Rinus van Kalmthout (VeeKay) came to Portland knowing he needed to score maximum points to make sure the title fight continued to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in three weeks.
Mission accomplished for the first race. VeeKay lead wire to wire, standing on the top step of the podium for the fourth time this year and scoring the maximum of 32 points. It’s VeeKay’s 14th career Road To Indy win and his 33rd career podium.
“We saved a new set of tires for this race, which was quite a gamble because I haven’t started on new tires in Indy Lights – not since USF2000,” explained VeeKay. “It was hard with Oliver using push-to-pass the first few laps but I was able to pull away and get maximum points.
“I want to dedicate this win to Anthoine Hubert. I am praying for his family. I was watching the Formula 2 race this morning; it was terrible to hear the news. Several months ago, I spent a whole day on the simulator with him so it’s tough. It’s tragic for the sport of racing.”
Championship leader Oliver Askew had a 52 point cushion when the series headed west, and his second-place finish means that his gap to VeeKay headed into tomorrow’s race is still a comfortable 45 points.
Askew stood on the podium for the 13th time this season, tying Alex Lloyd for the most top-three finishes in one season. It’s Askew’s 29th career podium.
It’s the 24th time in 45 shared Road To Indy starts that VeeKay and Askew have been on the podium together and the 10th time this year.
It wasn’t easy, but Robert Megennis stood on the podium for the fifth time this season.
Of note, Kellett made his 67th career Indy Lights start, surpassing Arie Luyendyk, Jr. as the driver with the most series starts. The Canadian and his K-Line Insulators No.67 finished his 67th start in the fifth place, his 12th career Indy Lights top-five finish.
The ambient temperature when the 2.0 turbo-charged AER engines were fired was 78F. The sun was beating down on the 1.964-mile, 12-Turn road course, which had a track temperature of 111F.
For the fifth time this year, a front row consisting of VeeKay and Askew led the Indy Lights field to the green flag.
VeeKay and the Soul Red No. 23 got a good jump and was the first driver to arrive at 90-degree right-hand Turn 1. The rest of the field got through the Festival Curves cleanly – sort of.
Toby Sowery dropped his right side wheels at corner exit, falling the two spots he had gained after a good start.
The running order at the end of the first lap was: VeeKay, Askew, Megennis, Kellett, Malukas, Sowery, Kohl and Norman.
On Lap 2, Norman got into the back of Kohl in Turn 2, dropping the Brazilian down the order and leaving Norman with a large hole in the nose of the Three Chord sponsored No. 48.
On Lap 3, Askew looked to the outside of VeeKay on the run down the front straight, but VeeKay was able to hold the spot utilizing a defensive inside line.
When they started lap 4, Sowery had been able to get around his teammate Malukas and Kellett to move back to the fourth spot.
On Lap 5, Askew was on his push-to-pass going down the front straight and looked to the inside of VeeKay. VeeKay held onto the position.
On Lap 6, Norman spun at the exit of Turn 4. Later in the lap, Kohl lost the rear end of the Belardi Auto Racing No. 5 in Turn 10, spinning into the grass. Both drivers were able to continue, keeping the race green.
On lap 10, VeeKay’s lead over VeeKay was 1.8 seconds, safely outside of the 1.5-second push-to-pass activation zone.
On Lap 12, Malukas went for a wild ride at the exit of Turn 6, bounding through the grass before rejoining the circuit just before Turn 7.
At the half-way point of the session, VeeKay’s lead over Askew was 2.6 seconds over Askew. Megennis was just over four seconds behind his teammate.
With ten laps left, the gap between VeeKay and Askew had grown to just over three seconds. Behind the front pair, Sowery had caught up to Megennis, and the battle for the final spot on the podium was on.
With five laps remaining, the gap between the leaders was 3.4 seconds. Megennis gap to Sowery was 0.7 seconds, and it appeared that the Team Pelfrey/HMD Motorsports driver was waiting until the last few laps to try and make a move on the Andretti Autosport rookie.
With two laps remaining, Sowery was only 0.4 seconds behind Megennis. That battle for the final spot on the podium was almost ten seconds behind Askew.
At the white flag, VeeKay’s lead over Askew was 3.4 seconds. Sowery was not able to make a move into Turn 1, and he was forced to follow Megennis through the next 11 corners before making a run on the front straight.
The Cybersecurity sponsored No. 27 of Megennis crossed the under the checkered flag only 0.1 seconds ahead of Sowery.
Indy Lights Race #1 Results
|HMD Motorsports/Team Pelfrey
|Belardi Auto Racing