Meet the Contenders: Parker Thompson
 August 26, 2016| 
  • Series News
Parker Thompson is second in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda title chase as the series heads to its doubleheader season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on September 9-11.

PALMETTO, Fla. – To say that young Canadian Parker Thompson has many irons in the fire would be an understatement. From starting a distracted driving campaign to battling his teammate  Anthony Martin for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda title, the 18-year-old Alberta native thrives on the pressure to perform. 

In a season that has seen momentum swing back and forth between the two, a sweep of three races last month at Mid-Ohio by Martin and an ill-timed tire puncture for Thompson finds him 21 points back – but no less determined as the series heads to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the finale.

The first North American to podium at the Rotax Max Challenge Grand Finals (with an extensive racing history detailed in his "My Mazda Road to Indy" feature), Thompson came to the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires and the USF2000 series last season. He signed with Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing last December, joining Australian Anthony Martin and Russian-born Nikita Lastochkin in the powerhouse USF2000 squad that has won six straight driver titles, and 10 in total.

Thompson and Martin have gone head-to-head for the USF2000 title since the second weekend of the year. With so much at stake, including a Mazda scholarship toward a spot in the 2017 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, it would be understandable if the two drivers wanted to keep sensitive performance data to themselves. But as Thompson details, that’s not how things work at Cape Motorsports.

“When I was in karting in Europe, we never shared information,” Thompson remembers. “At Cape, we’re totally open, which means the guy you’re racing for the championship knows every single move you’re making. He knows exactly what you’re doing with your feet and exactly what you’re doing with your steering wheel. I know every change Anthony makes to his car; I know every problem he’s had. The data doesn’t lie, and I think that makes it a really fair fight. Whoever wins the title, we’ll come out of the season knowing a lot more about how to be a race car driver – and that will help our careers down the road.”

The pair became friends last year when each drove for one-car teams. The “friendship first” ideal has come in handy as the pressure-packed title chase comes down to the wire.

“We were friends before we became teammates so we treat each other as friends first. We have the same sense of humor, the same personality and the same determination. I can honestly say that if I was going to hang out with just one guy from the series, it would be Anthony – even if he does nip me for the championship.”

Thompson, Martin and Lastochkin came to the team owned by Nicholas and Dominic Cape because of the brothers’ impressive history of winning races and championships. With success comes pressure, but Thompson knows it’s the kind of pressure that can mold a young driver into a proven winner.

“When you sign with the top team, it changes your mindset. You know you need to perform and you know you need to win. The reason the Capes have been so good over the years is that they find what the drivers are good at and then they bring that out. Every driver has a different style and the Capes are good at setting up the cars to that individual style. We really started to click at Barber when we got the car setup up for my driving style.

“We’re always having fun, but if you get inside our transporter, we’re pretty focused. You can feel the pressure, but there’s success in the air. Nicholas and Dominic demand that you perform at your highest level and if you don’t, you’ll know it. They demand the best; not just from their drivers, but from themselves as well. That’s what really clicks. We’re all on the same page.”

Thompson is nearly as busy away from the racetrack having formed “Drive to Stay Alive” two years ago to combat distracted driving in his native Alberta. According to the Alberta Transportation Department, 20-30 percent of collisions involve distracted driving – and those statistics increase in the younger demographic. Thompson felt that addressing the situation with high school-aged teenagers, and engaging them in an interesting and informative manner, was the best way to combat the problem. He began in Alberta, and the initiative has spread across Canada and into the United States. 

“I had a close family friend and a few of my friends get into these oddball accidents in Red Deer. They would never admit it, but I know that distracted driving was the cause. It’s become a big problem in Alberta and that’s what started my initiative. In the beginning, it was just a way to help teenagers and high schoolers in Central Alberta. But we got hooked up with Alberta Transportation, and then signed some big partners that have helped us grow, like Global Traffic Group. We’re in our third year and we’ve spoken to over 100 schools. Our goal is to go to 100 different schools in the U.S. and Canada this year alone. We went to high schools in St. Petersburg, Birmingham and Indianapolis. It’s been very successful.”

While Drive to Stay Alive is important to Thompson, his focus right now is on the task at hand. 

“Throughout my karting career and my car racing career, I’ve thrived off of pressure. I know that if I win everything – pole, race, get fastest lap and lead the most laps – and Anthony finishes second, that still leaves me five points back. I’m just focused on going into Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and putting on the best performance of my career; then it’s up to luck. We’ve seen how fast the championship can change, with one mechanical issue or one disagreement on the track. I have to come out swinging on that last weekend. All I can do is my best and then it’s up to Lady Luck.”
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