David Malukas (HMD Motorsports) lead Kyle Kirkwood (Andretti Autosport) through Tires Plus Turn 6 during Sunday’s Indy Lights Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Foundation Building Materials Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography/Road to Indy

David Malukas, with a green-to-checkered flag victory in the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by Andersen Interior Contracting, becomes the first Indy Lights driver in 2021 to win a second race. It also means the 19-year-old spends at least the next three weeks as the championship leader.

The Chicago, Ill. driver held off a late-race charge from Saturday’s winner Kyle Kirkwood.

“Those last laps were so intense, but that’s what makes good races. I could see Kirkwood behind me and early on, it was a three-second gap so I could cruise a bit. Suddenly, he was within push-to-pass range and all I could see was the Andretti logo again, so I gassed it the best I could. I was everywhere: scraping walls left and right, adjusting the brake bias to the rear. At one point, I was switching the bias under braking because I was locking up the fronts so bad. I was using everything I could, it was so intense. You don’t feel anything while you’re in the thick of it but as soon as I saw the checkers, there was so much relief. We worked so hard and to get the win felt so good. We’re leading the championship but it’s so close and it’s going to be that way all season, the drivers this season are just insane.”

Malukas is now two for four in the Indy Lights win column and is batting 1000 on Sundays.

With Malukas win from the pole, the percentage of Indy Lights winners on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit is now 50% (13 of 26).

The win is the first for the Brownsburg, Ind. based HMD Motorsports in St. Petersburg, Fla., and is the team’s third win in the first four races of the 2021 season and fourth liftime Indy Lights victory.

Kirkwood’s comeback home state weekend included one win, one pole, two podiums, two quickest laps of the race, including a race track record lap of 64.9562 seconds on his 35th of 40 laps Sunday. The 22-year-old has been the quickest driver in 13 Road To Indy races.

The podiums by Kyle Kirkwood (2) and Danial Frost (1) on Saturday and Sunday are the 14th, 15th and 16th for Andretti Autosport at St. Pete.

After a forgettable North American street circuit debut on Saturday, Barber Motorsports Park race #1 winner Linus Lundqvist (Global Racing Group w/HMD) recovered on Sunday, gaining four spots and finishing on the podium.

“Everything was done on the start and on the restart, balancing between aggression and caution, because you don’t know what’s going to happen on a street circuit,” said the Swede. “So many of the guys in this series have experience here on the Road to Indy and even Indy Lights so I knew it would be a struggle with just one practice session, but we’re happy with the development. The championship is tight so it will be key to minimize mistakes and keep it on track. For me as a driver, and as a team, we know the speed is there. Honestly, this feels like a win for us. We had a tough Friday and Saturday so to bring this one home to the team feels awesome. Big thank you to them and to Honda and HPD for supporting me, for making it possible for me to stand on this podium today.

The pair of podiums by David Malukas and Linus Lundqvist was HMD Motorsports / Global Racing Group’s fourth and fifth at this track, tying them with Juncos Racing for second among active Indy Lights teams. Malukas and Lundqvist’s podiums are the team’s 15th and 16th career Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires podiums and fifth and sixth on a street circuit.

The top five in championship points after four of 20 races are:
1 – David Malukas (HMD Motorsports) – 94 points
2 – Linus Lundqvist (Global Racing Group w/ HMD) – 91 points
3 – Kyle Kirkwood (Andretti Autosport) – 86 points
4 – Devlin DeFrancesco (Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport) – 70 points
5 – Danial Frost (Andretti Autosport) – 67 points

The second Indy Lights race of the St. Petersburg Grand Prix weekend got started after a pair of pace laps immediately following the NTT INDYCAR SERIES warm-up, meaning the track was fully rubbered in with a very different compound from the Cooper Tires.

The winners of the past two Indy Lights races, Malukas and Kirkwood, led the field to the green flag.

The Indy Lights field streams into Turn 1 during the Indy Lights Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Foundation Building Materials Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography/Road to Indy

Malukas got a slight jump Kirkwood, but by the time the two drivers got to the braking zone, they were side-by-side. They made contact as they exited the corner with the Kirkwood’s car catching a little air as it was jostled to the outside of the turn, allowing the No. 79 HMD Motorsports machine to get to Turn 3 first.

“David and I hit pretty hard on that first lap,” explained the Andretti Autosport rookie Kirkwood. “I thought we would have more damage than we did. As it was, my front toe was completely out for the first 10 laps but I still had to push as hard as I could. With about 13 laps to go, I was on the limits. I lost time on the restart because we had some issues but I got into a groove and we were fast. My tires fell off a bit toward the end but anytime you push a tire that hard, it will fall off. I was smart with the push-to-pass, but we still couldn’t catch him. But we got the most points of any driver this weekend and that’s exactly what we need to do. Every driver who started up front finished up front so it shows how competitive it is and how important qualifying is – and that only gets harder when you go to INDYCAR.”

Later in the lap, and further back in the field, Lundqvist, who got a great start, went to the outside of Frost in Turn 4, moving up to the fourth spot from his seventh-place starting spot.

