David Malukas, a happy winner on the World Wide Technology Raceway At Gateway oval is interviewed by NBC Sports Katie Kiel Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography/Road to Indy

By Steve Wittich

Despite winning four Indy Lights races already this season, HMD Motorsports sophomore David Malukas still felt he had one last point to prove. His oval prowess.

Mission accomplished for the 19-year-old, who started from the pole and led every lap on the way to his first trip to the top step of the podium on an oval.

“What a race!, said an ecstatic Malukas. “This means the world to me, coming from a crash in Indy two years ago, then to win my third oval race in the series.

“I’m so happy, that’s the one thing that’s been holding me down and I got it off of me today. I’m sorry that we had to end under yellow but I understand that it was for safety reasons, but I know I deserved this win.

“This field is so competitive, but it blows my mind, the team I have behind me. Coming into the test here a few weeks ago, I hadn’t been on an oval in two years. We struggled but in the end, we found the car we needed just in time for qualifying.”

Championship points leader Kyle Kirkwood had an eventful but successful race, finishing on the Indy Lights podium for the eighth time this season and the 32nd time in 43 Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires races.

Kirkwood had an 11 point championship lead when the race weekend began; the Floridian’s second-place finish, combined with Malukas’ win, means he still leads after Friday’s race, but by only two points.

Coming home in third in his first career oval race was Benjamin Pedersen, who after the race said:

“I’m so happy to be on the podium after my first ever oval race! I absolutely loved it; I can’t wait to do more. We missed the setup a little bit, which made the first half of the race difficult, but it stabilized from there. The tire wear was a whole new element for me in the race – we’d done a couple of long runs in testing but not in this atmosphere. Lots to learn, like knowing what I want transitioning from qualifying to the race, playing with lines, with roll bars – we’re trying to learn as quickly as possible! We’ll take what we learned from today, and hopefully we can get more tomorrow.”

It’s the Danish rookie’s third podium of the season, and he will start fourth in tomorrow afternoon’s race.

Devlin DeFrancesco, a winner at World Wide Technology Raceway At Gateway in Indy Pro 2000 last year, moved up from his seventh starting position to finish fourth. The Candian-born Miami resident’s eighth top-five of the 2021 Indy Lights seasons moved him up to fifth in the season long standings.

Alex Peroni, the Carlin rookie, won the Tilton Hard Charger award, finishing fifth after starting ninth.

A front row of Malukas and Kirkwood brought the field to the green flag for the fifth time this season. Malukas won the honor of starting on the inside of the front row for the fourth time in 2021.

David Malukas leads the field into Turn 1 at World Wide Technology Raceway At Gateway on Lap 1 in the Indy Lights race Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography/Road to Indy

Kirkwood dropped in behind Malukas as they crossed under the green flag to get the 75-lap race underway. The HMD Trucking sponsored No. 79 of Malukas grabbed the lead in Turn 1 and leading the first lap.

Behind the two leaders, Global Racing Group w/HMD drivers Pederson and Lundqvist, who started third and fourth, went side-by-side for the first lap before Lundqvist grabbed the final spot on the podium in Turn 1 on Lap 2.

Back out front, an aggressive Kirkwood took a look at Malukas on the outside of Turn 3, but the rear end of the Road to Indy/Cooper Tires/Construction Contractors Club sponsored No. 28 stepped out as he got on the power just past the apex of the 11-degree banked Turn 2. The Andretti Autosport driver was able to gain control, but the lurid slide cost him momentum, and Lundqvist was able to move to second.

“At the start of the race, I had a really good run on David Malukas, but I was a bit unaware of how the car was, what the balance was and how the conditions were,” explained Malukas. “I knew that if I wanted to capitalize on the position and take over the lead, I had to give it everything I got. It resulted in a pretty big moment between Turns 1 and 2 and I had a big slide on power. Then Linus [Lundqvist] was able to drive around us going into Turn 3, because I lost so much time out of [Turn] 2.”

Oversteer was something the Andretti Autosport/Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport dealt with for the entire race.

Further back, Sowery, Peroni, and DeFrancesco were battling furiously for sixth, seventh and eighth.

Thing settled in out front with Malukas lead over Lundqvist at 1.9 seconds after ten laps. The running order at that point of the race was Malukas, Lundqvist, Kirkwood, Pedersen, Robert Megennis (Andretti Autosport), Toby Sowery (Juncos Holinger Racing), DeFrancesco, Peroni, Danial Frost (Andretti Autosport), Sting Ray Robb (Juncos Hollinger Racing), Antonio Serravalle (Pserra Racing) and Christian Bogle (Carlin).

On Lap 17, Robb came to pit road, reporting to the crew that he had a gearbox issue. The Juncos Hollinger crew took the engine cover off the Sekady Capital/Goodheart-Firehouse Animal Centers sponsored No. 2, but the problem was terminal.

