By Road to Indy
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Dutchman Rinus VeeKay shrugged off yesterday’s disappointment of a drive-through penalty by thoroughly dominating this morning’s Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix of Road America Powered by AER. VeeKay, who had won twice at the scenic and challenging Wisconsin road course during the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, qualified his Juncos Racing Dallara-AER IL-15 solidly on pole position and was never remotely threatened during the all-green 20-lap race.
Yesterday’s winner, Ryan Norman, from Aurora, Ohio, had to be content with second this time around, closely followed by Andretti Autosport teammate Oliver Askew, from Jupiter, Fla.
VeeKay’s impressive performance ensured a hugely successful weekend for last year’s Mazda Scholarship winners. In addition to VeeKay, who won the 2018 Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, reigning USF2000 champion Kyle Kirkwood swept both Indy Pro 2000 races, while Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout winner Hunter McElrea claimed his first USF2000 victory on Saturday.
VeeKay, 18, from Hoofddorp, Netherlands, took full advantage of his pole position to jump immediately into the lead ahead of fellow front row starter Norman. He completed the first lap more than one second in front and extended his lead on each and every lap before taking the checkered flag 12.8989 seconds to the good. VeeKay’s win ensured another PFC Award for the winner car owner, Ricardo Juncos.
After qualifying a strong third for Belardi Auto Racing, local favorite Aaron Telitz, from Birchwood, Wis., lost out to Askew in the opening few corners, whereupon his attempt to out-brake Askew at Turn Five resulted in him running wide and falling to the back of the field. Telitz lost no time in trying to make up for lost ground before eventually finishing fifth.
In the meantime Norman and Askew began to battle over second place. Askew looked to have dragged past his teammate on the long downhill run toward Turn Five on the fourth lap, only for Norman to dive back to the inside under braking and reclaim the position in opportunistic style. Askew then fell back into the clutches of a third Andretti car, driven by Robert Megennis, from New York, N.Y.
The pair exchanged positions a couple of times – with Englishman Toby Sowery also right in the thick of the battle for BN Racing/Team Pelfrey – until Askew reasserted himself and ran third for the majority of the race before redoubling his efforts in the closing stages. Norman, though, judged his pace to perfection to cross the line still three-quarters of a second clear of Askew.
While Sowery slipped back as the race progressed, BN Racing teammate David Malukas, from Chicago Ridge, Ill., began to move steadily forward. Having started seventh, Malukas slipped past Megennis for fourth after 16 laps. Askew was by then out of reach in third, but Malukas still secured the Tilton Hard Charger Award after having started seventh.
VeeKay’s third win of the season enabled him to close the gap to Askew to just three points at the halfway point of the 18-race season. The Indy Lights contenders will head next to the streets of Toronto, Ont., Canada, for another pair of races on July 13-14.
Provisional championship points after nine of 18 races:
1. Oliver Askew, 229
2. Rinus VeeKay, 226
3. Robert Megennis, 186
4. Ryan Norman, 184
5. Toby Sowery, 171
6. David Malukas, 150
7. Dalton Kellett, 128
8. Zachary Claman, 124
9. Lucas Kohl, 122
10. Julien Falchero, 66
Rinus VeeKay (#21 Mazda/Jumbo Supermarkets/La Place Restaurants/KNAF Talent First-Juncos Racing Dallara-AER IL-15): “It was great to show our dominance here at Road America. This is a great track and it’s very pure. We go flat through the Kink, sideways through the Kink and the Carousel, and I feel quite confident in the car. I knew I would be quick today and it was a great race; I was able to stay in front the whole way. The speed was there yesterday but I couldn’t show it after the drive-through. The penalty stings, but I learned from it and will take that experience later in my career. Once I got out of the push-to-pass range it was about saving tires and staying out front. We’re close in the championship so we try not to take big risks but with the speed of the car, we’re going to go for podiums and wins from here on.”
Ryan Norman (#48 Three Chord Dallara-Andretti Autosport Dallara-AER IL-15): “I’m really happy with how everything went this weekend. The car felt good at first but really fell away at high speed toward the end; I was just hanging on. Oliver was creeping up on me but I knew he didn’t have any push-to-pass left so I just had to keep it clean and on track. I wanted to try to push and catch up with Rinus, but at this point in the season, you just have to get all the points you can. Overall, though, it was a great weekend for the team, and we’ll keep this momentum going. We’re going for wins and podiums every weekend.”
Oliver Askew (#28 Index Invest Dallara-Andretti Autosport Dallara-AER IL-15): “I had a more aggressive start today than yesterday, but I ran out of push-to-pass early, trying to stay with Ryan, which was unfortunate, because my car was at its best late in the race. It was a good fight with both my teammates, so I think we gave the fans a good show. I didn’t expect to leave this weekend with the points lead, given how strong Rinus is here, so I’m happy with the result. I’m so proud of the No. 28 crew – I’ve never had big success here and we didn’t test here, so I’m happy to come away with two podiums. I’m looking forward to the upcoming races and I know we’ll be stronger going forward.”