By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS– The INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course is the only two day show on a road course for the NTT IndyCar Series. Two practice sessions and qualifying all in the same day plus Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires action across all three ladder championships means that track activity is constant to kick off the month of May.
For the NTT IndyCar Series, the day was full of unpredictability. Spencer Pigot was the only driver in the top three in both practice sessions yet the Floridian qualified 12th for Saturday’s race.
The biggest surprise of the day though was who advanced and who didn’t from qualifying. Andretti Autosport did not have a single car advance from the first round of qualifying while Jack Harvey got his Meyer Shank Racing with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports up to third place in a fast six that was represented by five teams.
The younger racers are making themselves known in Indy car competition. Two rookies and were among the four recent Indy Lights graduates that made up part of the Firestone Fast Six alongside Will Power and Scott Dixon. It’s a changing world in open wheel racing and the veterans have taken note this season.
Moving to the Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, each of the three races had their own individual storyline. In the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, the championship battle was up front as the top three drivers in the championship battle also stood on the podium. Robert Megennis scored his first win in Road to Indy competition since March 2017 and moved to third in points. Oliver Askew finished second and extended his points lead slightly over Rinus VeeKay.
However, the championship isn’t primarily on Megennis’s mind, since the season is still young.
“It’s obviously huge for the championship but that’s not what I’m thinking about right now,” said Megennis. “We’re at race five out of 18 races this year so I’m just trying to get the best results I can and keep it consistent, keep the car on the track and just put it together right now. A win is big and it’s really big for me and my confidence and being able to win somewhere like Indianapolis, being able to win in Indy Lights is big for me and I couldn’t be happier.”
The Andretti Autosports racer is only 17 points out of the lead in the championship. In the Indy Pro 2000 Championship presented by Cooper Tires, Kyle Kirkwood went from starting on the outside pole to starting last after jumping the start of the race. Kirkwood managed to get his car to sixth place on the first lap after a five-car incident delayed some of his competitors.
Kirkwood managed to fight all the way back up to second place by the end of the race but frustration had settled in.
“I’ll never be satisfied without a win,” said Kirkwood. “That’s kind of my mentality even though I should be very satisfied from that race because quite honestly I don’t think I jumped the start but I’m going to look at the video first to really make a true assumption. The race director saw it otherwise and he probably had a better vision of it than I do. In my heart I don’t feel like I did but he says I did so I’ll take what it was and unfortunately we had to start from the back.”
Kirkwood’s No. 28 RP Motorsport Racing entry picked off places one by one with a little bit of help from his competitors.
“The car was up to speed quite quickly so we made some passes very quickly on Parker Thompson, Jacob Abel and Nikita Lastochkin,” said Kirkwood. “Sting Ray Robb went off the track by himself which kind of gave us a free pass there and I was kind of in a position where I wasn’t going to gain any more positions from third place and [Rasmus Lindh and Danial Frost] started fighting.”
Lindh ended up coming away victorious while Kirkwood got around Frost with under a handful of laps to go. Each of the three drivers on the podium scored their second podium of the season during Friday’s race.
In the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship race, Darren Keane was worth the price of admission. The No. 2 Cape Motorsports entry started well but at the first corner fell back from the front of the pack to 21st place. Riding in last place, Keane fought hard to pick off cars lap by lap.
“Honestly it was just really fun,” said Keane. “I didn’t take any big risks, everything was just really calculated. I think there were a couple of times where I was like ‘I can dive in here,’ but I made sure I set up my straightaways and it was just clockwork. The car was amazing, it’s a pity what happened at the start because I think we could’ve challenged for the win but on the bright side I got the quickest lap by two tenths, I passed 15 cars in 15 laps so I put on a good show for the fans.”
Keane finished sixth after a challenging race. This was his second race in a row with a collision after spinning and hitting another car at the end of the previous USF2000 race in St. Petersburg.
“I enjoyed it, the team enjoyed it, I mean a couple of fans enjoyed it, I’ve had people coming up to me so that’s cool to get some recognition,” added Keane.
Braden Eves scored the win with a fantastic last lap battle against Hunter McElrea.
The INDYCAR Grand Prix is Saturday May 11th on NBC at 3:00pm ET.