By Steve Wittich
It really should come as no surprise, but once again, the 100,000+ crowd at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the party that is Miller Light Carb Day witnessed an exhilarating Freedom 100 presented by Cooper Tires decided by mere inches.
After making 20 passes for a position in the first 99.6785 miles of the 17th Freedom 100, Oliver Askew timed his 21st perfectly; crossing “The Yard Of Bricks” ahead of his Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Norman by a razor-thin 0.0067-second margin.
“Yeah, I can’t really put words together to describe it,” said Askew. “I woke up this morning, I felt good. I honestly, like this is the most calm I’ve ever been this week. I don’t know what it is. But just — it’s still sinking in, the emotions of winning at such a historical track and with such a historical team, as well. Unbelievable. Like I was screaming on the radio after I won. But yeah, honestly, I was just in the right place at the right time. It could have been anybody’s race, honestly, and I was just happy to take the opportunity really.”
After waiting for 13-years for their first Freedom 100 win, an Andretti Autosport driver has now won three of the last four Carb Day 40 lappers.
It’s Askew’s third Indy Lights victory, and 11th career trip to victory lane in 37 Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires starts.
It’s the fourth time in the seven years that the race winner crossed the line thousandths of a second before the second place driver.
Norman was understandably disappointed/mad/frustrated after leading a career-high 29 laps.
“This is the most disappointing podium finish I’ve ever had, the timing just wasn’t there at the end,” said the winner of the last Indy Lights oval race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. “I’ve had a rough start to the season so it’s good to be back up front and taking this momentum forward.”
Norman and Rinus van Kalmthout (VeeKay) put on an electric show for most of the race before the Dutchman fell back to third in the closing laps. The 18-year-old now has 27 podiums in 37 Road To Indy starts, giving him an unthinkable podium percentage of 73%.
“In the end, I’m happy with the result and with the points,” said VeeKay. “Coming from Europe, racing on the oval is a whole new experience. It is much larger and quicker than any other track, but it was a good race for my first time on a superspeedway. There were so many people cheering; I could hear them, feel them, and wanted to reciprocate their energy. I will never forget it.”
Askew and VeeKay have now shared 18 podiums in the last three seasons, including four times this year. They have combined to win 23 of 37 races they have contested together. Only five times in the 37 races across the 2017 USF2000, 2018 Indy Pro 2000 and 2019 Indy Lights, have one of two failed to stand on the podium.
Five drivers were disqualified from qualifying due to failing post-qualifying technical inspection mixing up the grid for the 17th running of the 100-mile race.
At 1 pm, former Indy Lights champions Paul Tracy and Townsend Bell gave an enthusiastic call to start the 2.0L turbo-charged, 4-cylinder AER engines.
Before the green flag came out, Jarett Andretti spun while warming up his tires, but was able to get re-fired and catch up with the pack.
Telitz, who was scheduled to start third, came to pit road with a mechanical issue. The Belardi Auto Racing crew went to work fixing on what ended up being a broken-half shaft on the No. 4 AER/Dallara IL-15. The veteran was able to rejoin the race when it went back to green on Lap 7.
Pole sitter Megennis got the jump when the green flag came out, led through the first two corners, but lost the top spot to his teammate Norman, who went around the outside as the pair entered the turn.
David Malukas, who was running in fourth behind Kellett, appeared to feed in too much wheel at the apex of Turn 4, losing the rear end of the No. 79 BN Racing machine and spinning towards the Turn 4 SAFER Barrier. Unfortunately for both driver, Chris Windom’s NOS Energy sponsored No. 17 was on the outside of Malukas, and the two cars hammered the outside wall together.
Windom’s car rode up Malukas’ machine and ended up sliding along the top of the SAFER Barrier in tandem with Malukas. Windom’s No. 17 eventually dismounted from the SAFER Barrier riding across the No. 79 before both cars ended up at the exit of Turn 4.
The AMR INDYCAR Safety Team was on the scene before the cars came to a stop, and both drivers were able to get out of their cars under their own power. They were both checked and released from the IU Health Emergency Medical Center and cleared to drive.
The contact was Windom’s second wild ride in 16 hours. The two-time USAC National Champion went for a wild ride in a Silver Crown Car last night in the final Hoosier Hundred. The 28-year-old had his right rear tire shred, turning him into the outside wall and sending him cartwheeling down the front straight.
Windom’s miserable 24 hours continued when he tried to knock down the Turn 1 wall at Lucas Oil Raceway on Saturday night during the Dave Steele Carb Night Classic, another Silver Crown race.
The field turned four laps under caution before the red flag came to make repairs to the SAFER Barrier.
The running order as the green flag came back out to begin Lap 7 was: Norman, Megennis, Kellett, VeeKay, Askew, Sowery, Kohl, Andretti, Windom, Malukas, and Telitz.