The next driver to have an issue was Serravalle, who was slow on the front straight with what looked like a right-front tire issue. The Canadian was able to pull the family-run No. 11 to a safe position at the end of pit road, and the 1.25-mile oval remained green.

On Lap 28, the first of two yellow flags came out when the m-start/Kumpf sponsored No. 51 of Sowery came to a stop in the grass on the inside of the track at the exit of Turn 2 with what turned out to be a broken hub on his left front wheel.

Out front, Lundqvist had started to close the gap to Malukas, closing the gap to just over one second when the yellow flag came out.

The AMR INDYCAR Safety Team cleared Sowery’s machine, and the green flag came back out to begin Lap 35.

Kirkwood had his second big moment on the race on the restart while attempting to pass Lundqvist for the second spot. In his words:

“On the restart, I had another run on what was second place, Linus, and came around the outside of him coming out of [Turn] 2. He drove us up into the wall, and I made contact with him on the middle of the straight, which almost caused him to spin and gave us damage to our nose.

“That was really the end of the race for us. You can really only make passes early on when you have a run, but once everyone slots in it’s nearly impossible to make any moves.”

Behind the leaders, DeFrancesco got a great restart, making a brave move around his teammate Megennis on the outside of Turn 3 and Turn 4 to gain one more position to sixth.

Devlin DeFrancesco (No. 17) puts pressure on his teammate Robert Megennis (No. 27) in an Indy Lights race at World Wide Technology Raceway At Gateway Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography/Road to Indy

The following driver to have an issue was Megennis, who became the second driver to have a problem with the right front tire. The New Yorker was able to keep his No. 28 off the wall but was forced to pit road to change the offending tire.

After the excitement of the restart, things out front were stable, with Malukas holding around a one-second lead over Lundqvist.

On Lap 59, the second yellow flag of the race came out. This time it was for second place Lundqvist, who had a tire fail as he turned into Turn 3. The distinctive orange and black No. 26 made heavy right-side contact with the SAFER Barrier.

TSO Ladder caught up with Lundqvist after the incident, and thankfully, he was uninjured. But, unfortunately, the same could not be said for his car. The No. 26 has significant tub damage and is not repairable.

When we left the track, the combined Global Racing Group and HMD Motorsports crew were preparing the No. 59 that Nikita Lastochkin had wheeled this season.

In the interest of safety, Tony Cotman, RTI Competition Director/Indy Lights Race Director, decided to end the race after 66 of the scheduled 75-laps.

Results of Cooper Tires Indy Lights Oval Challenge Of St. Louis Race #1

1 79 David Malukas HMD Motorsports 66 LAPS
2 28 Kyle Kirkwood Andretti Autosport -0.5636
3 24 Benjamin Pedersen Global Racing Group w/HMD Motorsports -0.9515
4 17 Devlin DeFrancesco Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport -1.5391
5 5 Alex Peroni Carlin -1.9629
6 68 Danial Frost Andretti Autosport -2.5944
7 27 Robert Megennis Andretti Autosport -2 LAPS
8 7 Christian Bogle Carlin -2 LAPS
9 26 Linus Lundqvist Global Racing Group w/HMD Motorsports -8 LAPS
10 11 Antonio Serravalle Pserra Racing —9 LAPS
11 51 Toby Sowery Juncos Hollinger Racing -40 LAPS
12 2 Sting Ray Robb Juncos Hollinger Racing -49 LAPS

Tire issues

In response to the issues with the tires, the Indy Lights series announced some changes for Saturday’s 5:30 pm Cooper Tires Indy Lights Oval Challenge Of St. Louis.

The distance of the race will be 70 laps (87.5 miles) instead of 75 laps (93.75 miles). At that point, the starter will show the yellow and then the red flag.

The drivers will wheel their cars into pit road and to the attention of their crews, where at a minimum, they will change the right-side tires provided by Cooper Tires. If only changing right-side tires, the driver will hold their position when the yellow flag came out. A team is permitted to change all four tires, but that will necessitate starting from the back of the field.

No other changes to the IL-15s will be permitted.

The new tires provided to the teams must be used at speed in the 2:05 pm warm-up for a minimum of three laps.

Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires points standings after 13 of 20 races

1 Kyle Kirkwood – r Andretti Autosport 328
2 David Malukas HMD Motorsports 326
3 Linus Lundqvist – r Global Racing Group w/HMD 283
4 Danial Frost – r Andretti Autosport 227
5 Devlin DeFrancesco – r Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport 219
6 Toby Sowery Juncos Racing 216
7 Benjamin Pedersen – r Global Racing Group w/HMD 212
8 Alex Peroni – r Carlin 205
9 Robert Megennis Andretti Autosport 204
10 Sting Ray Robb – r Juncos Racing 154
11 Christian Bogle – r Carlin 145
12 Antonio Serravalle – r Pserra Racing 143
13 Nikita Lastochkin – r HMD Motorsports 123