By Steve Wittich
With a $1,289,425 scholarship on the line, the three points separating David Malukas and Kyle Kirkwood at the top of the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires point table are presently worth $429,809.33 apiece. No pressure, gentlemen.
What began with a melee in Turn 1, on Lap 1, in Race 1 of the 2021 season has turned into an annual must-watch Road To Indy production.
A pair of ‘scenes’ in the Pacific Northwest will serve as Act 8 of a season-long 10 Act production.
Veteran HMD Motorsports racer Malukas travels west with that slim three-point advantage after outdueling Andretti Autosport rookie Kirkwood at the lone oval event of the season.
The pair of leads in this epic have each visited victory lane six times in 2021. Kirkwood, with five poles, leads Malukas, who has started from the inside of the front row four times. Moving to podiums finds the points leader holding an 11 to nine advantage, although each driver has a dozen top-five finishes. Yes, it’s that close!
With the final six races taking place on natural terrain road courses, this is an apt time to inspect which driver has been the best in the first eight races held on natural terrain road courses – two each at Barber Motorsports Park, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Road America and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Malukas, with one win each at Barber Motorsports Park, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, and Road America, currently holds a 16-point lead over Kirkwood on the dedicated twisty circuits.
2021 Indy Lights natural terrain road course points scored
|RANK||DRIVER||TEAM||ROAD COURSE POINTS|
|1||David Malukas||HMD Motorsports||186|
|2||Linus Lundqvist – r||Global Racing Group w/HMD||180|
|3||Kyle Kirkwood – r||Andretti Autosport||170|
|4||Toby Sowery||Juncos Racing||140|
|5||Danial Frost – r||Andretti Autosport||136|
|6||Devlin DeFrancesco – r||Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport||133|
|7||Benjamin Pedersen – r||Global Racing Group w/HMD||128|
|8||Robert Megennis||Andretti Autosport||124|
|9||Alex Peroni – r||Carlin||122|
|10||Sting Ray Robb – r||Juncos Racing||95|
|11||Christian Bogle – r||Carlin||84|
|12||Antonio Serravalle – r||Pserra Racing||82|
|13||Nikita Lastochkin – r||HMD Motorsports||76|
Kirkwood has also stood on the top step of the podium on natural terrain road courses three times, including the last two contested at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Both leading men have had past success on the 1.964-mile, 12-Turn road course, but it’s Kirkwood that has been the most successful.
Kirkwood has been dominant in four trips to Portland International Raceway across the USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 series, leading 103 of 110 possible laps and visiting victory lane in all four races.
Malukas has made a pair of Indy Pro 2000, and Indy Lights starts at Portland International Raceway, winning once in the lower category in 2018.
Advantage no one?
Over the past six scenes as part of three acts, Malukas and Kirkwood have each accumulated 181 points.
2021 Indy Lights points scored over the last three events/six races
|RANK||DRIVER||TEAM||LAST 3 EVENTS|
|T1||David Malukas||HMD Motorsports||181|
|T1||Kyle Kirkwood – r||Andretti Autosport||181|
|3||Benjamin Pedersen – r||Global Racing Group w/HMD||132|
|4||Danial Frost – r||Andretti Autosport||125|
|5||Linus Lundqvist – r||Global Racing Group w/HMD||121|
|6||Robert Megennis||Andretti Autosport||116|
|7||Devlin DeFrancesco – r||Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport||115|
|8||Alex Peroni – r||Carlin||100|
|9||Toby Sowery||Juncos Racing||90|
|10||Christian Bogle – r||Carlin||82|
|11||Sting Ray Robb – r||Juncos Racing||75|
|12||Antonio Serravalle – r||Pserra Racing||74|
|13||Nikita Lastochkin – r||HMD Motorsports||38|
Also, Andretti Autosport and HMD Motorsports have each produced winners at Portland International Raceway, with Pato O’Ward winning twice for Andretti Autosport in 2018 and Toby Sowery winning once for HMD Motorsports in 2019.
With only three points separating David Malukas and Kyle Kirkwood, don’t be surprised if bonus points come into play to help decide who ends up with the Indy Lights scholarship. Each race has a pair of bonus points up for offer, one for winning the pole and one for leading the most laps.
With six races remaining, Kirkwood has collected two more bonus points than his championship protagonist.
2021 Indy Lights Bonus Points Scored
A little help, please
Malukas and Kirkwood can only control their results against their rival, but that doesn’t mean their teammates can’t play a huge role in aiding their championship quest by stealing points from rival drivers.
