By Patrick Stephan (@TSO_Patrick)
The first race for the new Tatuus USF-17 car was a good one. That’s pretty much exactly what anyone would want from a new car debut as the entire 21 car field made it through Turn 1. I did notice a slow car at the end of that lap – which I believe was Colin Kaminski with a flat left rear. Oddly enough in talking to others in the media center, I may have been the only one that saw that. Kaminski was able to finish the race though – so I need to go and check that out a little bit more.
Up front, pole sitter Robert Megennis jumped out to a big early lead. He was up by a full second at the end of Lap 1 and over two seconds at the end of Lap 2.
One of the many early battles was for second spot as Calvin Ming was trying to hold of Dakota Dickerson. By lap 5, that had let Megennis get out to a 2.4 second lead over Ming.
Oliver Askew though was on the move and so was Rinus VeeKay. Askew passed Dickerson for third on lap 7. On lap 12, VeeKay had moved all the way to fourth from his 14th starting spot.
With Megennis still out front, but not stretching his lead very much, Askew went around Ming in Turn 3 to take the second spot. Askew would then start eating in to Megennis lead and by lap 18 he had closed it to 1.1 seconds. Veekay had also moved up another spot to third.
Lap 21 saw the trio getting really tight with Askew just behind Megennis who was now taking more defensive lines to hold on to his lead that was officially 0.27 seconds. The next lap it would get even closer to 0.11, but that was also when Veekay got really close to Askew and started pressuring him for the second spot. Megennis got back to a 0.4 second lead as they took the white flag.
While putting on a good fight for the win and for second, the Top-3 would hold their spots as they came to the checkered flag.
The official margin of victory was .02617 seconds, but Veekay in third was just 0.6656 behind the race winner.
Kaylen Frederick came home in the fourth spot, 4.4 seconds behind Megennis, with Parker Thompson finishing 5th.
There wasn’t much damage in this USF-17 debut, though Ayla Agren pulled off on course on Lap 7 with mechanical issues. Chandler Horton was also listed as out with Contact after 15 laps – but I have to admit – I never saw a replay so not sure what happened there. And Devin Wojcik completed just 21 laps before pulling off the track.
After the race, we heard Megennis who said “This is a dream come true. I can’t believe this is happening,” said the 2016 USF2000 Rookie of the Year and Tilton Hard Charger Award winner. This is his first USF2000 victory after earning a pair of third place finishes last year (St. Pete #1, Barber #2).
“I was getting a little scared there at the end, with Oliver and VeeKay coming,” said the very happy 17 year old from New York, New York.
VeeKay was clearly the biggest mover in race going from 14th to 3rd, but Lucas Kohl also went from 17th to 12th.
VeeKay (a rookie from Holland), told us that the key to most of his passes was to get a good exit off the previous corner, “get in to the other driver’s slipstream, and then get off the line under braking so I could get keep more downforce and brake later.” He said the passing “wasn’t the most difficult” of his career.
Speaking of which, VeeKay reiterated his story getting to the Mazda Road to Indy. He had come to the US in 2015 for the Chris Griffis Memorial test, but as he was just 14 years old, the karting star didn’t believe he was ready to make the move over here just yet. Now 16, “I am now ready in my head to make the move over here.” He is staying in the US now in “blocks” – he heads back to Holland tomorrow night and will stay there during the long break until Barber (April 21-23) .
As has been noted before, he was planning to run here with a Benik/Carlin partnership that fizzled (nothing to do with Rinus). That left him scrambling and over the past couple weeks he tested with both Newman Wachs and Pabst Racing (signing with the latter). He called the decision on which team to go with one of the hardest of his life, “pretty tough decision for a 16 year old,” he noted.
Now, if you go searching for more on Rinus (perhaps starting with his website rinusvankalmthout.com ) you will see that he goes by a couple different versions of his last name. Officially it’s van Kalmthout, but here it’s listed as VeeKay. On much of his social media it’s simple the letters VK.
Oliver Askew told us after the race that the set-up on his Cape Motorsports car was really easy on the tires and he wasn’t getting any degradation unless he was in another driver’s turbulence/aero wash. That allowed the 19 year old from Jupiter Florida to run down Megennis as the race came to a conclusion.
He told us after the race that he was being pretty careful, “I kept telling myself that it’s all about the points. So many people come out of here with a big deficit and I didn’t want to do that.”
Parker Thompson will start from the pole in Race #2 today 2:00pm. Askew is 2nd, then VeeKay, Dickerson and Megennis.
Here are the results from USF2000 Race #1:
|6||36||Dakota||Dickerson||24||5.8130||4||Active||Newman Wachs Racing|
|8||38||Cameron||Das||24||9.0166||11||Active||Newman Wachs Racing|
|9||12||Moises||de la Vara||24||9.9387||8||Active||DEForce Racing|
|10||37||Andre||Castro||24||11.3788||7||Active||Newman Wachs Racing|
|14||34||Kris||Wright||24||35.5310||18||Active||John Cummiskey Racing|