One, two, three, four, five!! Five different drivers spent some time in the lead of the Cooper Tires Grand Prix Of Road America Powered By AER during a chaotic first two laps. The fifth driver to take the lead, Ryan Norman, turned in a smooth final 18 laps to grab his first Indy Lights road course win.
Andretti Autosport veteran Ryan Norman celebrates his Indy Lights win at Road America (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)
“I absolutely love this place,” said a grinning Norman after pulling into victory lane. “Andretti Autosport gave me such a great car; the Cooper Tires hung on all race. This is my first road course win in Indy Lights. I’ve proved that I can win on ovals and now here. It’s really good momentum going into the (NTT) IndyCar (Series) test next week.
“I learned that in the last couple of years, the rears would fall off with power down. I was trying to be super smooth with the guys pushing super hard behind me and knowing that their rears would fall off. I just kept it clean, kept my head down and it worked out in the end.”
After the 20-laps were complete, Megennis, who finished on the podium for the fourth time this year, proclaimed a race that saw him lead the first lap, drop to fourth and eventually work his way up to second, as the ‘smartest drive’ of his career.
“I took what I learned at Circuit of The Americas; don’t battle too hard at the beginning and save your push-to-pass until the end and it worked out,” explained Megennis. “I had better tires, more push-to-pass and I was able to drive around those guys at the of the race. I can’t thank Andretti Autosport enough, that car was awesome. Palo Alto Networks, Optiv, and Salepoint for getting me out here.”
The one-two finish by the Andretti Autosport duo meant both drivers were able to take a chunk out their third teammate’s championship lead. Norman’s gap to Askew dropped from 62 points to 48 points, and he moved from fifth to fourth in the championship.
Aaron Telitz, for the second straight Indy Lights event, got a late call to jump into the Belardi Auto Racing No. 4. The veteran stood on an Indy Lights podium for the 11th time and improved an impressive Road To Indy podium percentage to 50.6%. Teltiz made his 81st start across the three series and stood on the podium for the 41% time.
“It feels pretty good (to be back on an Indy Lights podium),” said Telitz after getting out of his car. “I didn’t expect this, starting in sixth place and coming up to the lead on the second lap. That was awesome! Hopefully, the fans enjoyed that. Ended up third because the car fell off there at the end. I can’t thank the Belardi Auto Racing guys enough and Endodontic Specialists of Wisconsin for being on board. We’re going to make root canals fun again.
The pole sitter, Rinus van Kalmthout (VeeKay) got the jump on Norman as the field crested the hill to take the green flag. Behind him, the three Andretti Autosport teammates went three wide into the braking zone for Turn 1.
Megennis got was able to go around the outside of Norman to slot into the second spot, while points leader Oliver Askew, fell back to seventh early on Lap 1. The Index Invest sponsored No. 28 dropped two wheels in the grass on driver’s right in Turn 2 and was caught some air when it got back on track.
The Jupiter, Fla. would have to settle for a fifth-place finish, breaking a string of five straight podiums, after a bolt in the steering mechanism broke off. Askew told TSO that the wheel was shaking the entire race, and he was only able to drive at about 75% for the remainder of the race.
Sowery, from his eighth starting spot, moved into the final place on the podium with a textbook over-under move on Norman in Turn 5 and 6.
Leader VeeKay ran way wide at the exit of the right-hand Turn 7, getting all four Cooper shod Motegi Wheels off terra firma before rejoining right in front of Megennis.
The No. 27 Cybersecurity Dallara/AER of Megennis moved to the inside to make a move into Turn 8, but that move was blocked by VeeKay, who moved aggressively to his left in reaction to Megennis.
VeeKay was able to hold onto the lead, but by the time the Juncos Racing rookie had exited Canada Corner, he had been issued a drive-thru penalty for blocking.
Sowery took a look around the outside of Megennis in Canada Corner on the first lap, but ran wide, allowing Norman and Telitz to get by the Rich Energy/Gap Guard sponsored No. 2 of the Englishman.
VeeKay immediately dove for pit road, handing the lead over to Megennis, who led his fourth Indy Lights race in the last five starts.
The running order at the end of the first lap was Megennis, Norman, Telitz, Sowery, Dalton Kellett, Askew, Lucas Kohl, David Malukas and VeeKay.
