Jimmy Simpson makes Purdue Grand Prix history as 1st 4-time winner
History nearly took a back seat to a baby-faced freshman.
But Jimmy Simpson was just too fast. Too good. Too lucky.
"It's all luck. I don't know about skill. I will take luck over skill any day," said Simpson, driving with a backup race clutch after the primary one was fried Friday night.
Simpson led 116 of 160 laps Saturday, including the final one, to become the first four-time winner in the Purdue Grand Prix's 59-year history.
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His brush with history, though, came with two challengers.
Pole sitter and Grand Prix veteran Chip Challis led the first 27 laps before briefly making way for Simpson. Challis recaptured the lead on the 30th lap but just three laps later, a broken frame would lead to an early exit for the Pi Kappa Phi Racing team.
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The other contender was nose to tail with Simpson through the race's duration.
Rookie Brenden Johnson, an IUPUI freshman competing for one of two annual entries on behalf of the school's motorsports program, was every bit as quick as the four-time champion.
"I just tried to play his game," Johnson said. "I got behind him, followed him through traffic. There is a reason he is a winner four times and I tried to copy it. We were right there at the end, but didn't quite have enough for him."
Rookie Brenden Johnson of IUPUI challenged veteran Jimmy Simpson throughout the 59th running of the Purdue Grand Prix, Saturday, April 23, 2016.
For 14 laps, Johnson looked like the one to beat.
Simpson recaptured the lead on lap 109 after pit stop cycles gave Johnson a brief advantage.
Once Simpson piloted the Delts Racing No. 1 kart in front, he never looked back.
That's not entirely true.
"I knew (Johnson) was back there, I had an idea and you couldn't let him get by, basically," Simpson said.
While Simpson and Johnson separated themselves from the pack, Cary Racing's Jacob Knueven, MEGP's Zachary Robinson and Sigma Chi's Nick Hale rounded out the top five.
But all eyes were at the front where, for the final 15 laps, Simpson and Johnson clashed in the toughest challenge Simpson has had during his four-year run.
Back to Simpson's luck, there were instances where lapped traffic provided a barrier for the leader to distance himself. Each time, Simpson seemed to glide through unscathed while Johnson's kart would encounter a few dings, including what appeared to be the backbreaking blow with six laps remaining.
Heading into the last turn, Johnson had a run on Simpson when the aggressive runner-up was bumped by a lapped kart driven by Zachary Juliot. It cost Johnson precious seconds.
"There at the end, I think I had a little bit for him, but a little mishap kind of set me back a little bit and I couldn't quite make up for that," Johnson said.
He was able to catch up, but not pass Simpson and rolled across the finish line less than a second behind the winner.
Last year, Simpson matched Timothy O'Brien and Ian Smith as three-time winners. After becoming the first four-time winner on Saturday, he yielded the championship trophy to a new winner next year.
"Unfortunately, I've got to graduate eventually," the Purdue senior said. "I've been trying to pull a (John) Belushi and be here for seven years, but I think I am eventually going to graduate."