By Road to Indy
TORONTO, Ont., Canada – Talented Dutch teenager Rinus VeeKay produced another copybook performance this morning on the unforgiving streets around Exhibition Place in Toronto to sweep this weekend’s Cooper Tires Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Toronto Presented by Allied Building Products. VeeKay’s second win for Juncos Racing in as many days – and fourth of the season – enabled him to close to within seven points of Canadian Parker Thompson in the quest for the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and a scholarship valued at close to $800,000 to graduate to the top tier of the acclaimed Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel development ladder, Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, in 2019.
Oliver Askew, from Jupiter, Fla., last year’s winner of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, secured his best finish of the season, second, for Cape Motorsports. He also posted a new Pro Mazda race lap record of 1:07.6395 (95.057 mph). VeeKay’s teammate, Robert Megennis, from New York, N.Y., edged out Askew’s teammate, Los Angeles-based Russian Nikita Lastochkin, for the final podium place.
VeeKay had matters virtually all his own way for the majority of the 40-minute race around the 1.786-mile street circuit. He romped into a clear early advantage as Megennis, who had found a way past front row qualifier David Malukas (BN Racing) on the opening lap, adopted some aggressive defensive tactics to maintain his position.
RP Motorsports Racing had performed wonders to repair Harrison Scott’s car following his terrifying crash on Saturday. Sadly, it was to no avail as an unexplained suspension failure as he braked for Turn One on the opening lap ensured he was done for the day. The Italian team experienced more drama on Lap Five when Scott’s teammate, Mexican Raul Guzman, clipped the inside wall in Turn 11 and crashed heavily into the retaining barrier on the exit of the corner. Fellow countryman Andres Gutierrez (Team Pelfrey) also was taken out in the incident.
VeeKay once again took off at the restart as Megennis continued to ensure there was no easy passage for anyone else. Askew, who started sixth, slipped past Sting Ray Robb (Team Pelfrey) and Malukas in quick succession on the restart, then finally found a chink in Megennis’ armor on Lap 19 to move up into second. By then VeeKay was already more than 6.5 seconds to the good.
Askew was granted a lifeline when Brazilian Carlos Cunha crashed in Turn Three while attempting to pass Megennis. Cue another full-caution which was cleared in time for a two-lap dash to the finish. VeeKay, though, was able to hold on and take the victory by a margin of just over half a second. He also ensured team owner Ricardo Juncos of another PFC Award.
Megennis held on for third, despite a late challenge from Lastochkin, with Kris Wright (BN Racing) securing the Tilton Hard Charger Award after steering clear of all the trouble and rising from 12th on the grid to fifth ahead of FatBoy Racing’s Charles Finelli, from Locust Valley, N.Y., who finished sixth for the second consecutive day. Robb completed the unlapped finishers, despite a badly damaged nosecone following an incident on Lap 17 with Thompson (Exclusive Autosport), who struggled home in eighth.
What was once a commanding championship advantage for Thompson has now been trimmed dramatically as the series heads next to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, for another pair of races the weekend of July 28/29.
Rinus VeeKay (#2 Jumbo Supermarkets/La Place Restaurants/KNAF Talent First-Juncos Racing Tatuus-Mazda PM-18): “I like street courses. It gives you a kick, being in between all the walls. The team is good on street courses and I enjoy preparing the car for a race like this. I was able to drive away early in the race, but after the second caution period, Oliver was right behind me and I knew he was quickest on track. So I went from a big lead to looking in my mirrors when the green came back out. The last two laps were hard but I brought it home and we swept the weekend, so I couldn’t be happier! It’s a really good confidence kick going into the last few weekends of the season, to be able to close the championship gap this much.”
Oliver Askew (#3 Mazda Motorsports/Doug Mockett & Company/Team USA Scholarship-Cape Motorsports Tatuus-Mazda PM-18): “The Cape Motorsports guys gave me a super-fast car and things just worked out as the race progressed. I’m relieved to finally get back on the podium – just still missing that win. I like street courses because I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I like to be smooth and precise, and that style of driving works here. I like being close to the walls. The best feeling in racing for me is being in the zone, clicking off laps and figuring out where to go faster and I got back in that zone in this race. It’s been frustrating at times this season, but that’s why I’m on the Mazda Road to Indy, to learn – and adversity is part of that.”
Robert Megennis (#9 Palo Alto Networks-Juncos Racing Tatuus-Mazda PM-18): “It’s all the emotions all at once after a race like that. It was so much fun, racing guys close the entire race, but it was frustrating as well, not having the pace to go after Rinus. We got back to the podium and finished where we started so that’s a start. You never stop focusing at a track like this. I had to do everything I could to keep the guys behind me, which was a challenge, especially toward the end of the race. I’ve gained a huge amount of experience over the past few years on the IndyCar tracks, and I can see how much I’ve grown as a driver.”