VeeKay on the opening lap, the Andretti Autosport exhibited tremendous patience following the No. 23 Soul Red car of VeeKay for 52 laps.
“I think our car was just better [than VeeKay],” said Askew after the race. “I understood from the beginning that he had more straight-line speed than us and was more trimmed out, so I knew he was going to lose his tires at the end – and he did. I just had to keep the pressure on and wait for my opportunity. A big thanks to everybody at Index Invest, Andretti Autosport, the Stellrecht Company.”
VeeKay and Juncos Racing trimmed out, hoping to grab a quick lead and hold on. It almost worked.
“We didn’t have much to lose, so we tried to trim out the car – we used a setup that we had about five laps on, so we weren’t sure how it would go on a longer stint,” explained the 18-year-old. “I had a great start and was able to get by Oliver, but we were surprised by the balance on every lap. We had such low downforce. I picked up a lot of understeer, but I kept my foot in it and at one point, I brushed the wall. It was quite a hit; I’m glad the car wasn’t damaged. Oliver got a run on me and from that moment, I backed off a bit to bring the car home. To get P2 and most laps led is a good thing.
“But I’ll try to do everything I can to catch Oliver: it will be tough, but the team and I will give it all we have, and that’s all we can do. I’ve raced against him for three years – he’s always quick and we’re always together. We’re really good rivals.”
Engines for the 75-lap Cooper Tires Indy Lights Oval Challenge of St. Louis were fired at 3:20 pm, and after a pair of pace laps, the front row of Askew and VeeKay brought the field to the green flag.
Both drivers got an equal start with VeeKay able to stay beside Askew through the south end of the track. The rivals went made the run down the backstretch side-by-side before
VeeKay was able to get just ahead of Askew in Turn 3 and pull down in front of Askew. That took the air off the Index Invest sponsored No. 28, and it washed up the track, allowing VeeKay to lead the first lap.
The front four settle in upfront, but behind them, Kellett, Sowery and Megennis were in a back and forth battle for fifth.
At lap 10, VeeKay’s lead over Askew was 1.1 seconds, but that was erased when Sowery’s Gap Guard/Rich Energy sponsored No. 2 lost the rear end at the exit of Turn 2.
It created a ton of smoke, but Sowery didn’t hit anything, and he came to pit road for four fresh Cooper Tires. The HMD Motorsports crew completed the pit stop quickly, keeping Sowery on the lead lap.
The green flag came out to start lap 16. VeeKay was able to hold off Askew, pulling out to a 0.8 second lead in two-laps.
Behind them, the battle for fifth was still the one to watch. This time it was between Kellett and Megennis.
On Lap 21, Norman was only 0.2 seconds behind Malukas for the final spot on the podium.
Upfront, Askew’s gap to VeeKay had shrunk to 0.4 seconds on Lap 27.
On Lap 30, VeeKay tagged the wall with the rear of his Soul Red No. 23 at the exit of Turn 2.
At the half-way point of the race, VeeKay was still upfront, but the lead was only 0.3 seconds. Malukas, in third was 6.5 seconds back, holding off Norman who was within one second.
With 32 laps to go, VeeKay’s lead was still 0.3 seconds ahead of Askew.
At the one-third pole, the lead was only 0.2 seconds with Askew putting immense pressure on VeeKay.
On Lap 53, Askew, who was more stable in Turn 3 and Turn 4 was able to make the pass for the lead. Going around the outside in Turn 1 and Turn 2. VeeKay took a look to the inside in Turn 3, but Askew was able to hold him off and started to drive away.
Five laps later, the Askew’s lead was already at 2.4 seconds. VeeKay’s lead over Malukas had shrunk to 4 seconds.
With eight laps remaining, the lead was 5.6 seconds over VeeKay. Malukas was only 1.7 seconds back.
Malukas was able to get within a second of VeeKay, but could not get close enough get past him.
Cooper Tires Indy Pro 2000 Oval Challenge of St. Louis Race Results
|1||28||Oliver Askew||Andretti Autosport||75 Laps|
|2||21||Rinus VeeKay||Juncos Racing||-6.789|
|3||79||David Malukas||HMD Motorsports||-7.9155|
|4||48||Ryan Norman||Andretti Autosport||-18.622|
|5||27||Robert Megennis||Andretti Autosport||-21.8425|
|6||67||Dalton Kellett||Juncos Racing||-23.8045|
|7||5||Lucas Kohl||Belardi Auto Racing||-24.2405|
|8||2||Toby Sowery||HMD Motorsports/Team Pelfrey||-25.4903|