Sorry for the delay in getting this report out. The red flag, and wanting to get the story correct held it up yesterday. And, the finally sleeping in my own bed after 20 of the last 22 days away, held it up today (Steve).
After an exciting run from eighth to first to eighth by Rinus VeeKay to take home victory in the first Pro Mazda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Allied Building Product, the Dutch driver had a much more conventional pole to winners circle win in Sunday’s second race.
Before the green flag for Saturday’s first race, VeeKay had only completed nine-laps of the 1.8-mile 14-turn street course due to a mechanical issue with his No. 2 Juncos Racing machine, but that didn’t slow down the 2018 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda vice-champion.
That, however, did not mean that the second race was conventional because, for the first 17 of the scheduled 40-minute event, things were a little chaotic.
The chaos began on the pace lap when Charles Finelli had his engine cover come off, leaving debris on the track, and forcing the starter to display the yellow flag.
The AMR INDYCAR Safety Team quickly retrieved the debris and not long after the 15 remaining drivers had rounded the fourteenth and final corner, the starter threw the green flag before the front row had reached the start-zone.
The premature green flag caught the front row of VeeKay and Malukas off guard, and they were both swamped by the rest of field, falling outside of the top 10 by the time the field rounded Turn 1.
Harrison Scott, who was started seventh, took advantage of the confusion and moved to the lead by the time the first green flag lap had come to a close.
The field settled in for what was scheduled to be a 30 lap race, but with the confusion at the start of the race, the red flag flew, and the field came to pit road.
After a slight delay will officials discussed the situation, the drivers were put back into their original starting spots, and the race restarted in a single file configuration. The reason for the confusion was that the flag-stand had lost communication with race control, and the green flag came out too early.
The most significant loser outside of Scott, was Juncos Racing rookie, Robert Megennis, who had suffered a mechanical issue on track, and was not able to restart.
The single file restart was clean, and at the end of Lap 6, the top 10 were: VeeKay, Malukas, Oliver Askew, Carlos Cunha, Sting Ray Robb, Scott, Parker Thompson, Lodovico Laurini, Rafa Martins, Nikia Lastochkin and Andres Gutierrez.
Cunha started to immediately pressure reigning USF2000 Champion Oliver Askew for the final podium spot. On Lap 9, the Soul Red No. 3 slapped the wall at Turn 8, allowing Cunha through. Askew was able to complete the race but finished in sixth.
With 15 minutes remaining in what had become a timed race, VeeKay held a slim 0.7 second lead over BN Racing rookie Malukas. Behind them, Cunha held third, and Scott had just been able to get past Robb for fourth.
However, the RP Motorsport No. 10 sustained front wing damage, and even with a valiant effort by the English driver, the damage eventually caught up with him, and he ended the race in 12th, as the final driver on the lead lap.
Malukas, from Chicago Height, Ill. started to eat into VeeKay’s lead at one-tenth of a second per lap. The pair of front-runners was seven seconds ahead of Cunha.
With five minutes left in the 40 minutes timed race the yellow flag came back out for the No. 78 BN Racing Mazda/Tatuus of Kris Wright who had an issue in Turn 8.
The top 10 when the green flag came back out with two minutes left in the event was: VeeKay, Malukas, Cunha, Scott, Robb, Thompson, Askew, Lastochkin, Martins, and Guttierez.
Scott immediately lost positions to Robb and Thompson and continued to fall down the order.
The 17-year-old VeeKay took the white flag with a 0.4-second lead and was able to hold off Malukas to score his second straight Pro Mazda win, and his fifth career Mazda Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires victory.
“This is amazing, just like last year when I won both races at Road America and was fighting with David,” exclaimed an ecstatic VeeKay. “But both of us were confused at the start because the green came so early, so everyone passed us. I’m happy that the series saw the mistake and gave us a chance to recover. I had a comfortable gap through the race and when I saw the yellow flag I thought ‘oh, no!’ I knew the restart had to be very good and I did get enough of a jump to stay in front. The team gave me a great car, but I want to thank Elite Engines as well. I had trouble before the season started and they helped me get over it. It’s amazing how quick this car is so thank you Tatuus and Mazda! It’s magic, driving it.”