By Steve Wittich
Oliver Askew heads to the penultimate Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires event with a chance to clinch the championship in the Pacific Northwest. With that trophy comes a three-race NTT IndyCar Series advancement scholarship.
Five races ago, when the top rung of the Road To Indy headed North Of The Border to Toronto, Ontario, Askew was clinging to a minuscule three-point margin over Rinus van Kalmthout (VeeKay). However, over the last five races, the 2017 USF2000 champion has outscored the 2017 Indy Pro 2000 champion by a margin of 166 to 117, to build a substantial 52 point margin as the series heads to Portland, Ore.
VeeKay needs to score at least six more points than Askew in the pair of 35-lap races on the 1.964-mile, 12-Turn road course to extend the championship to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in a few weeks. Possibly less if there are more than ten entries for the finale).
The pair of Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix Presented by Allied Building Products races will be the 17th and 18th Indy Lights race held at Portland International Raceway. Tommy Byrne won the first two years in 1988 and 1989. Last year, Patricio O’Ward won twice to clinch the Indy Lights title.
Previous Indy Lights winners at Portland International Raceway
|2018 Race #2||Patricio O’Ward||Andretti Autosport|
|2018 Race #1||Patricio O’Ward||Andretti Autosport|
|2001||Damien Faulkner||Dorricott Racing|
|2000||Jason Bright||Dorricott Racing|
|1999||Phillipp Peter||Dorricott Racing|
|1998||Guy Smith||Johansson Motorsports|
|1997||Hideki Noda||Indy Regency Racing|
|1996||Gualter Salles||Brian Stewart Racing|
|1995||Greg Moore||Forsythe Racing|
|1994||Andre Ribeiro||Tasman Motorsports|
|1993||Franck Freon||John Martin Racing|
|1992||Frank Freon||Landford Racing|
|1991||Eric Bachelart||Landford Racing|
|1990||Paul Tracy||Landford Racing|
|1989||Tommy Byrne||Landford Racing|
|1988||Tommy Byrne||Opar Racing|
The final four races on the Indy Lights calendar will be the ninth through 12th races contested on natural terrain courses during the 2019 season.
The Circuit of The Americas, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Road America and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course have all hosted two races each. Championship leader Oliver Askew scoring 214 points, the most of any driver in that trio of events.
Askew also leads the way on natural terrain road courses, with four wins, four poles, seven podiums, 102 laps led and four fastest race laps across the eight races.
VeeKay is not far behind, with two wins, three poles, six podiums, 55 laps led and the fastest race lap on three occasions.
Askew’s Andretti Autosport teammates Robert Megennis and Ryan Norman both have natural terrain road course wins. The three teammates combined have stood on 14 of 28 available podium steps.
Zachary Claman, David Malukas, Toby Sowery, and Aaron Telitz are the other drivers who each have a single natural terrain podium
2019 Indy Lights Natural Terrain Road Course Points
|1||Oliver Askew – R||214|
|2||Rinus VeeKay – R||189|
|3||Robert Megennis – R||169|
|5||Toby Sowery – R||132|
|6||David Malukas – R||131|
|8||Lucas Kohl – R||104|
|11||Julien Falchero – R||36|
Lap 1, Turn 1
In 1992, the ‘Festival Curves’ replaced a chicane on the front straight of the Portland International Raceway, and in the dozen Indy Lights since, nine have had first lap cautions. That total includes drivers going six-wide into the tight right-hander in last year’s second race. That ended with at least five cars making some contact and the yellow flag quickly being shown.
In those 12 races, nine drivers, including the pole sitter from last year, Ryan Norman have failed to complete a lap after Lap 1, Turn 1 contact.
Oliver Askew certainly has a stranglehold on the championship, but the daunting ’Festival Curves’ are an excellent reason to hold off on anointing him champion.
Retrain your brain
On August 7, 2019, Oliver Askew (Chip Ganassi Racing) and Rinus VeeKay (Ed Carpenter Racing) both got their first taste of an NTT IndyCar Series machine in a test on the 1.964-mile, 12-turn road course.
The duo, who both told TSO that the thing that surprised them most about the Indy car wasn’t the extra power, the carbon fiber brakes, or the different tires, it was how much more downforce the car had than then IL-15 they will be racing this weekend.
In road course trim, the Indy Lights drivers are used to having approximately 1,500 pounds of downforce. While turning over 100 laps apiece in the IR-18 at Portland International Raceway less than a month ago, the duo were driving cars with 200% (approximately 4,500 pounds) more downforce.
Those first few laps could be an adventure for VeeKay and Askew. But they both professionals, so don’t expect them to take too long to readapt to the Indy Lights cars.
That Askew and VeeKay rivalry by the numbers
I’m sure the two drivers that began their Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires careers together 44 races ago in USF2000 are sick of talking about their ‘rivalry.” But, it’s hard not to keep the story in the forefront with numbers like those below.
Askew and VeeKay have contested 44 races against each other across USF2000, Indy Pro 2000 and Indy Lights.
The two drivers have sprayed ‘champagne’ together an almost unbelievable 23 times in 44 races together, including nine times this year in Indy Lights.
