If you were to only look at the box-score of the first Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix Presented By Allied Building Products race at Circuit of The Americas, you would see only one compelling storyline.
Utter domination by pole sitter Oliver Askew, who led all 20 laps, had the quickest lap of the race (despite not having push-to-pass) and ended up crossing the finish line a soul-crushing (to the rest of the field) 24.68 seconds ahead of second place Rinus van Kalmthout (Rinus VeeKay), is that first story.
“It was a pretty good race for us,” exclaimed the 22-year-old after the race. “We got a clean start which was really important. I kept my head down and built the gap to where we could start conserving the tires in case of a caution. The No. 28 Index Invest car was unbelievable on track today. I have to give a big thanks to everyone at Andretti Autosport for all of their hard work. I don’t think we are satisfied yet, but we will keep pushing until we are.”
However, if you got a chance to watch the race you had an opportunity to witness the second compelling storyline.
An epic and entertaining battle for spots two through six was the more entertaining of the two storylines for everyone that isn’t on the No. 27 Index Invest Dallara crew or happens to have the last name Askew.
Officially, the second step of the podium changed hands six-times, but unofficially it was at least double that with first Toby Sowery and Robert Megennis and then Megennis and VeeKay who traded second place multiple times on multiple laps.
Askew’s win was his first in Indy Lights and ninth overall victory in his third season of Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires action.
The exclusive club of drivers that have won a race on all three rungs of Road To Indy gained a member for the second straight race. Askew is the ninth driver who has accomplished the feat, joining Matthew Brabham, Victor Franzoni, Jay Howard, Nico Jamin, Sage Karam, Spencer Pigot, Aaron Telitz and Rinus van Kalmthout (Rinus VeeKay).
The race began auspiciously when outside front row starter Ryan Norman spun on the parade lap and had to drop to the back of the field for the green flag. Norman recovered to cross under the checkered flag in fifth but was moved back a spot after receiving a post-race penalty for avoidable contact in an incident involving Toby Sowery.
“I’m absolutely heart broken for the team about today,” said the Andretti Autosport veteran. “I made a mistake and spun on the parade lap; the turbo kicked in way harder than expected when I was warming my front tires. Our car is really fast, we were just stuck behind people. Thank you to everyone at Andretti Autosport and to EVO. Tomorrow we are going to turn this around.”
Points leader headed into the race, Zachary Claman made an aggressive move to the inside as the field fanned out up the 133-foot climb to Turn 1. The veteran was forced to start at the back of the field due to a fuel pickup issue with his No. 13 Zoological Wildlife Foundation/Abe & Mary’s/Paysafe/UPS in qualifying.
Claman was unable to make the tight left-hander and made contact with his Belardi Auto Racing teammate Kohl. The Canadian had to serve a drive-thru penalty for avoidable contact.
The running order at the end of the chaotic first lap was Askew, Sowery, Megennis, VeeKay, David Malukas (BN Racing), Norman, Julien Falchero (Belardi Auto Racing), Claman, Dalton Kellett (Juncos Racing) and Kohl.
The front three settled down for the next four laps, but behind that trio, Malukas, VeeKay, Falchero, and Norman were in a fierce battle that ended poorly for HMD Trucking sponsored No 79 AER/Dallara IL-15 from the BN Racing stable. Malukas made contact with the curb in Turn 15 and made contact with VeeKay, damaging his left front suspension. The 17-year-old was able to creep back to pit road but was forced to retire from the race.
On that same lap, there was Canadian on Canadian crime when Claman and Kellett made contact in Turn 11. The K-Line Insulators USA, Inc. sponsored No. 67 sustained a flat tire and had to pit for a fresh Cooper Tire slick.
On Lap 6 Askew had a 3.7-second lead, and Megennis and Sowery began their epic battle for second place.
The pair of drivers officially passed each other five times between Lap 6 and Lap 12, but that doesn’t include the multiple laps that saw the duo swap positions as many as three times per lap.
The fight was clean and contact-free with both drivers having multiple lock-ups going into Turns 1, 11, 12 and 15. Megennis was forced to let Sowery by him on one occasion when he was deemed to have exceeded track limits.
Ahead of that battle on Lap 10, Askew was able to pull away to a comfortable 13-second lead, and VeeKay was only 2.2 seconds back with Norman and Falchero within shouting distance.
Megennis received a brief reprieve when VeeKay caught up with Sowery on Lap 14, and after a two-lap fight, the BN Racing/Team Pelfrey driver fell out of the final podium spot.
With three laps remaining, VeeKay was able to erase the 1.7-second deficit to Megennis. The 18-year-old was able to hold off the charging Dutchman for a couple of laps, but the reigning Indy Pro 2000 champion had saved his tires and was able to move to a second place to complete an impressive drive from sixth to second.
Megennis was still happy with his first Indy Lights podium saying after the race:
“It was a great race today. We started in third and held third through the start and battled for second position the entire race – the first half with Toby (Sowery) and then the second half with Rinus (Veekay). I drove the best I could – tried to be smart with tire management and push to pass. I was in second with a good gap over Toby (Sowery), and then Rinus (Veekay) caught up to me and eventually passed me on the last lap. Super happy about my first Indy Lights podium finish. Thank you to the team, Palo Alto Networks, CyberArk, SailPoint, and Optiv. The team excited for tomorrow to start on the front row, and I think we can challenge for a win.”
VeeKay’s patience paid off, and the result is the 18-year-old grabbing the points lead heading into the fourth race of the year.
“I had quite a good race,” explained VeeKay, who now has a two-point lead over Claman, after the race. “I came through in fourth through Turn One and had a long battle with David Malukas behind me on new tires. He was using the push-to-pass all of the time. I had no one in front of me anymore so I was just defending and not planning on attacking the guys in front because they were gone. They starting fighting for position for more than 10 laps and that was a good opportunity for me to get close in the push-to-pass window. Once I got there, I had saved my tires a little more than them and it gave me a little advantage to pass them. I also had a little more push-to-pass. I am super happy with P2. It was really the maximum I could achieve today and we will see if the car can be improved for tomorrow. It was already a great car and I would like to thank the team for making the podium possible for me.”
The exciting 20-lap race had 38 passes for position, and 44 total passes.
Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix Presented By Allied Building Products Race #1 Results
|1||28||Oliver Askew||Andretti Autosport||20 LAPS|
|2||21||Rinus VeeKay||Juncos Racing||-24.68|
|3||27||Robert Megennis||Andretti Autosport||-24.9432|
|4||4||Julien Falchero||Belardi Auto Racing||-30.0656|
|5||2||Toby Sowery||BN Racing/Team Pelfrey||-37.8013|
|6||48||Ryan Norman||Andretti Autosport||-38.2575|
|7||13||Zachary Claman||Belardi Auto Racing||-44.6325|
|8||5||Lucas Kohl||Belardi Auto Racing||-74.3314|
|9||67||Dalton Kellett||Juncos Racing||-1 LAP|
|10||79||David Malukas||BN Racing||-14 LAPS|
The Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires drivers will be back on track at 9:10 am for their second race of the weekend tomorrow morning.