After three successful seasons competing in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda, Parker Thompson is hoping to move up to the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires for 2018.
The Red Deer, Alberta, native got to shake down a new Tatuus PM-18 for Exclusive Autosport at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course during the Chris Griffis Memorial Test on Oct. 21-22. The 19-year-old Canadian was upbeat about the test and where he wants to be next year.
“My heart is set on Pro Mazda,” said Thompson, who finished third on the Pro Mazda speed chart at the Griffis test with a best lap of 1 minute, 19.9815 seconds (109.780 mph). “You look at those cars, they are so gorgeous, they’re such a brilliant car. So hats off to the Mazda Road to Indy, to Andersen Promotions and Tatuus for making an unbelievable car and to Mazda, of course. They’ve done an amazing job with this Pro Mazda and I really want to drive it.”
Thompson has finished fifth, second and third in the USF2000 standings the past three years. He has seven race wins, including three this year with the newly formed Exclusive Autosport team. Based in Saskatchewan, the team debuted in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires with a new car, which slowed the development process. After sorting through early difficulties, Thompson won both rounds in Toronto and followed that with a win and runner-up showing at Mid-Ohio.
Thompson said the challenges of 2017 helped shape him into a stronger driver both in and out of the car.
“I think my last year with Exclusive Autosport has really taught me a lot about how to lead a team in development, how to build a brand new race car from the ground up and really how to develop a race car,” Thompson said. “I think with that under my belt, I’m even more prepared to go into Pro Mazda and, whatever team comes forward, I think I’m really prepared to give them a full package of not only a fast driver but also someone who can develop a car and lead the team.”
While Thompson’s biggest concern is raising a budget for Pro Mazda in 2018, there is one ace in the hole for the Canadian. He’s won his last three USF2000 races in Canada – he also won the back half of the 2016 Toronto doubleheader – and that has helped earn sponsorship.
“One thing that is on my side is that Pro Mazda is coming back to Toronto,” said Thompson. “I’m absolutely delighted that we’ll have a Canadian race, which definitely helps me out with all my Canadian sponsors, but it is going to be tough. But last year was tough and we did it (won the Toronto races), so I’m not going to shy away from this year. Hopefully we’re going to grab the bull by the horns and be back in a race seat.”
Thompson also achieved Canadian junior level history this year in the support races for Canada’s largest open-wheel racing events: the Verizon IndyCar Series at Toronto and Formula One at Montreal.
“Not only did we clean up the Montreal F1 Grand Prix (in Canadian F1600), we also won the Toronto Indy, which is the first time that any driver has cleaned up both of them in junior formulae,” Thompson said.
“To do it with Exclusive Autosport and have the all-Canadian team – I know it’s a hot topic right now with Robert Wickens signing with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (in the Verizon IndyCar Series) – but I have to say that the real, true Canadian team in INDYCAR is Exclusive Autosport and Parker Thompson.”
Wickens has joined fellow Canadian James Hinchcliffe at Schmidt Peterson for the 2018 season. Hinchcliffe has supported Thompson as the younger driver has climbed the racing ladder.
“Hinch has always been there,” said Thompson. “At Barber, he always came down to the car to wish me good luck. He’s always been there for support, so that’s awesome to see those guys do that. I know they’re busy, they’ve got a lot of stuff going on on the weekend. … I appreciate the time they can give us here in USF2000 and in Pro Mazda.”
Exclusive Autosport owner Michael Duncalfe was pleased with Thompson’s performance at the Griffis test, where he also turned laps in the team’s USF2000 car. But whether Thompson returns to the team in 2018 is still uncertain.
“It’s definitely something we’re considering, for sure,” Duncalfe said.