Toby Sowery delivered a masterful drive en route to earn his first career win in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires at Portland International Raceway.
Pole sitter Rinus VeeKay led the field to the green in the No. 21 Juncos Racing Dallara IL-15, but trouble struck as they barreled down into Turn 1. Fighting alongside for the lead, Oliver Askew (No. 28 Andretti Autosport) locked up briefly and went skated off the racing line. Upon trying to rejoin, he was spun by David Malukas (No. 78 HMD Motorsports). The result was a full course cautions and an early retirement for Malukas, along with broken front and rear wings for Askew.
However, Askew’s crew managed to make quick work of the repairs and not only return him to the track, but also keep him fighting on the lead lap.
The race resumed on Lap 4 of 35, with Sowery (No. 2 HMD Motorsports/Team Pelfrey) getting the jump on VeeKay and snatching the lead entering Turn 1.
Despite his best efforts to gap the field, Sowery’s lead began to diminish as VeeKay closed in his rear wing with 12 laps to go. Although he was under constant threat as VeeKay made numerous runs with push-to-pass, Sowery stood his ground with a perfect defensive line to cross the finish line 0.4244 of a second ahead.
“You could see VeeKay was really quick, but we had a different tire strategy,” Sowery said. “The Cooper Tires did a fantastic job of keeping me in the race all the way to the end. Massive congratulations to the team – they’ve deserved it. Thank you to everyone at Road to Indy, HMD and Cooper Tires.”
Remarkably, Askew managed to battle his way forwards and claim the third and final spot on the podium. Now, he sits as the provisional champion and needs only to start the next race to make it official.
“That is by far the hardest race I’ve had all year,” Askew said. “I really had to dig deep there: I used my last push-to-pass to get by Ryan. I was pushing so hard and being in dirty air really affects the car, so I was on edge the whole time.
“But this is a good feeling. This is what we’ve been working for all year – for all three years, really. It’s going to be nice to go to Laguna and experience my dream, which is to start and finish my Road to Indy career there.
“Big thanks to Andretti Autosport for believing in me, for giving me the car to do this. There have been several pivotal people in my career early on who helped get me from karts to cars, including John Doonan (Mazda) and Jeremy Shaw (Team USA Scholarship). It really kick-started my career and it was up to me from there, on and off the track – and off the track is just as important. I’ve stayed out of trouble and have done my job most of the time, so I’m really proud of that.
“And I told my mom that I would win the championship before I saw her again, and that was before St. Louis. It will be great to give her a big hug.”
Kirkwood rolls to weekend sweep in Indy Pro 2000
Kyle Kirkwood was untouchable once again as he reeled off another victory to sweep the weekend in Indy Pro 2000 presented by Cooper Tires.
The driver of the No. 28 RP Motorsports Racing Tatuus PM-18 started on pole and led all 30 laps to win by 7.5856 seconds ahead of Sting Ray Robb (No. 2 Juncos Racing) at the 12-turn, 1.964-mile road course.
“It was really tough starting up front with Sting Ray and Rasmus,” Kirkwood said. “I knew the start would mean a lot. I caught them off guard enough to get away on the first lap and created enough of a gap that they couldn’t reach me. I set a succession of fast laps but when you’re that far out in front, you can’t help but think about what can go wrong and when the yellow is going to come. You have everything to lose. None of this would be possible without the RP Motorsports team. They’re the hardest working team out here.
“But I’m thinking about all the drivers in Europe, in the F2 series, and Anthoine [Hubert]. It doesn’t matter what series it is – INDYCAR, NASCAR, F1, IMSA – it’s all family.”
Rasmus Lindh (No. 10 Juncos Racing) ended the day third, followed by Parker Thompson (No. 8 Abel Motorsports) and Artem Petrov (No. 5 RP Motorsport Racing).
As it stands, Kirkwood, an eight-time race winner this season, holds a 20-points lead (382-362) over Lindh with just two races remaining.
McElrea collects weekend sweep in USF2000 – 25 laps
Hunter McElrea executed a flawless performance from pole to claim the weekend sweep in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship.
Piloting the No. 22 Pabst Racing Tatuus USF-17, McElrea stormed away at the drop of the green flag to lead all 25 laps and finish ahead of rival Braden Eves (No. 8 Cape Motorsports) by 5.5127 of a second. Additionally, McElrea inherits the championship lead over Eves (316-10) with two races remaining.
“This was an amazing weekend,” McElrea said. “To have a weekend like this – quick in all of the sessions, two poles and two wins – is so hard to come by. And to have a race like that, it’s the best case scenario. I’m so happy with where we are now to have the points lead.
“The competition, the teams and the drivers, are so talented. To have the lead going into the final round doesn’t change anything: I’m going into Laguna Seca with the same mindset I’ve had all along, especially since Mid-Ohio. I’ll focus on my own thing and hopefully the rest keeps taking care of itself. But the Pabst team gave me such a great car this weekend, and I owe them so much.”
Zach Holden (No. 14 Legacy Autosport) climbed from seventh to claim the third and final spot on the podium.
The final round for the three developmental championships in the Road to Indy is set for Sept. 20-22 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.