Oliver Askew put in a calculating drive to claim his seventh victory of the season in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires at World Wide Technology Raceway.
The pilot of the No. 28 Andretti Autosport Dallara IL-15 started on pole, but fell to second at the start as title rival Rinus VeeKay (No. 21 Juncos Racing) took the lead. Despite trailing, Askew lurked in the shadow of the leader as the pair broke away from the rest of the field.
VeeKay maintained the lead for 52 laps before Askew finally moved to the outside line entering Turn 1 to take the lead and set sail to collect his seventh win of the season, crossing the finish line by 6.7890 seconds.
“I think our car was just better,” Askew said. “I understood from the beginning that he had more straight line speed than us, so he was more trimmed out. I knew he was going to lose his tires at the end and he did. He made a mistake and hit the wall. I knew I just had to keep the pressure on and wait for my opportunity.”
Despite holding a 52-point lead over VeeKay in the championship (395-343) with four races remaining, Askew believes it’s still far from over.
“We’ve got to finish the deal,” Askew added. “It’s all about executing on the weekends, so that’s what we’re doing.”
To that extent, VeeKay, who has three wins and 10 podiums this season, is adamant that he will fight to the end.
“I’ll try everything I can,” VeeKay said. “It’s been very tough and it’s still going to be very tough, but the team and I at Juncos Racing, we’re giving it all we have and that’s all we can do.”
David Malukas (No. 79 HMD Motorsports) tied his career-best finish after collect the third and final spot on the podium. Ryan Norman (No. 48 Andretti Autosport), winner of last year’s race, quietly came away fourth, while teammate Robert Megennis (No. 27 Andretti Autosport) finished fifth.
The only caution on the afternoon came after Toby Sowery (No. 2 HMD Motorsports) spun off the exit of Turn 2 on Lap 12, but was able to continue on and finished eighth.
Kirkwood continues winning ways as championship battle tightens in Indy Pro 2000
There is no stopping Kyle Kirkwood.
After starting 12th, the driver of the No. 28 RP Motorsport Racing Tatuus PM-18 charged through the field and led the final 50 of 55 laps to claim his fourth straight – sixth overall – victory in Indy Pro 2000 presented by Cooper Tires.
Pole sitter Rasmus Lindh (No. 10 Juncos Racing) led the opening two laps, but was overtaken by Moises de la Vara (No. 6 DEForce Racing), who started sixth. The carousel then moved to Kory Enders (No. 7 DEForce Racing) for a single lap before Kirkwood stormed to the front.
Kirkwood kept control as the other frontrunners remained in toe and continued to jockey for position. However, the caution came out with 15 laps to go after de la Vara made heavy contact with the wall in Turn 3 following contact with Lindh while battling for third.
The race restarted with seven laps to go, with Kirkwood able to make a clean getaway. The battle for second was far from over as Lindh applied the pressure on Enders, finally making the pivotal pass to take the runner-up spot on the outside of Turn 3 on the final lap.
In the end, Kirkwood managed to beat his championship rival by 0.8679 of a second ahead of Lindh, with Enders claiming third.
“It was very difficult but everything kind of just went in our favor that entire race,” Kirkwood said.
“I picked a direction and most of the time it was the high line. I picked a direction and it worked every time. There was never a point where I got boxed in by somebody. If I did get boxed in, somebody moved and it just gave me a clean, open path. Like when everybody got bottled up in Turn 2, I went to the outside, I was boxed up and Rasmus went to the inside and just left me a clear gap on the outside. Before I went out I watched Santi Urrutia’s video from last year (in Indy Lights) where he went from seventh or eighth to P3 in just a couple of laps so I guess I was like, ‘I guess I’m going to follow his lead and go to the outside everywhere,’ and it worked perfectly.”
The battle for the championship continues to get tighter as Lindh now holds just a five point advantage (323-317) over Kirkwood.