As the field got to the tight Turn 5 through Turn 9 portion of the track, Robert Megennis (Andretti Autosport), Frost and Toby Sowery (Juncos Racing) were battling. Somewhere during that tussle,  Sowery’s the left end plate on the veterans No. 51 was damaged.

After the race, Sowery said, “Race 2 was ruined for me early by the same poor driving standards of a certain driver. It was unfortunate, but this happens in racing.”

The m-start/Kumpf sponsored No. 51 of Toby Sowery tries to hold of Benjamin Pedersen with a damaged wing during a 2021 Indy Lights race in St. Petersburg, Fla. Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography/Road to Indy

As the field got to Turn 10, reigning Indy Pro 2000 champion Robb, who had suffered a puncture after contact from a competitor,  ran long into the run-off area. The Idahoan was unable to continue and the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team pulled him behind the barriers of the 90-degree left-hander with a view of the marina on Tampa Bay. It’s only the 19-year-olds fourth DNF in 64 Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires starts.

The running order after the first lap was Malukas, Kirkwood, Devlin DeFrancesco (Andretti Autosport), Lundqvist, Frost, Megennis, Sowery, Benjamin Pedersen (Global Racing Group w/HMD), Antonio Serravalle (Pserra Racing), Nikita Lastochkin (HMD Motorsports), Christian Bogle (Carlin) and Robb.

On Lap 3, Sowery was shown the black flag for the dangling front wing that was damaged on Lap 1. The Juncos Racing veteran was forced to pit road and the Juncos Racing crew quickly affixed a front wing.

By Lap 4, Malukas was already out of push-to-pass range, gaining a gap of 1.9 seconds. That was about to change.

On Lap 5, the yellow flag came out after the No. 7 Carlin IL-15 of Bogle, locked up his brakes in Turn 13, going through the grass and hitting the concrete wall with the left front of his car.

The running order under yellow was Malukas, Kirkwood, DeFrancesco, Lundqvist, Frost, Megennis, Pedersen, Peroni, Serravalle, Lastochkin, and Sowery who was able to remain on the lead lap.

The green flag came back out to start Lap 8. Malukas and Kirkwood went through the corner nose-to-tail but behind them, Lundqvist

DeFrancesco, who was suddenly fighting to hold Frost, was warned by race control for blocking.

Just before the halfway point of the 40-lap race, Malukas was able to move just outside of the 1.5-second gap needed to keep Kirkwood from using the push-to-pass.

Malukas gap when the field got the cross-flags to signify the halfway point of the 40-lap race was almost three seconds over Kirkwood. The rest of the top ten was Lundqvist, Frost, DeFrancesco, Megennis, Pedersen, Peroni, Serrevalle, Sowery, Lastochkin and Bogle.

On Lap 22, Lastochkin in the No. 59 HMD Motorsports machine spun in Turn 13. The Russian didn’t hit anything, and he was able to get his turbo-charged AER 2.0L re-fired and continued.

Kirkwood had narrowed the gap from Malukas to 2.1 seconds with ten minutes remaining. Lundqvist was in the final podium position but was over eight seconds behind the front two.

The best battle on the track was between DeFrancesco, Megennis, and Pedersen for fifth, sixth, and seventh, with a slim 1.2 seconds separating them.

At the front of the field, Malukas and Kirkwood were trading the quickest lap and lowering the track record, but Kirkwood was consistently faster.

With six laps remaining, Kirkwood moved into the push-to-pass range of the leader.

With five laps to go, the lead was under one second. Further back, Pedersen went around the outside of Megennis for the sixth spot.

The lead with three laps remaining was down to just over a half-second. Kirkwood was only 0.3 seconds behind Malukas as they crossed the line to start lap 39.

Kirkwood jinked to the inside in the braking zone but jumped back into line. The gap was the same when they got the white flag, but again, Malukas held off Kirkwood. That was enough for Malukas to keep the lead and win his second Indy Lights race of the season.

Malukas crossed the line 0.6829 seconds ahead of Kirkwood, the closest Indy Lights race finish in St. Pete since 2009.

Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by Andersen Interior Contracting results

1 79 David Malukas HMD Motorsports 40 LAPS
2 28 Kyle Kirkwood Andretti Autosport -0.6829
3 26 Linus Lundqvist Global Racing Group w/HMD Motorsports -13.0539
4 68 Danial Frost Andretti Autosport -14.9201
5 17 Devlin DeFrancesco Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport -25.9482
6 24 Benjamin Pedersen Global Racing Group wHMD Motorsports -28.852
7 27 Robert Megennis Andretti Autosport -31.0294
8 5 Alex Peroni Carlin -31.7152
9 51 Toby Sowery Juncos Racing -32.0033
10 11 Antonio Serravalle Pserra Racing -37.0842
11 59 Nikita Lastochkin HMD Motorsports -1 LAP
12 7 Christian Bogle Carlin -36 LAPS
13 2 Sting Ray Robb Juncos Racing -40 LAPS