Norman tried to go around the outside of his Andretti Autosport teammate in Turn 1, but could not make the pass. The eventual winner got a much better driver off of Turn 3, but it was Telitz, from his sixth starting spot that got an even better exit off the right-hander before the long run down the Moraine Sweep.
The home state driver was able to go around the outside and grab the lead. Right behind him, Norman moved around Megennis, who then bumped wheels with Sowery on the run-up to the Corvette Bridge before yielding that position.
Telitz led at the line to begin the third lap, but by the time they had reached pit out, Norman was able to get around Telitz, easily leading through Turn 1.
Sowery got a great draft and was able to drive around the outside of Telitz in Turn 5.
Things settled in for the next seven laps with Norman working hard to hold back Sowery, who was using his push-to-pass liberally in an attempt to get to grab the lead.
At the back of the field, VeeKay was turning qualifying type laps to make up the 23-second gap to Lucas Kohl and Dalton Kellett, who were swapping seventh and eighth.
Norman’s lead over Sowery when the sixth lap began was 0.9 seconds.
Ryan Norman leads Toby Sowery and Aaron Telitz in the first Indy Lights at Road America in 2019 (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)
As they crossed the line to start the eighth lap Norman’s lead had grown to just over 1.5 seconds, putting Sowery outside of the push-to-pass range.
Sowery, who was out of push-to-pass, lost the second spot just after the start/finish line on Lap 9.
At the halfway mark of the 20 lap race, Norman’s lead over Telitz was 1.7 seconds. Sowery was hanging onto the back of Telitz’s Endodontic Specialists of Wisconsin sponsored No. 4.
Megennis, Askew, Malukas, Kohl, Kellett, and VeeKay rounded out the running order after ten laps.
VeeKay continued to make up the ground he lost due to the drive-thru on the first lap, closing the gap to eighth place from 23 seconds to eight seconds.
The reigning Indy Pro 2000 champion was able to get past Kellett on Lap 13 and Kohl on Lap 16 to salvage a seventh-place finish.
Throughout the next five laps, Norman’s lead in the Three Chord sponsored No. 48 had grown to a comfortable 4.5 seconds.
The rest of the running order remained the same, with Megennis starting to make up ground to Sowery and Telitz.
The New Yorker was able to conserve his Cooper Tires and work to within 1.5 seconds of Sowery, which allowed him to utilize the push-to-pass he had saved.
Behind the top four, Askew was busy holding back Malukas for fifth.
With six laps left, Megennis went to the outside of Sowery in Turn 5, but Sowery placed his car perfectly to defend the spot.
With five laps remaining, Megennis was able to drive by Sowery on the Road America Straight, moving onto the podium.
Robert Megennis takes a look to the inside of Toby Sowery for the final spot on the podium in an Indy Lights race at Road America (Photo Courtesy Of Andersen Promotions)
With some push-to-pass remaining, he was quickly able to catch Telitz, and on Lap 17, he was able to make the pass in Turn 5; faking a move to the outside, before diving to the inside and out-braking Telitz to grab the second spot on the podium.
After the race, the Rice Lake, Wisc. driver told us that engineer Tim Neff had set up the car aggressively; going stiff on the springs and laying the rear wing back, in an attempt to move forward quickly. That plan worked, but they were just a little too aggressive, and the 27-year-old was not able to keep his rear tires under him.
Telitz valiantly tried to hold on to the back of Megennis, but the 19-year-old, who had smartly saved his tires, began to make inroads on Norman’s 5.5-second lead as they crossed the line with three laps remaining.
Just before he began the final lap, Kohl, dropped a wheel on drivers left while setting up for the last turn. That pulled the Bellko Trading/Kohltrade/IVI Vision sponsored No. 5 into the grass and eventually into the gravel trap. The Brazilian was able to get on the brakes quickly and came to a stop just before the tire barriers.
Norman, who is testing an NTT IndyCar Series machine with Andretti Autosport at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, on June 25, crossed under the checkered flag 4.7 seconds ahead of his rookie teammate.
It’s the second straight Indy Lights race in a row that Norman led the most laps.
Norman joins Colton Herta as one of two Andretti Autosport drivers that have won an Indy Lights race at Road America.
Cooper Tires Grand Prix Of Road America Powered By AER Race #1 Results
||Belardi Auto Racing
||BN Racing/Team Pelfrey
||Belardi Auto Racing