By Steve Wittich
The “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” (sorry, ABC Wide World Of Sports) perfectly describes the weekend of Indy Lights Grand Prix Of Alabama presented by Cooper Tires Race #2 winner David Malukas.
After his season began in the Turn 1 barriers on Lap 1 on Saturday, he recovered with a perfect Sunday. The 19-year-old HMD Motorsports driver scored ‘max’ points, starting on the pole, leading every lap, and turning the fastest lap on the way to his first Indy Lights victory.
“This feels amazing. I took it easy in the beginning so as not to make any mistakes and get it all ruined, said Sunday’s race winner. “As the fuel load went down, I could feel the car really coming in and I knew I just had to take it easy. I had a big gap, all I had to do was bring it home. But I felt like Captain America out there, like I could do it all day and just keep pushing more and more! I fell in love with the track, the tires were still there, the car was amazing, I couldn’t do anything but go faster. I only took it easy that last lap.
“This has been a long time coming. By the end of 2019, it felt like a curse, that I just couldn’t get an Indy Lights win. We have the pace this year and could have won yesterday, but I knew I had the pace today. I put yesterday behind me and went for it, and brought it home.”
The win was the Chicago, Ill native’s fourth career Road To Indy trip to victory lane and his sixth win across all North American Junior Open Wheel series.
Malukas was joined on the podium by Saturday’s race winner and teammate Linus Lundqvist (Global Racing Group w/ HMD Motorsports). The Swede now has 18 podiums in 19 starts across Indy Lights and the Formula Regional Americas Championship.
Devlin DeFrancesco (Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport) had an adventurous run to the podium, falling down the running order on the first lap after being force wide in Turn 1, before clawing his way back to stand on his second podium in as many days.
“It was definitely a hectic race. Robert (Megennis) was very aggressive at the start and pushed me quite wide, but I can’t begrudge him – I would have done the same thing” said the Canadian after his second straight podium celebration. “I tried to gather it up and focus on moving forward, putting pressure on Toby (Sowery) and Robert. I kept pressing, trying to get him to make a mistake because I could see Robert having problems with locking up. But I also had to keep Alex Peroni behind; I almost lost the position to him. I was able to get by Robert when he had the issue. The Andretti Steinbrenner guys have done an amazing job this weekend, from where we started to a double podium. The HMD guys have been quick all weekend but I have a feeling the tables will turn very soon.”
Finishing fourth for the second race in a row was Juncos Racing veteran Toby Sowery, who is still knocking the rust off his skillset after taking a hiatus from track activity for a season.
Kyle Kirkwood recovered from a mistake in Turn 1, Lap 1 of Race 1, to come home fifth after starting seventh.
There were 40 on-track passes in the 35 lap race. Carlin rookie Alex Peroni made six on-track overtakes, the most of the 13 starters. Carlin rookie Christian Bogle gained three spots, the most of any driver.
The top five in championship standings (unofficial) headed to St. Petersburg, Fla. next weekend are:
1 – Linus Lundqvist (Global Racing Group w/HMD) – 57 points
2 – Devlin DeFrancesco (Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport) – 44 points
3 – David Malukas (HMD Motorsports) – 40 points
4 – Benjamin Pedersen (Global Racing Group w/HMD) – 39 points
5 – Toby Sowery (Juncos Racing) – 38 points
A quick note before the engines are fired. We checked in with Tony Cotman, the Road To Indy competition director and Indy Lights Race Director, regarding the absence of Push-To-Pass this weekend. He explained to TSO Ladder that they were experiencing a software issue. They were almost 100% certain that the system would work perfectly, but because they weren’t 100%, they didn’t think it would be fair if it worked with some cars and not with others. They will give it another shot in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The call to start the turbocharged 2.0L AER engines powering the baker’s dozen IL-15s for the second Indy Lights race at Barber Motorsports Park was given a little late at 12:35 pm after a caution filled Porsche Sprint Challenge Race.
After a pair of formation laps, the front row of Malukas and Lundqvist led the field to the green flag.
Malukas got the jump on Lundqvist, with Megennis starting behind the pole sitter, also getting a great start.
