Thomas qualified seventh in the field of 33 and hung around the top 5 for much of the first half of the event, staying patient and out of accidents. On Lap 90, he got to the lead and never gave it up.
He was a rookie driver in terms of the Grand Prix but not to karting in general, which made all the difference.
"What makes it hard is the longevity of the race; it's hard for a rookie karter to understand how to be patient and how to make the tires live for 160 laps," said Chris Finch, a lecturer in motorsports engineering and the Motorsports Club advisor. "All it takes is one impatient decision."
The teams arrived in West Lafayette with new karts built in under three months, with support from Hoosier Tire, Gear Wrench and Fox Valley Kart Shop. Thomas called it a "blitz" of activity, Finch said it was a "Herculean effort" to complete them in time. And Purdue-based teams had more opportunities for testing and practice, just by proximity to the track.
But the goal of winning never went out of sight for the 20 members of the club.
"We're going up there to win -- otherwise, why are we going?" Finch said. "We represent the motorsports engineering program as professionals and represent the university as individuals. We want to be very competitive, while having fun at it. We want people to say 'shoot, here comes IUPUI again.'"
A third IUPUI team, from the IUPUI Society of Women Engineers, finished eighth with driver Abby Willis -- the highest-finishing all-female team.