One of the pair has started on pole 28 times (63.3%). Askew leads VeeKay with 18 versus ten inside front-row starts.
Askew has stood on the top step of the podium 15 times, while VeeKay has been there 13 times. The pair have won 63.3% (28) races that they have been a part of together.
Only seven times in their 44 races together have one of the duo failed to stand on the podium. Throughout the last three seasons, VeeKay has 32 podiums (72.7% of his races), compared to 28 podiums (63.6%) of his races for Askew.
One of the more surprising stats is that that between VeeKay (once) and Askew (twice), they have only failed to finish a race a total of three times. Neither of them is prone to making poor decisions on track.
Other things to play for
There are currently three drivers within 25 points for third place.
Ryan Norman is on an impressive run of eight straight top-four finishes, moving the Ohioan from seventh to third in the points standings. The 21-year-old Andretti Autosport veteran has 295 points and is the only driver that has completed all 470 laps so far this season. Norman had made two previous Indy Lights starts in the Rose City, and was quick, starting from the pole in the second race.
Robert Megennis only trails his Andretti Autosport teammate by 20 points. A return to his early-season road course form (see the note above), would go a long way to helping the 19-year-old pass his teammate for third.
An early mistake in last weekend’s oval race at World Wide Technology Raceway At Gateway by Toby Sowery dropped the Team Pelfrey/HMD Motorsports driver to fifth place, 25 points out of third headed to the final two races of the season.
David Malukas is currently 53 points behind Norman but has momentum from a strong bounce-back effort on the 1.25-mile oval. The Chicago, Ill. driver will need to make his way to the podium more often if he wants to move up in the standings.
Indy Lights points with four races remaining
|1||Oliver Askew – R||395|
|2||Rinus VeeKay – R||343||-52|
|4||Robert Megennis – R||275||-120|
|5||Toby Sowery – R||270||-125|
|6||David Malukas – R||242||-153|
|8||Lucas Kohl – R||200||-195|
|11||Julien Falchero – R||66||-329|
|12||Jarett Andretti – R||23||-372|
|13||Chris Windom – R||17||-378|
- Dalton Kellett will be making his 125 Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires start in Race #1
- Ryan Norman will be making his 50th Indy Lights and Road To Indy start in Race #2
Other Steve type things
- Paul Tracy (1990), Eric Bachelart (1991), Greg Moore (1995), and Patricio O’Ward (2018) are the only eventual champions that have won at Portland International Raceway.
- The pole-sitter at Portland International Raceway has won nine of the 16 races, and the average starting position of the eventual winner is 2.1.
- Race #2 winner Patricio O’Ward started seventh last year. The furthest back an eventual race winner has started.
- The average finishing position of the pole sitter at Portland International Raceway is 2.6.
- Race #2 inside front row starter Ryan Norman finished eighth last year. The worst finish for a pole-winning driver.
- The three different race leaders in Race #2 last year is the most in the history of Indy Lights racing at Portland International Raceway.
Race Weekend Basics
Race #1: Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix Presented by Allied Building Products
Race #2: Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix Presented by Allied Building Products
Race #1 distance: 35 laps or 55 minutes
Race #2 distance: 35 laps or 60 minutes
Each entry can utilize four new sets of Cooper Tire slicks as well as one set of used/scuffed tires from the race weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Drivers failing to slow at least 15% in a timing sector with a local yellow will be subject to a two-place grid spot penalty
Drivers who fail to heed the checkered flag at the end of a session will receive a two-grid spot penalty
Causing one red flag will result in a driver losing their fastest lap
Causing a second red flag will wipe out all of drivers laps, and they will be parked for the remainder of the session
Driver points are distributed as follows: 30 – 25 – 22 – 19 – 17 – 15 -14 – 13 – 12 – 11 – 10 – 9 – 8 – 7 – 6 – 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – an additional one point will be awarded to the pole sitter and to the driver who leads the most laps.
Watch the 2018 Indy Lights races from Portland International Raceway
Don’t miss any of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires action:
- download the Road To Indy TV app from the Apple App Store or on Google Play to get video, audio, timing & scoring, news from TSO Ladder and much more – you can also get Road To Indy TV via Apple TV, Amazon Video, Roku or Microsoft Xbox One
- IndyCar Radio will have all of your Indy Lights action at IndyCar Race Control, indycarradio.com, the tune-in app and website, XM Channel 209, Sirius Channel 216, Web Channel 970, or the Sirius / XM app
- Indy Lights races will be available for view with the purchase in the USA with the purchase of the NBC Gold IndyCar Package
- Outside of the USA, you’ll be able to watch the Indy Lights races on all of the Road To Indy TV app delivery options, Indy Lights YouTube channel, and Road To Indy TV Facebook page
- live timing – Road To Indy TV – Indy Lights – Pro Mazda – USF2000 – IndyCar Race Control
- on twitter – TSO Ladder – Team Cooper Tire – Road To Indy TV – Indy Lights – Indy Pro 2000 – USF2000
- on all social media channels via the #TeamCooperTire and #RoadToIndy hashtags
- please subscribe to the following YouTube channels: Road To Indy TV for a post-race weekend wrap-up show, and USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 for previous races.