Three stories emerged from an entertaining second race of the Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix weekend at Portland International Raceway.
Toby Sowery secured an overdue maiden Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires victory, and the first for the rebranded HMD Motorsports/Team Pelfrey program.
Rinus Van Kalmthout (VeeKay) pressured Sowery enough in the race to try to keep his title hopes alive.
And Oliver Askew has done just enough to provisionally secure the Indy Lights title. The young American has a 41-point gap over VeeKay leaving the weekend at the Portland International Raceway, and will only need to start the final two races at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca to secure the advancement scholarship and three races in the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series.
VeeKay entered the race 45 points behind Askew, realistically needing a win to maintain any hopes of keeping his championship hopes alive heading to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in a few weeks.
If Askew left today’s race with a 39-point lead, he’d just need to start the two races in Monterey to secure the title.
VeeKay started from pole today following his microscopic edging of Askew in qualifying, by just 0.0001 of a second. The HMD Motorsports teammates of Toby Sowery and David Malukas rolled off from row two with Ryan Norman and Dalton Kellett on row three and Lucas Kohl and Robert Megennis on row four.
Sunny skies and cool temperatures greeted the field, with conditions of 69F ambient and 86F track by the time they fired the 2.0 turbo-charged AER engines.
VeeKay got the jump off the green flag while Askew broke too late and bounded over the curbing into the Festival Curves. Malukas, with nowhere to go, contacted Askew from his right front to Askew’s left front sidepod and knocked him into a spin. Post-race, Askew reflected on his first lap and how he went off course.
“I just put myself in a bad situation. That’s all it was,” Askew told TSO Ladder. “I came back on track and there were cars there. I just locked up, went in too deep and tried to out-brake Rinus… and that’s pretty hard to do!”
Sowery, who’d got a great start from third, tried to pass VeeKay at Turn 5 before the full-course caution flew to retrieve Malukas’ damaged car on track.
At the conclusion of the first lap under yellow the order was VeeKay, Sowery, Norman, Kohl, Megennis and Kellett with Askew heading for the pits for repairs and Malukas stuck on track.
Askew pitted for a new front wing and lit it up out of the pits leaving. But he put his head down for an eventual recovery drive.
At the conclusion of Lap 3, start of Lap 4, the green flag flew to resume. Sowery tried to the inside of VeeKay at the Festival Curves and dove down the inside of the Dutchman into the corner, grabbing the lead.
“He made a bit of a mistake,” Sowery told TSO Ladder. “I’d got a good start anyway, and he had some oversteer. So I got the good restart and got right up on his gearbox. It put us in prime position.”
Behind them Megennis got around Kohl for fourth and Kellett and Askew, still on the lead lap, were right behind them. Askew passed Kellett for sixth at Turn 7.
The new order on Lap 4 was Sowery, VeeKay, Norman, Megennis, Kohl, Askew and Kellett.
Sowery has extended the gap to 1.1741 seconds at the end of Lap 5 with Askew closing down to Kohl to go back into the top five. The Englishman was trying to stretch the lead to get himself out of vulnerability for VeeKay to engage push-to-pass (15 pushes for 15 seconds each, additional 50 horsepower).
Askew tried onto Kohl into Turn 1 on Lap 7 and promptly completed the pass for fifth after both locked up their Cooper tires. Kohl missed the corner and moved to the escape road, falling back to seventh behind Kellett.
At the end of Lap 7 Sowery had increased his lead to 1.8899 seconds.
Askew was now fifth with his two Andretti Autosport teammates, Norman and Megennis, ahead of him in third and fourth.
Norman closed on VeeKay for second and tried to pass him at the start of Lap 10. Megennis also closed on them too.
At the end of Lap 10 Sowery’s lead was 2.5561 seconds to VeeKay, still holding back Norman and Megennis, with Askew fifth ahead of Kellett and Kohl.
Askew tried to Megennis’ inside at Turn 10, then tried around the outside into Turn 1 for fourth on Lap 16. Megennis moved to the right initially but didn’t fight him too hard once Askew got the run, and Askew moved up a position.
Halfway home through Lap 18 of 35 and Sowery led VeeKay by 1.6526 seconds with Norman still third, Askew just over two seconds back of him in fourth and Megennis fifth.
With 15 laps to go, VeeKay remained marginally out of range of the push-to-pass window at 1.5449 seconds behind. Askew is within 1.4 seconds of Norman for third.
By Lap 23, Askew had halved that gap to Norman to just 0.7 of a second, and began gathering momentum for a pass to put him on the podium and complete a comeback drive.
And by Lap 24, VeeKay had closed the gap on Sowery to just 0.9 of a second.
On Lap 26, VeeKay got a monster run on Sowery into Turn 1, and Askew got a monster run on Norman. Neither got past, but both chasing drivers filled the rear view mirrors of the cars in front of them.
Askew tried to the inside of Norman for third and the two came too close for comfort with Norman needing to dart to the escape route. Askew was back on the podium.
“That’s what I’ve been doing my whole career,” Askew said of his recovery drive. “I have a level head, and when I came into the pits my heart rate didn’t change at all. I just went out and did my job.”
With eight to go just 0.3436 of a second covered Sowery and VeeKay up front. Askew was now third, Norman fourth and Megennis fifth.
VeeKay remained all over the back of Sowery with just six to go. Further back, Kellett was nearly about to pass Megennis for fifth.
Sowery locked up with four to go but maintained the position into Turn 1, with VeeKay continuing to hound the Englishman. However VeeKay had only two push-to-passes left at this juncture.
White flag comes out and Sowery still holds him off through Turn 1. VeeKay remains so close but unable to get past with one, maybe two more passing opportunities left.
Sowery comes by under the checkered flag to win his first Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires race.
It’s a long overdue first win for the Englishman and the HMD Motorsports/Team Pelfrey outfit, with veterans Geoff Fickling and John Cummiskey having joined midseason.
“Everyone’s fit in really well,” Sowery said. “All the puzzle pieces are here now, and the results speak for themselves.”
VeeKay ended the weekend with two poles, a win and a second place. He said he was close enough to Sowery but Sowery didn’t flinch in the heat of battle.
“I think if I would have had a good lap I could have got him,” VeeKay told TSO Ladder. “But it was tough with the dirty air. It was tough to get close. My car was great at the end. I just didn’t have the track in my favor to pass him.”
Askew was third with Norman holding off Megennis for fourth. Kellett and Kohl were the last two to finish.
Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix Race #2 – Unofficial Results
|1||2||Toby Sowery||HMD Motorsports/Team Pelfrey||35|
|2||21||Rinus VeeKay||Juncos Racing||35||0.4244|
|3||28||Oliver Askew||Andretti Autosport||35||8.2265|
|4||48||Ryan Norman||Andretti Autosport||35||15.8482|
|5||27||Robert Megennis||Andretti Autosport||35||21.1175|
|6||67||Dalton Kellett||Juncos Racing||35||22.5387|
|7||5||Lucas Kohl||Belardi Auto Racing||35||39.7185|
|8||79||David Malukas||HMD Motorsports||—||Contact|