LEXINGTON, Ohio – Manuel Sulaiman became the seventh different winner in 11 rounds of an intensely competitive Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires season on Saturday.
Sulaiman held off a determined challenge from Singapore’s Danial Frost, although both were trailing Sulaiman’s unfortunate DEForce Racing teammate Parker Thompson until the Canadian suffered an engine failure midway through the 25-lap race.
New Zealander Hunter McElrea finished third for Pabst Racing, notching his fifth podium finish from his last seven starts.
The grid for the first of two races which will comprise this weekend’s Surgere Indy Pro 2000 Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio was set in qualifying Friday, with Frost claiming his first Cooper Tires Pole Award, fractionally ahead of Thompson and Sulaiman. All three were blanketed by .057 of a second.
The two front row starters battled side by side as they entered turn one, but it was Thompson who gained the upper hand to grasp the lead for the first time this season. Sulaiman slotted into third ahead of McElrea, who found a way past series points leader Sting Ray Robb on the opening lap.
Devlin DeFrancesco clung onto sixth, under intense pressure from the second Juncos Racing Tatuus PM-18 of Russia’s Artem Petrov until the Italian-Canadian also experienced a mechanical problem which caused him to pull off the race track after five laps and brought out the caution flags for the first time.
Thompson continued to lead at the restart, only for his hopes of victory to expire dramatically just a handful of laps later. Cue another full-course caution.
Sulaiman, who already has two poles to his credit this season, took up the running once the green flags flew again, and even though Frost was never more than a few car lengths in arrears, Sulaiman held on expertly to secure the victory.
“This is just amazing, to achieve this win. We had the speed all weekend but we missed pole so that wasn’t a good start, but we made up for it by getting the victory,” said Sulaiman. “It was so fun out there, especially since it is so difficult to pass. I knew we had the speed, I just waited to make my move. It’s the first win for DEForce Racing, so that’s so important for me and the team. They did a great job and they deserve this. I’m happy for them but I’m sorry for what happened to Parker. We could easily have been one-two.”
McElrea lost a place to Robb after 10 laps but regained it again with just five laps remaining, and then added another championship point to his tally by posting the fastest lap on the last lap of the race.
After slipping back into clutches of teammate Petrov in the closing stages, Robb just managed to maintain the position, thereby extending his championship lead to 28 points over DeFrancesco.