By Steve Wittich
Oliver Askew’s first Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires weekend ended in the wall. The 22-year-old used that emotion to come back strong with an almost perfect weekend at Circuit of The Americas.
With such intense competition since the introduction of the AER/Dallara IL-15 five years ago, maximum point weekends have become a rare occurrence in the top level of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires. Askew put his fellow competitors on notice this weekend by collecting all of the 64 points possible by winning both races, both poles and leading the most laps in both races.
The only ‘blemish’ on the weekend was giving up the lead to his teammate for the first five laps of Sunday’s race.
“Hopefully this sets the tone for the rest of the year,” said Askew after getting out of his car. “It was an awesome race. It is always fun when you have to work for it and pass the other car. Congrats to my teammate Robert Megennis for finishing second. I can’t thank enough everyone on this Index Invest car and everybody at Andretti Autosport and everyone watching as well. Thank you.”
For the second straight race, Askew’s fellow Andretti Autosport rookie Robert Megennis finished on the podium, this time finishing second and leading his first laps in Indy Lights competition.
“It was a great race,” said Megennis, who couldn’t stop smiling after the race. “I had a great start and got a draft from Oliver going into Turn One and made the pass on the inside and made it stick. I led the first five or six laps and pushed as hard as I could and then Oliver got by. I am happy with second place and holding off David after the restart was great.”
The Andretti Autosport rookies drove an outstanding race, but it was fellow rookie David Malukas that had the drive of the day. The Chicago, Ill. driver was forced to start in the last grid spot after the No. 79 failed technical inspection after the second qualifying session.
Malukas had a trio of wins in Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires last season, but this was by far the best drive of his formula car career. The 17-year-old showed patience and poise while timing his drive to the podium perfectly. It’s his first Indy Lights podium and eighth overall across all three Road To Indy series.
“I started last and made a couple of passes,” said Malukas. “From there I was out of push-to-pass range and I thought I am going to try some strategy. I have a lot of laps (remaining) and I have to think of something. I called [team principal] Bryn [Nuttall] on the radio and asked him to tell me when people were running out of push-to-pass, and I’ll save my tires until then, and when they run out, I will be able to catch up with them. As soon as he gave me the call, I pushed for two laps and was already there. I had the push-to-pass and once I went for the passes, it was easy sailing. I saved my tires and had a lot more traction than the next guy. Even though I won in Indy Pro 2000, nothing compares to this – proper racing and going from last to third is something special.”
Rinus van Kalmthout (Rinus VeeKay) was able to overcome a slow start to the race to recover to a fourth-place finish, increasing an already ridiculous top five Road To Indy finish percentage to 94.1% in 34 starts.
Belardi Auto Racing rookie Julien Falchero overcame a lack of track time due to a non-team related mechanical issue to come home in fifth. His third straight top-five finish.
After a slight delay to clean up the track after the Mazda MX-5 Cup race, the Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix Presented by Allied Building Products second race of the weekend got the green flag under overcast skies with the temperature a comfortable 66F.
The all Andretti Autosport rookie front row of Askew and Megennis crossed the start line with the No. 27 tucking briefly behind Askew’s No. 28. Askew drove a slightly defensive line in the middle of the track leaving his teammate plenty of room on the inside on the 133-foot rise to the apex of Turn 1.
Megennis told us before the race that he planned to follow Askew and for the teammate to try and pull away from the rest of the field. That mindset changed when the 18-year-old realized his teammate was not covering the inside of the corner.
Megennis edged ahead at the apex of the corner, while the speed that Askew was carrying forced him wide and around the curbs at the exit of Turn 1.
Behind the front pair, inside front second-row starter VeeKay had an issue with his car entering limp mode on the start and was quickly swamped by Ryan Norman, Toby Sowery, Zachary Claman and Dalton Kellett. The Dutchmen fought back and only ended up losing two spots.
Megennis crossed the line to complete the first lap 0.8180 seconds ahead of Askew. Behind the front pair, the running order was Sowery, Norman, VeeKay, Julien Falchero (Belardi Auto Racing), Dalton Kellett (Juncos Racing), David Malukas (BN Racing) and Lucas Kohl (Belardi Auto Racing).
Megennis led Askew by across the line by one second to begin Lap 6.
Unfortunatley for Megennis, he had a lock-up in Turn 1 which allowed Askew to follow his teammate closely through the next ten corners before utilizing the 50hp push-to-pass while headed down the almost 4,000 foot back straight. Askew got the pass completed before Turn 12.
The battle up-front, allowed the rest of the field to remain close, with the top eight on track all running within eight seconds of each other.
Askew set his fastest lap of the race on the next lap, building a 1.1448-second gap to start Lap 8.
Megennis wasn’t about to give up the fight though. The New Yorker was now able to activate his PTP and two laps later, set the fastest lap of the race, hounding Askew for the next four laps.
At the halfway point it was the Andretti Autosport duo upfront with the running order behind them as follows: Sowery, Claman, Norman, VeeKay, Falchero, Malukas, Kellett and Kohl.
Two important things happened at this point.
First, Askew built a gap of over 1.5 seconds to Megennis, putting the later driver out of PTP range.
Second, Malukas, who had been saving his PTP and conserving his Cooper Tires started an impressive drive to the podium from eighth by first passing Falchero, VeeKay, and Norman over the next four laps to move into fifth place, right behind Claman.
Claman got around VeeKay on Lap 2 for fifth place and Norman on Lap 10 for fourth, allowing the veteran to regain the provisional points lead. The No. 13 Belardi Auto Racing machine was facing pressure by Malukas from behind and Claman had a wild ride over the 50mm exit curbs with five laps remaining and unfortunately came to a stop on drivers’s right in Turn 16, ending his race and completing a drama-filled weekend that saw him fall out of the points lead.
Askew had built up a comfortable lead, that was erased when the yellow flag came out to allow the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team to retrieve the Claman’s AER/Dallara IL-15 safely.
On the restart, Malukas was able to snag the final podium spot from his teammate, who immediately fell into the clutches of VeeKay and the two made light contact. Sowery quickly dropped from what looked like a sure podium to falling to seventh after being passed by Kellett with three laps to go.
Megennis looked like he might pressure Askew to the finish, but a tire lock up in Turn 1 allowed Malukas to get under the nose of Meggenis’ gearbox. The pair of teenagers had put on a masterful display of offensive and defensive driving over the last two laps with the two going side-by-side in the stadium complex. Megennis was able to hold on but crossed under the checkered flag only six-tenths ahead of Malukas.
Kellett, who crossed the line in seventh, was penalized 30-seconds post-race for avoidable contact moving him behind Kohl and Norman, drivers he had incidents with on the final two laps.
Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix Presented by Allied Building Products Race #2 Results
|1||28||Oliver Askew||Andretti Autosport|
|2||27||Robert Megennis||Andretti Autosport||-2.2256|
|3||79||David Malukas||BN Racing||-2.8939|
|4||21||Rinus VeeKay||Juncos Racing||-5.0249|
|5||4||Julien Falchero||Belardi Auto Racing||-5.8189|
|6||2||Toby Sowery||BN Racing/Team Pelfrey||-14.4574|
|7||5||Lucas Kohl||Belardi Auto Racing||-30.1434|
|8||48||Ryan Norman||Andretti Autosport||-30.6043|
|9||67||Dalton Kellett||Juncos Racing||-51.3775|
|10||13||Zachary Claman||Belardi Auto Racing||– 6 LAPS|
Indy Lights will be back in action with the entire complement of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires and the NTT IndyCar Series on May 9, 2019, to start the “Month of May” on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.