The big loser through the first half of Lap 1 was Devlin DeFrancesco (Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport), who lost three spots after getting pushed out wide in Turn 1. His teammate, Kirkwood, also went backward,
At the end of the first lap, the running order was: Malukas, Lundqvist, Megennis, Peroni, Toby Sowery (Juncos Racing), DeFrancesco, Benjamin Pedersen (Global Racing Group w/HMD), Danial Frost (Andretti Autosport), Kyle Kirkwood (Andretti Autosport), Sting Ray Robb (Juncos Racing), Nikita Lastochkin (HMD Motorsports), Christian Bogle (Carlin) and Antonio Serravalle (Pserra Racing)
The big mover on Lap 1 was Carlin rookie Peroni, whose aggressive first lap saw him move from the eighth starting spot up to fourth.
After five laps, Malukas’ lead was 1.1 seconds over Lundqvist. The entire field was still strung together with the top nine within seven seconds.
On Lap 6, Lastochkin moved into the top 10, getting by Robb.
After ten laps of action, Malukas’ lead had grown to 2.5 seconds. Lundqvist, in second, had a 4.1-second gap to Megennis in third.
Behind Megennis, a trio led by Peroni was within 1.5 seconds of the Andretti Autosport sophomore.
On Lap 12, Lundqvist turned the quickest lap of the race to that point, two-tenths-of-a-second quicker than Malukas.
Peroni, who was running fourth, had a sudden loss of power coming out of Turn 9, losing spots to Sowery and DeFrancesco.
Sowery quickly caught up to Megennis, with Sowery diving to the inside of Charlotte’s Web. The two veterans went side-by-side until Turn 8 when Sowery wisely backed out.
At the halfway point of the race, Malukas lead over Lundqvist was 3.1 seconds. Megennis was 13.3 seconds adrift of Lundqvist.
Malukas, with 12 laps remaining and the fuel load getting less, was the first driver to turn a sub-73-second lap.
On the next lap, Sowery dove to the inside in Turn 5 again. Megennis took a defensive line into the 180-degree left-hand turn.
With ten laps remaining, Malukas lead over his teammate was 3.6 seconds. Megennis was still in third place but had the following eight drivers with five seconds of him.
The best battle late in the race was between Andretti Autosport teammates Kirkwood and Frost. Kirkwood was getting the power down better out of Turn 6 and made a daring pass outside of Turn 8.
While the front two were on a Sunday stroll, behind them, the battle was intense.
Pederson, who had been running seventh, lost two spots to Kirkwood and Frost.
On Lap 30, Megennis had the left front tire give out in the Alabama Roller Coaster. DeFrancesco made up for a poor first lap by making an aggressive move to get by the wounded Megennis and Sowery to grab the final spot on the podium.
On the Peacock broadcast, Katie Kiel asked Megennis’ crew chief Jessica Mace what happened, and she supposed that the lockups into Turn 5, was the cause of the problem.
“My left-front tire went down. I was racing for third and I held on as long as I could,” said Fordham University student Robert Megennis.” We kind of struggled for pace so we’ll look back at the data and see why. I didn’t think the tire was going to blow up, I really didn’t lock it up that much or didn’t do anything too crazy. It sucks that we had a good result going today and we need to get points when we can.”
Kirkwood took advantage of Peroni getting bogged down behind them while trying to avoid the wounded No. 27.
With two laps remaining, Malukas had a comfortable 6.1 second lead over his teammate. The teammates also had the the two quickest laps of the race.
On the final lap, Frost, who was running seventh, was forced to pit road, which also appeared to be an issue with a tire.
Indy Lights Grand Prix Of Alabama presented by Cooper Tires Race #2 Unofficial Results.
|1||79||David Malukas||HMD Motorsports||——|
|2||26||Linus Lundqvist||Global Racing Group w/HMD Motorsports||-6.3895|
|3||17||Devlin DeFrancesco||Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport||-32.1326|
|4||51||Toby Sowery||Juncos Racing||-33.1431|
|5||28||Kyle Kirkwood||Andretti Autosport||-33.5494|
|7||24||Benjamin Pedersen||Global Racing Group wHMD Motorsports||-39.4897|
|8||2||Sting Ray Robb||Juncos Racing||-39.8679|
|9||59||Nikita Lastochkin||HMD Motorsports||-40.9812|
|11||11||Antonio Serravalle||Pserra Racing||-52.8125|
|12||68||Danial Frost||Andretti Autosport||-1 LAPS|
|13||27||Robert Megennis||Andretti Autosport||-3 LAPS|
The top-rung of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is back on track in five days, on Friday, April 23, in St. Petersburg, Fla.