Rodriguez and Robb raced side by side for most of the first lap following the restart, before a coming together at the exit of turn four sent Rodriguez bouncing across the grass.
Lindh took full advantage of the melee by sneaking through into second, and even though Robb resumed ahead of Rodriguez, he was instructed by race officials to redress the order prior to the finish. Robb did so, but at the same time inadvertently allowed Los Angeles-based Russian Nikita Lastochkin to nip through to fourth place for Exclusive Autosport.