Kyle Kirkwood

INDIANAPOLIS – Kyle Kirkwood took a strong flag-to-flag victory Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda portion of the Carb Night Classic on Friday night at Lucas Oil Raceway.

The outing was a proving ground for many as it marked the only oval on the 2018 calendar for USF2000 drivers. The 18-year-old Floridian paced the field for 58 laps prior to reaching the race’s 30-minute time limit.

“From the second practice (Thursday), we did something with the car, which I’m not going to say, that made it very easy to get through traffic,” said Kirkwood, driver of the No. 8 Cape Motorsports Mazda/Tatuus USF-17.

“So navigating it was not that hard. I just went down to the bottom of the track and I still had a quicker pace than the cars I was passing, so it was quite easy for me and that was the strong point of our car.”

Alex Baron (No. 19 Swan-RJB Motorsports) saw his championship hopes take a drastic hit on Lap 28 after colliding with Russell McDonough and crashing into the Turn 3 wall on the 0.686-mile oval.

Kirkwood overcame two late restarts to best Kaylen Frederick (No. 24 Pabst Racing) by 1.2695 seconds, with Rasmus Lindh (No. 23 Pabst Racing) rounding out the podium. Kirkwood now has a stranglehold on the championship, stretching his lead to 49 points over Baron.

That doesn’t change Kirkwood’s mindset for the remaining nine races, however.

“The approach never changes for me,” he said. “Winning races wins championships, so to me we’ve just got to keep winning races.”

Pro Mazda’s Thompson earns first oval win in dominating fashion

Pole sitter Parker Thompson continued the theme of leading flag-to-flag in the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Mazda race that followed the USF2000 contest at Lucas Oil Raceway.

Parker ThompsonIt didn’t come without late drama, as the 20-year-old Canadian’s No. 90 Exclusive Autosport Mazda/Tatuus PM-18 fell under siege late from Carlos Cunha (No. 1 Juncos Racing). However, the late push was all for naught as Thompson collected his third win of the season by 0.2213 of a second. It was Thompson’s first triumph on a Mazda Road to Indy oval in his fourth overall season of competition in the INDYCAR-sanctioned development ladder.

“It’s incredible to win the Carb Night Classic,” Thompson said. “Monkey’s off my back for ovals. I finally got my first oval win, which is amazing. I took Exclusive Autosport’s first oval win as well on the Mazda Road to Indy.”

It wasn’t easy, though, as lapped traffic played a significant role late in the 90-lap race.

“That race was cool because I had to really work for it,” added Thompson. “Don’t get me wrong, the car was on rails and was good, but with about 15 laps to go it could have went either way. I was struggling with (the car being) pushy loose. The car wasn’t handling as nice as I would (have liked). The Cooper Tires did a nice job of holding up, but they’re only going to last so long and 90 laps is a lot to ask of them, so I really had to drive it that 15 laps in traffic.

“I’m pretty proud of myself to pull through, get through lapped traffic and come away with the ‘W.’”

Robert Megennis (No. 9 Juncos Racing) tied his best finish of the season to claim third place.

An early intense battle between Harrison Scott (No. 10 RP Motorsport Racing) and David Malukas (No. 79 BN Racing) saw the pair come together in Turn 4. Scott’s night ended in last place and he was left fuming and pacing pit road after the incident.

Thompson stretched his championship lead to 40 points over Cunha with the win. Rinus VeeKay (No. 2 Juncos Racing) is just one point behind Cunha.

Friday’s win provided extra satisfaction for Thompson, who saw a potential USF2000 victory at LOR slip away when he encountered trouble with lapped cars.

“It feels damn good,” he said of the redemption. “That chapter is closed and that book is closed. I think working with the Exclusive Autosport crew and (engineer) Tim Lewis has really raised my game. I’ve changed so many things about my personal life over the offseason just with diet, fitness, putting racing first above anything to make sure I can try and contend for this championship.

“It’s pretty cool with a night like tonight when it pays off.”