By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
In the course of one year, Oliver Askew went from karting to earning a scholarship to race in the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires in 2018.
For the Jupiter, Florida native, the road was a long one. He had to endure the scrutiny of the judges ahead of the Team USA Scholarship panel, the Team USA shootout and then the Formula Ford Festival in England and the Walter Hayes Trophy Race.
After Askew finished second in the finals for the Walter Hayes Trophy Race, he then won the $200,000 scholarship from the Mazda Road to Indy shootout at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and he parlayed that scholarship into a ride with Cape Motorsports for the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda.
The first weekend of the USF2000 season was on the streets of St. Petersburg and it was Askew’s first time on a street circuit. Finishing second in the first race of the weekend behind Robert Megennis, the No. 3 Soul Red Mazda found its way into victory lane in the second race of the weekend parlaying a mistake by Parker Thompson on a restart into the lead and never looking back.
A sweep at Barber Motorsports Park came about for Askew as he won both races ahead of Kaylen Frederick. The Team Pelfrey rookie scored two second place finishes and made himself someone to watch out for.
However, the driver everyone was watching out for at Indianapolis was Askew as he swept both races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course with extended family visiting the Brickyard. With Rinus VeeKay finishing sixth in the first race at Indianapolis, that helped pad Askew’s lead in the championship. The rest of the schedule wouldn’t be as easy.
Road America came and with it the first true test for Askew. A mechanical problem with some camber shims made a pit stop necessary in the first race at Road America and gave him a 17th place finish while a spin by David Malukas at the final corner on the final lap let the championship leader back onto the podium in third place.
Following up that less than stellar weekend would be a maximum points weekend at Iowa Speedway as Askew managed to parlay a setup change into a pole and led every lap and scored fastest lap to win the only oval race of the season.
However, two more challenging weekends loomed.
The streets of Toronto were a nice change of pace as north of the border gave Thompson a set of wins to get his season back on track. Askew managed a second in the first race of the weekend but was caught up in the accident between Malukas and Alex Baron midway through the race. It would be Askew’s only DNF of the season and he was credited with 12th in the results.
VeeKay would finish third and second at Toronto to bring the points lead closer between the Dutchman and the American and the points lead would get even closer after Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Askew won the first race at Mid-Ohio but an infraction during that race caused a ten point penalty and he went into Watkins Glen knowing that a podium would wrap up the title.
He started the final race weekend of the year with the bonus point for pole and finished second behind VeeKay to wrap up the 2017 USF2000 championship.
But let’s look deeper into the statistics.
Askew scored maximum points on four occasions: twice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, once at Iowa and once at Mid-Ohio before the 10 point post race penalty. He earned seven wins from 14 races with three runner-up finishes, a third and a fourth.
Askew also earned seven bonus points for fastest laps, seven more for most laps led and eight more for poles – more than any other driver. It was truly a dominating season.
But that might have been the problem for Askew this season. By starting up front so often and driving away, Askew never had to worry about racing situations during the first half of the season except at St. Petersburg. With another season of experience, Askew might have backed off of Malukas and Baron at Toronto the same way Thompson did.
For that reason, I’m giving Askew’s season a grade of A-. With more racing experience next season, Askew will have very stiff competition with possibly Megennis, Thompson, VeeKay among others moving into Pro Mazda next season. I’d also expect Carlos Cunha to be back in Pro Mazda next season and that will offer the American more of a challenge.