For Malukas, Linus Lundqvist, Benjamin Pedersen, and Manuel Sulaiman can finish between the veteran pilot of the HMD Trucking sponsored No. 79 and Kirkwood.
Danial Frost, Robert Megennis, and Devlin DeFrancesco can do the same – insert themselves between the duo – for the pilot of the Road to Indy/Cooper Tires/Construction Contractors Club sponsored No. 28.
So far, during the 2021 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season, Lundqvist has finished between Malukas and Kirkwood one time.
The Andretti Autosport rookie has a little more help, with Frost – on three occasions – and Megennis – once – finishing between the title contenders.
Avoid the early mess
Eleven of the 18 (61%) of the Indy Lights races held at Portland International Raceway have started with a first lap caution, making completing the first of the 30 or 35 laps the most challenging task of the race.
One way to avoid that early trouble is to qualify at the pointy end of the grid. Only once – Ryan Norman in 2018 – has an Indy Lights pole-sitter been knocked out on the first lap of a race.
Only twice – Norman and Townsend Bell in 2001 – has the pole-sitter failed to finish in the top five. The average finishing position of the driver that starts on the inside of the front row is in Indy Lights action at Portland International Raceway is 2.5. Ten of the 18 winners have started from the pole, and the average starting spot of the Portland International Raceway winner is 2.1.
Other things in play
Linus Lundqvist, at 59 points out of the championship lead, certainly isn’t out of the title fight, but the Swedish driver is going to have to start adding wins to his rookie season total of two.
After making significant contact with the SAFER Barrier after an equipment failure not of his making at World Wide Technology Raceway At Gateway, the Global Racing Group w/HMD rookie rebounded with a gutsy fourth-place finish in Sunday’s second oval race, keeping him on the outskirts of the title fight.
The 22-year-old won on natural terrain road courses at Barber Motorsports Park, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and trails only championship leader Malukas in points scored on the traditional race circuits.
“I want to get back to victory lane,” Lundqvist assures. “That’s what drives me. We’re third in the points at the moment, which is good, but I’m not really thinking along those lines. I’ll get out there in Portland and push on. If the opportunity to win presents itself, I will not hesitate. Let’s go racing!”
An entertaining tussle for fourth, fifth, and sixth has developed between a trio of rookies – Devlin DeFrancesco (Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport), Benjamin Pedersen (Global Racing Group w/HMD), and Danial Frost (Andretti Autosport) – separated by a lone point.
Portland International Raceway will be an all-new circuit for the Toronto, Ontario-born DeFrancesco, who, with an average finishing position of 5.9, has been the most consistent of the trio.
Pedersen, a denizen of the Pacific Northwest, welcomes the Seatle, Washington-based Oberto Snacks on board as a sponsor for his ‘home’ race.
Coming off a pair of podiums, Pedersen has scored the third-most points over the last three Indy Lights events and would love to win for his new sponsor.
“I would like nothing more than to get my first Indy Lights race win with Oberto on the car at the event that is closest to their headquarters, and we will push hard to try and make that happen,” said the 22-year-old. “I have a great team behind m,e, very solid teammates, and another great partner in my wheelhouse.”
Danial Frost, who has three natural terrain poles this season, is the only one of the three drivers fighting for fourth place to make a Road To Indy start at Portland International Raceway. The Singaporean driver made a pair of Indy Pro 2000 starts in 2019, including one podium finish.
Another Andretti Autosport driver, Robert Megennis, is only 20 points out of the fight for fourth in the championship and, along with Malukas, is the only other driver to have Indy Lights experience at Portland International Raceway. The New Yorker finished third and fifth in a 2019 visit to Portland, Oregon, beginning a strong finish to his rookie Indy Lights campaign.
Pedersen isn’t the only driver that considers Portland International Raceway his ‘home’ track. Sting Ray Robb, his family, friends, and supporters look forward to making the short(ish) trip from his Payette, Idaho/Ontario, Oregon, to see their driver.
Robb has had past Road To Indy success on the 1.964-mile, 12-Turn road course, grabbing his first Road To Indy pole in 2019 as well as finishing on the podium.
His teammate’s departure (see below) leaves Christian Bogle as the lone Carlin entry this weekend. The driver from Louisiana has consistently got quicker throughout race weekends as he learns the high horsepower and downforce IL-15.
