MADISON, Illinois – The 2018 Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires season has brought a plethora of storylines. Few would have predicted the rise of David Malukas and BN Racing.
A rookie on the second rung of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder, the 16-year-old from Chicago swept both races at Road America in June – the first wins for driver and team – and has added five podium finishes this season. He sits fourth in the standings heading to Saturday’s second oval race of the season, this one at Gateway Motorsports Park.
Malukas, in the No. 79 HMD Trucking Mazda/Tatuus PM-18, was fifth fastest in Friday’s only practice on the 1.25-mile oval with a top lap of 138.601 mph. Points leader Rinus VeeKay (Juncos Racing) was fastest at 142.186 mph.
For Malukas, the run of success comes after he competed in just nine of 14 events last season in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda, scoring one runner-up finish and finishing 10th in the standings.
“It’s incredible how well the team has done in both USF2000 and Pro Mazda,” Malukas said.
“Going into USF2000, we were expecting a result, but not necessarily being at the front. So it was a big shock to all of us and we knew we could go into Pro Mazda strong. However, going into the first race, I knew the field was very strong with many talented drivers so I was in shock with the speed we had in the first race to put the car in P2 and continue the pace throughout the rest of the season.”
Englishman Bryn Nuttal, who runs BN Racing, recalled feeling like “the laughingstock of the paddock” after what he labeled a “disastrous” debut last season on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Long hours by the crew have paid off since, with both of his USF2000 and Pro Mazda programs this season showcasing the pace to fight for podiums and wins each race weekend.
The team owner has watched Malukas’ growth firsthand since the pair began their journey together in 2015 in karting, including winning the Junior X30 World Championship. The maturity shown by the young driver has been impressive. It began at the start of the season on the streets of St. Petersburg.
“New driver, new car, new category,” Nuttal said, “so there was a lot of pressure and being quick over winter testing counts for nothing unless you get results. In Race 2 at St Pete, he didn’t put a foot wrong on his way to second.
“That, to me, gave him the confidence for the rest of the year. When everything came together, like in Road America, where he completely dominated … (and) now 100 percent believes and goes to every race and test knowing he can win.”
Malukas concedes his biggest learning curve has come on the ovals. In his oval debut at Lucas Oil Raceway in May, he qualified an impressive third but left with an 11th-place finish after being involved in an accident.
“The oval race in Lucas was very tough on me and I took it very personal, as it was a mistake I made,” Malukas said. “Since then, I have been trying to perfect my passing by staying more calm and waiting until I have a guaranteed position gain.”
He will get a chance to redeem himself Saturday at Gateway. Malukas hopes to close the 20-point gap to Carlos Cunha for third place in the championship with three races remaining.
“The oval race in Gateway will be tough, as ovals are still new to me,” Malukas said. “I know Cunha has a lot of experience on the oval, so if we have the pace it will be a good battle.”