Behind the Patricio O’Wards and Colton Hertas on the Mazda Road To Indy, Parker Thompson was looking like a sure thing to backfill at least one of their vacancies for 2019.
The scrappy Canadian was the class of the field during the first half of last year’s Pro Mazda championship, collecting three wins and two more podia from seven rounds. It was in the latter half of the season where eventual champion Rinus VeeKay went on a charge, scoring five straight wins to close the year and seal the automatic advancement prize to Indy Lights.
Thompson, also a front-runner beforehand in USF2000, lost out on the free ride, and in turn, found his four-year stint learning on IndyCar’s training ladder had come to an abrupt end. With sponsorship opportunities lacking, a burgeoning talent appeared to be on his way out of the sport until a last-minute invitation to race at St. Petersburg was extended.
As teammate and coach to Jacob Abel, Thompson was given another chance to prove himself in the renamed Indy Pro 2000 series with a one-off drive during last weekend’s doubleheader. Walking the field with ease on Saturday and Sunday, the 21-year-old confirmed what was already known: He belongs in Indy Lights alongside VeeKay in IndyCar’s laboratory for future stars.
“Coming in on a one race deal is never easy, but I proved my point,” he said with a wide grin after celebrating back-to-back wins. “We knew we were strong, and then for Abel Motorsports to give me the call to say come and race St Petersburg for us, I can’t thank Bill and Jacob Abel enough. I really appreciate them giving me this opportunity to come in and prove again that I belong on the Road to Indy.”
If he wants to stay in Indy Pro 2000 and go for the title that would earn him a seat on the 2020 Indy Lights grid, Thompson has until May to raise the funds to keep going.
“To come in here and claim a track record, two poles and two wins, I can’t do much more on the track to make my case, but I know that’s not the only thing that matters,” he said. “I’ve got to go do a lot of work off the track. I’m always hunting for sponsors, always doing a lot of B2B off the track. I need to keep that up. And, I’ve got about two months to go get the job done until we head out to Indianapolis. So I think I can make it happen. I really do.
IndyCar has Thompson’s countryman, James Hinchcliffe, as the leading light for Canadian fans. Add in Robert Wickens, who is fighting to return to the cockpit, and it has a second Toronto-area star to follow. Hailing from western Canada, which produced the great Greg Moore, the left side of the country has been underrepresented among those who appear to have the goods to make it to IndyCar in recent years. Scott Hargrove and Indy Lights race winner continues to be overlooked in sports cars, and with the lane all to himself, Thompson hopes to eventually fill the IndyCar void.
“I think what separates me apart from Robert Wickens, James Hinchcliffe, and Zachary Claman De Melo, is I come from the west coast,” he explained. “I’m not an east coast boy. I don’t come from Toronto or Montreal. I’m Alberta born and raised. I fly out of Calgary every time I come down to the races. And that’s pretty unique. I mean, really, there hasn’t been a prominent western Canadian on the IndyCar circuit in a while. So there’s a lot of money from western Canada. I’m doing my best to make sure that I’m the lead guy that tries to go and capitalize on that.”
Thompson also pointed to Hinchcliffe, whose support of next-generation Canadian talent is well known, as someone he wants to emulate. Featuring an outgoing and gregarious personality that’s more than reminiscent of a young Hinchcliffe, IndyCar will have two fast drivers – and two fast talkers – if he can find the sponsors to keep his career moving ahead.
“I’m getting a lot of support from home, but I’m going to need some more if I’m going to make it to IndyCar,” he said. “One shoutout I want to make is to Hinch. Last night, he messaged me on Instagram, so it’s cool that he interacts with me. I think he might believe that I could be the next guy in line from Canada, and it would be a dream to race with him in IndyCar one day.
“I’d love to collaborate with him in the future. I think, as another driver off the track, number one, we’re both Canadian, but number two, I think we’re probably two of the best guys that do the most work we can off the track in order to make it so we can get to the track and race. I’d love to sit down with him more and ask him what more I can do in order to make it to IndyCar.”