Norman led the next three laps, with teammate Robert Megennis following him closely.
At the ¼ point of the 40 lap race, Norman, Askew, VeeKay, and Megennis went into Turn 1 in a jumble. It was pole sitter Megennis that ended up leading to start lap 11, beginning a four-lap stint that had four different leaders.
Norman turned his quickest lap of the race on Lap 13 to take back the lead. The next 16 laps featured a back-and-forth battle between Norman and VeeKay, who often traded the spot twice each lap. Norman crossed the line first 11 times, while VeeKay had the edge in five.
Further back, Sowery, making his first-ever start on an oval race, started to get racey. The Cambridge, England driver was able to get by Kellett to move into the top five, fighting with Askew and Megennis for the final spot on the podium.
To start lap 27, VeeKay, Sowery, and Norman went three wide across the “Yard of Bricks,” with VeeKay leading that lap and pulling to the front in Turn 1.
Norman and VeeKay were able to pull a slight lead over the rest of the field as they traded the lead back and forth on each lap. Norman would lead the lap, losing the top spot in Turn 1 and then get it back in Turn 3.
The second and last yellow came out just before the ¾ pole for an incident involving the Rich Energy sponsored No. 2 of Sowery and the Cybersecurity sponsored No. 27 of Megennis.
Sowery’s Rich Energy sponsored No. 2 developed understeer in the aero wash of Megennis, and his right front made contact with the left rear of his fellow rookie.
The Cybersecurity sponsored No. 27 spun to the inside and it looked like the second big hit of the race would occur. Luckily, Sowery kept going forward and straightened out Megennis.
Sowery was penalized for avoidable contact and had to start at the back of the field. The green flag came out with nine laps to go. The running order was Norman, VeeKay, Askew, Kellett, Andretti, Megennis, Kohl, Sowery and Telitz.
VeeKay took the lead in Turn 1, but once again was passed by Norman headed into Turn 3.
Askew briefly grabbed the lead with six laps remaining, but had a moment, dropping all the way back to fifth.
With three laps remaining, Kellett made a bold outside move to make it three-wide with Norman and VeeKay in Turn 3. Kellett and his former Andretti Autosport made light wheel-to-wheel contact but kept going.
The crazy battle up-front was the opportunity that the Index Invest sponsored No. 28 needed. Askew, who was running fifth, was able to pass a trio of cars in one shot, putting him right on his teammate’s gearbox with two laps to go.
Askew and Norman traded the top spot on the penultimate lap with Askew 0.0048 seconds ahead when they received the white flag, winning the TSO Ladder #TSO1ToGo award ($500).
Like he had so many times before, Norman went back to the lead in Turn 3 and looked like he was headed to victory lane as he came off Turn 4 with a decent lead. The third-year driver twice broke the draft between himself and Askew, but with no pressure from behind, Askew was able to make a move to the inside and secure the prestigious Freedom 100 presented by Cooper Tires victory.
“Turn 4 was the biggest trouble for me because I was getting such bad aero wash there, but Ryan anticipated I was going to go high but I decided to go low there and I had the clean air, and I didn’t lift”, explained Askew. “That was key. If I had to lift in 4, he would have won the race. What was it, six hundredths?
(Askew is corrected – it was thousandths) “Thousandths. Yeah, that was important just to stay flat in 4 and then he was trying to break the draft and I just slingshotted by him. I didn’t know when the finish line was going to come. I was just hoping it was going to be late enough for me to get back by him.”
Askew’s win moves him back to the top of the points table, 11 markers ahead of VeeKay, in the chase for an advancement scholarship into the NTT IndyCar Series.
Results of the 17th Freedom 100 presented by Cooper Tires
|1||28||Oliver Askew||Andretti Autosport||40 LAPS|
|2||48||Ryan Norman||Andretti Autosport||-0.0067|
|3||21||Rinus VeeKay||Juncos Racing||-0.3910|
|4||2||Toby Sowery||BN Racing/Team Pelfrey||-0.0773|
|5||67||Dalton Kellett||Juncos Racing||-0.1172|
|6||18||Jarett Andretti||Andretti Autosport||-0.6296|
|7||5||Lucas Kohl||Belardi Auto Racing||-1.3522|
|8||27||Robert Megennis||Andretti Autosport||-0.0485|
|9||4||Aaron Telitz||Belardi Auto Racing||-5 LAPS|
|10||17||Chris Windom||Belardi Auto Racing||-39 LAPS|
|11||79||David Malukas||BN Racing||-39 LAPS|
The Indy Lights teams and drivers will be back in action at the iconic Road America road course in Elkhart Lake, Wisc. on Friday, June 21.