2021 Indy Lights points standings after 14 of 20 rounds
|1||David Malukas||HMD Motorsports||371|
|2||Kyle Kirkwood – r||Andretti Autosport||368||-3|
|3||Linus Lundqvist – r||Global Racing Group w/HMD||312||-59|
|T4||Devlin DeFrancesco – r||Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport||245||-126|
|T4||Benjamin Pedersen – r||Global Racing Group w/HMD||245||-126|
|6||Danial Frost – r||Andretti Autosport||244||-127|
|7||Toby Sowery||Juncos Racing||236||-135|
|8||Alex Peroni – r||Carlin||228||-143|
|9||Robert Megennis||Andretti Autosport||225||-146|
|10||Sting Ray Robb – r||Juncos Racing||169||-202|
|11||Christian Bogle – r||Carlin||163||-208|
|12||Antonio Serravalle – r||Pserra Racing||157||-214|
|13||Nikita Lastochkin – r||HMD Motorsports||123||-248|
Rasmus Lindh, who has finished in second place in both seasons of Road To Indy action, will be making his Indy Lights debut at Portland International Raceway with Juncos Hollinger Racing.
The Swedish driver based in Florida has made 32 starts across USF2000 and Indy Pro 200 and has three wins, eight poles, 18 podiums, 26 top-five finishes, and has had the quickest lap of the race on six occasions.
“I’m looking forward to driving the Indy Lights car again,” said Lindh. “I have not been in the car since we went out for practice in St. Pete back in March 2020. When Ricardo Juncos called me and told me he had a seat available for the remaining races, it was an easy yes for me! I was thrilled to add this to my schedule and that these final events had no conflict with my current IMSA program. I want to thank everyone who helped make this possible, including Andersen Promotions, my sponsors, and my team Juncos Hollinger Racing.”
The 20-year-old was set to contest the 2020 Indy Lights season with Belardi Auto Racing before the global pandemic ended the season after a single practice session. During that lone practice, Lindh was the third quickest driver and at spring training on the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course.
Lindh is no stranger to the 1.964-mile, 12-Turn road course, collecting two podiums, four top fives, and one pole in four starts across the bottom two rungs of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder.
In 2021, Lindh is contesting the LMP3 portion of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the IMSA Prototype Challenge Championship. In the former, he has stood on the podium twice and is currently fourth in points. In the latter, he has also stood on the podium and is fifth in points.
Lindh has been confirmed for the season’s final three Indy Lights events, rejoining with his team (Juncos Hollinger Racing) and teammate (Sting Ray Robb) from his successful 2019 Indy Pro 2000 season.
“We are excited to have Rasmus back on board with our team as we go to finish out the Indy Lights season,” said team owner Ricardo Juncos. “Rasmus performed great for us back in 2019, and I am confident he will have no problem transitioning back into the Indy Lights car come this weekend at Portland. Thank you to Andersen Promotions for their support in getting Rasmus back in the series and to all of Rasmus’s supporters for this opportunity.”
TSO Ladder Note: We (Steve) caught up with Rasmus and his dad Mathias while producing an episode of the NBC show Off-Track at the IMSA race at Watkins Glen. He told us that he is enjoying his time in sports cars but was working hard to get back into open-wheel racing. It’s been clear that his heart was in Indy Lights, and it’s great to see that goal has come to fruition.
After 45 races across USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000, Manuel Sulaiman will be joining the HMD Motorsports Indy Lights program for the final three events of the 2021 season.
The Mexican driver spent his first two years in cars contesting the F4 British Championship before moving back to North America for the next three seasons.
Sulaiman has 13 wins, 13 poles, and 27 podiums across the FIA Formula 4 NACAM, USF2000, and Indy Pro 2000 championships, including a trio of wins on the middle rung of the Road To Indy.
“I am very happy with this announcement, and for me, this is a very important step in my life as a professional driver,” explained Sulaiman, who joins an HMD Motorsports that has won eight races this season. “Road to Indy and the NTT INDYCAR SERIES is my passion and my dream. I am very grateful for what I have achieved up to now and look forward to more success. The atmosphere and welcoming that HMD has given me in this important upward step I am taking has been exceptionally good, and I am very grateful for the opportunity. I, as a driver, will give everything I have, and it is an honor to belong to HMD, a team with an impressive win record In Indy Lights, and my respects to them for their success. Nothing else to say, but I am excited to go racing!”
Unfortunately, it’s that point of the season when the junior formula series start to shed drivers that are not in championship contention or that have run out of budget. Unfortunately, the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires series is not immune to that in 2021.
Toby Sowery (Juncos Hollinger Racing) and Alex Peroni (Carlin) announced their departure via social media.