ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – A dramatic first of two Cooper Tires USF2000 Grand Prix of Road America Powered by Mazda races this afternoon ended with Dutch teenager Rinus VeeKay claiming an emphatic maiden victory for the locally based Pabst Racing team.
Chicago’s David Malukas, in just his second USF2000 weekend, qualified on pole and finished second for BN Racing, while Brazilian youngster Lucas Kohl drove by far his most impressive race since joining Pabst Racing this season by finishing in third.
Making light of difficult, drying conditions this morning in qualifying, Malukas also took full advantage of some setup work completed recently by former USF2000 race winner (and current Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires points leader) Victor Franzoni to claim the pole. Runaway series leader Oliver Askew qualified second for Cape Motorsports, but it was his distinctive Soul Red Tatuus USF-17 which jumped into the lead as soon as the green flag flew.
Malukas, having been caught out slightly, tucked into second place before making his move back into the lead on the long downhill run between Turns Three and Five. The Pabst pair, VeeKay and Kohl, also became embroiled in a thrilling battle for the lead which lasted for almost half of the 30-minute race.
Malukas used every inch of the race track to maintain his advantage for the first four laps, but it seemed to be only a matter of time before VeeKay would make his move. Sure enough, next time around, the Dutchman drafted past to take the lead.
Askew posted the fastest lap of the race on Lap Six as he continued to battle for second with Malukas, but just as he seemed set to make the position his own – and perhaps even re-challenge VeeKay for the lead — he abruptly slowed and pulled into the pit lane. The camber shims had inexplicably worked loose on his left-front wheel, causing a severe vibration. Some rapid work by the crew enabled the Floridian to rejoin at the back of the field in time to salvage a 17th-place finish.
VeeKay extended his lead to almost six seconds at the checkered flag. Malukas earned the Staubli Award by finishing a clear second ahead of Kohl and Guyanan Calvin Ming, who fought his way from 15th on the grid to fourth in a third Pabst Racing entry. Ming easily secured the Tilton Hard Charger Award. The PFC Award went to winning car owner Augie Pabst III, whose Oconomowoc, Wis.-based organization has now moved ahead of Cape Motorsports into the lead of the Team Championship.
Canadian Parker Thompson took fifth for Exclusive Autosport, followed by Team Pelfrey’s Kaylen Frederick, who also had a lot of ground to make up after qualifying 12th. Frederick just got the better of teammate Robert Megennis in the closing stages, while Devin Wojcik, driving for another local team, ArmsUp Motorsports from Sheboygan Falls, Wis., just nipped Illinois racer Colin Kaminsky (John Cummiskey Racing) for eighth on the final lap.
VeeKay’s well deserved victory enabled him to virtually halve the deficit to Askew from 60 points to 34 (193-159) heading into tomorrow’s eighth round of the 14-race Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season. Another qualifying session later this afternoon will set the grid, with the green flag set for 2:10 p.m. EDT on Saturday. Live timing and live streaming will be available on the Road To Indy TV App, at RoadToIndy.TV, usf2000.com and indycar.com.
Rinus VeeKay #21 Jumbo Supermarkets The Netherlands/Total-Pabst Racing): “It feels so great to finally win! When I was coming up the hill to the finish, I was just screaming on the radio – my engineer must have pain in his ears! I was so happy for me and for the team, to finally get a win and for it to be here, at their home race. I learned to be very patient in this race. I was behind Oliver and David early and sometimes when I made a move, it worked and sometimes I made a little mistake. But I learned from it. It was a great battle – we touched wheels but it was very fair, a real fight like you want to have. I love this track, it reminds me of Spa, with the long straights with very technical corners. It really brings the driving part of you out. I can’t wait for tomorrow!”
David Malukas (#79 BN Racing): “The first part of the race was really fun, three-wide and two-wide in almost every corner. Every corner was another pass! After that, it was a matter of basically accepting what had just happened. I will say, I was a little surprised to be on pole, and by such a big margin. Victor Franzoni has been coaching me here and that has been a big help – without him, I don’t think we’d be here right now. My Dad used to drive a Corvette here so he taught me some of the tips and tricks as well, but I’d only driven here once before, when we tested a few weeks ago. I’ve been driving in Europe, so this is only my sixth race (weekend) in a car. The team has worked day and night since Indy – that was our first race in the series and we were so new to everything. We had older tires on the car today so we’ll put new ones on tomorrow and see what we can do.”