By Tony DiZinno
The Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires completed its third doubleheader weekend of the season at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
And for the third straight event, the same driver won the second race of the weekend: David Malukas.
In a finish reminiscent of the Freedom 100 that occurred on the IMS oval but won’t occur in 2021, Malukas ensured the fans and onlookers got a photo finish anyway with some excellent strategic defense against a very game and very poised Toby Sowery, who was keen to secure his first win of the season.
The pair of series sophomores were teammates in 2019 under the HMD Motorsports banner, with Sowery under the combined Team Pelfrey/HMD Motorsports umbrella.
On this Saturday, Malukas’ No. 79 HMD Motorsports Dallara IL-15 beat Sowery’s No. 51 Juncos Racing Dallara, then rookies Alex Peroni (No. 5 Carlin) and Kyle Kirkwood (No. 28 Andretti Autosport) to ensure four different teams finished in the top four.
The race had a photo finish with a final margin of victory of 0.0283 of a second, but it was a slow burner to get there. Once the final laps occurred though, the drama and action intensified.
The 35-lap race, five laps longer than the Friday first race dominated by Linus Lundqvist, featured a strategy play in hand as Kirkwood opted to start on a set of sticker Cooper Tires while the rest would use scuffed sets.
Malukas got a great start from pole while behind him, Sowery got past Lundqvist for second by the second lap. Peroni was fourth with Kirkwood fifth, ahead of two more Andretti cars (Devlin DeFrancesco and Danial Frost), Sting Ray Robb, Robert Megennis, Benjamin Pederson, Nikita Lastochkin, Antonio Serravalle and Christian Bogle.
Lundqvist then ran wide at the exit of Turn 12 from third, and dropped behind Kirkwood and DeFrancesco. DeFrancesco and Lundqvist were battling for position through Turns 1 and 2 once Lundqvist recovered his momentum.
With 20 percent of the race completed (seven of 35 laps), the order stabilized with Malukas up front by 0.8 of a second over Sowery. Peroni and Kirkwood would bide their time behind them, and Lundqvist was back in fifth around DeFrancesco.
Little changed by the halfway point, Malukas still up by nearly a second on Sowery. Peroni closed to within 1.7 seconds ahead of Kirkwood, Lundqvist, DeFrancesco, Megennis and Frost.
By Lap 23, Kirkwood was within three seconds so a large blanket would have covered the top four cars.
The gap came down further by Lap 30, with five laps to go. Malukas had Sowery just behind at 0.564 of a second.
It all built to the great finish with two laps to go. Sowery had a brief run on Turn 7 but wasn’t close enough to make an attempt.
As the leaders took the white flag to start Lap 35, Sowery had the run on the outside. Malukas gamely defended, ensuring Sowery didn’t have much road to work with on the outside of Turn 1 even though that would have set him up well for the left-handed Turn 2.
With Sowery off the apex, albeit briefly, it appeared as though he’d fall into Peroni’s clutches. But Sowery regained the momentum and had enough of an effort to come back into Turn 7. Malukas again defended well, in the middle of the road to ensure Sowery had a difficult time picking lines.
Once they were through the Turns 8 through 12 complex, it appeared as though Malukas had enough to hold on. Alas, Sowery had one more charge left in him, and darted to the outside to try a final pass at the line.
He was close, but not close enough, less than three hundredths back at the checkered flag.
A joyous Malukas attempted to chronicle what happened when speaking to NBC Sports’ Katie Kiel on the Peacock broadcast.
“No I didn’t (know he’d win); that was awesome!” he said. “We came from St.Pete and it can’t get more stressful than that. Then Toby, my brother, that was even more stressful! I knew we had push to pass and I was like, please don’t get my toe, please don’t get my toe! I went into (Turn) 1, and I had a huge lockup on the front right but the Coopers, as good as they are, I don’t think any tire can hold up to what I did. Then I was like, is he there but I can’t see him?!? I almost started crying at the end there. Thank you to the team, that was incredible.”
Sowery, who’d given it a valiant effort and came up just shy, noted he was intentionally strategic about his push-to-pass usage.
“I wish we could have used one more. We didn’t have the pace so it was strategic,” he said. “We had a good race. For me it was nearly done, but it was clean and respectful. Hate to see it end up this way but he drove a great and flawless race. Well done to him.”
The unofficial points after this race see Malukas atop the charts by 11 points over Lundqvist (151-140) with Kirkwood third, 27 back, Sowery now up to fourth after a needed good weekend 46 back and Peroni fifth, 50 back. Four different teams are in the top five in the championship.
The series heads next to Detroit, where it has not raced since 2012.
|1||79||David Malukas||HMD Motorsports||35||LAP 35|
|2||51||Toby Sowery||Juncos Racing||35||0.0283|
|4||28||Kyle Kirkwood||Andretti Autosport||35||1.1236|
|5||26||Linus Lundqvist||Global Racing Group w/HMD Motorsports||35||8.1975|
|6||17||Devlin DeFrancesco||Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport||35||9.5712|
|7||27||Robert Megennis||Andretti Autosport||35||17.4062|
|8||68||Danial Frost||Andretti Autosport||35||17.8252|
|9||24||Benjamin Pedersen||Global Racing Group wHMD Motorsports||35||22.7898|
|10||2||Sting Ray Robb||Juncos Racing||35||28.7035|
|11||11||Antonio Serravalle||Pserra Racing||35||30.1059|
|13||59||Nikita Lastochkin||HMD Motorsports||35||39.5541|