PORTLAND, Ore. – Kyle Kirkwood and RP Motorsport USA continued their remarkable run of success by romping to victory in Saturday’s Cooper Tires Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix at Portland Int’l Raceway.
After qualifying second, Kirkwood, 20, took advantage of a first-corner miscue by Russian teammate Artem Petrov, who started third but left his braking too late at the entry to the Festival Curves and punted first-time polesitter Sting Ray Robb into a spin.
Kirkwood wasn’t seriously challenged as he drove to a fifth straight victory – and seventh in eight starts – to move ahead of long-time leader Rasmus Lindh by nine points, 349-340, with three races remaining this season.
“I’m not sure how I got through turn one,” Kirkwood admitted. “I saw that Parker had a massive run and I went to the inside of Sting Ray to try to defend from ending up in a bad situation. It created an opportunity to go to the lead, and that’s what we needed. Danial was extremely quick early, and our car took a few laps to come in – if I’d make any kind of mistake, he’d have been right on my gearbox because he’s a good driver and he has nothing to lose in the championship. Having the championship lead doesn’t change my mindset at all – my goal is to finish ahead of Rasmus, and we’ve done just that.”
Singapore’s Danial Frost finished second for Exclusive Autosport, while Canadian Parker Thompson was gifted third after countryman Antonio Serravalle was handed a 10-second penalty for an illegal track re-entry following the first-corner fracas.
Robb, who hails from Payette, Idaho, and considers PIR to be his home track, was justifiably delighted to claim his first pole after starting second on three previous occasions this season. Unfortunately, his hope of adding an overdue maiden victory was effectively ended within a few hundred yards of the start when, with Kirkwood looking to make a move to the inside under braking for the tight Festival Curves, he was the innocent victim as Petrov plowed into the rear of his No. 2 Tatuus PM-18. Petrov was dealt a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact and ultimately finished a lap behind in 10th.
Kirkwood took full advantage of his good fortune by sweeping easily into the lead as others behind him took evasive action. Frost, who started fifth, emerged from the melee in second place ahead of erstwhile championship leader Lindh, from Gothenburg, Sweden, who started a lowly seventh after his efforts in qualifying were hindered by a mechanical problem.
Unfortunately, Lindh’s luck didn’t improve in the race. He ran well in the opening stages with a fresh motor installed, but then began to slip back when a bolt fell out of his front wing assembly and led to increasingly worsening handling. He ultimately slipped to fifth at the finish.
Serravalle, whose small family team had struck up a new arrangement for technical support from RP Motorsport USA this weekend, swept past Lindh on the ninth lap and seemed to have done enough to hold off a charging Thompson at the checkered flag until the addition of his penalty dropped him to fourth.