MONTEREY, Calif. -- Rinus VeeKay scored the opening race victory, but it was Oliver Askew stealing spotlight after a fourth-place run was enough to officially clinch the championship in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
After starting on pole, VeeKay put in a flawless and spirited drive behind the wheel of the No. 21 Juncos Racing Dallara IL-15 as he was untouchable in leading all of the 30 laps and claiming his fifth win of the season by 9.887 seconds over runner-up Toby Sowery (No. 2 HMD Motorsports/Team Pelfrey). Robert Megennis (No. 27 Andretti Autosport) held steady to claim the third and final spot on the podium.
“It was quite hard,” VeeKay said. “I was on my own, but it was tricky. You cannot push the brake zones. The Corkscrew was really slick this time, but we managed the car well. I kept the car consistent throughout the whole race and got a great car from the team. So I want to give a great shout out to them for giving me a great car.”
While VeeKay will be left finishing second in the overall standings, he hopes the overall body of work for this year – five wins, 13 podiums and seven poles through 17 races – is enough to warrant a look from team owners in the NTT IndyCar Series.
“I hope it tells IndyCar owners that there is not only one champion, there are two champions,” VeeKay added. “I think I can show that I am good material for IndyCar, right now.”
However, the record books will shine in favor of Askew after a remarkable season that includes seven victories, 14 podiums (a series record) and seven poles to become the fourth driver to hoist the championship for Andretti Autosport.
“At the beginning of this year, when I didn’t have a ride, I wouldn’t have believed that,” said Askew, driver of the No. 28 entry for Andretti Autosport. “It’s all sinking in. It’s all a little bit anticlimactic, but I’m really happy to be a part of this team. They are back-to-back champions now in Indy Lights and I feel very fortunate to be driving this car this year. It’s really sinking in now. This is what we’ve worked for all year. I’m very happy to be in this position and I can’t wait to celebrate with my team.”
VeeKay will lead the field to the green flag for the second race of the doubleheader weekend, with Askew started alongside on the front row.
The final race of the season for the top rung of the Road to Indy will stream live at 9:10 a.m. PT on NBC Sports Gold.
Fortune shines on Kirkwood in Indy Pro 2000
Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good. However, Kyle Kirkwood is proving to be both after claiming victory in the opening race of the doubleheader weekend in Indy Pro 2000 presented by Cooper Tires.
The driver of the No. 28 RP Motorsport USA Tatuus PM-18 started second and was comfortably holding down the position when pole sitter Sting Ray Robb (No. 2 Juncos Racing) pushed off track on Lap 21 of 25. The incident allowed Kirkwood to take advantage and grab his ninth victory – seventh consecutive – of the 2019 season, winning by 2.0447 seconds over Robb at the 11-turn, 2.238-mile permanent road course.
Ultimately, Kirkwood extended his championship lead to 28 points (412-384) over Rasmus Lindh (No. 10 Juncos Racing), who finished third.
“It wasn't much of a pass because Sting Ray was off the track,” Kirkwood said “It was coming though because we had a couple laps where I was catching him and I got pretty close to him at a point, but it was kind of one of those situations where I wasn't going to risk anything for the championship's sake and knowing that his teammate is the one we're competing against is a tough pill to swallow if you're going to pass him.
“We were just sitting there, but I put enough pressure on him to push extremely hard and he ended up making a really small mistake coming out of Turn 5, just got on the power too early and tried to keep in it, ended up going off the track and it made it easy for me to slip by."
Lindh will have a fighting chance after winning the pole for the second race, which will stream live at 3:15 p.m. on racecontrol.indycar.com.
Rasmussen rolls to victory in USF2000
Christian Rasmussen put in a stout performance to claim victory in the opening race in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship.
After starting third and piloting the No. 6 Jay Howard Driver Development Tatuus USF-17, Rasmussen charged to snag the lead from pole sitter Braden Eves (No. 8 Cape Motorsports) on Lap 3 of 20 and never looked back en route to claiming his third victory of the season.
Moments after losing the lead, Eves slipped to third as title rival Hunter McElrea (No. 22 Pabst Racing) pushed to finish in the runner-up spot, 4.4573 seconds behind Rasmussen.
"It was amazing, my third win of the season, a really good second part of the season that we've had here,” Rasmussen said. “Hopefully, we can get third in the championship – that's what we're fighting for this weekend. It was a good race, managed to get by Hunter at the start and managed to pull a pretty good move on Eves into Turn 2 and yeah, managed to build the gap from there and I think I won by 4.5 seconds, so pretty good, looking forward to the next one tomorrow."
Meanwhile, McElrea holds a 12-point advantage (342-330) over Eves with just one race remaining in the season for the bottom rung of the Road to Indy.
Colin Kaminsky (No. 23 Pabst Racing) will start the second act of the doubleheader from pole, with McElrea needing to come from the back of the field after an engine issue plagued him in qualifying.
The green flag will waive at 10:25 a.m. on racecontrol.indycar.com.
Exclusive Autosport expands to Indy Lights
Exclusive Autosport, the only open-wheel racing team in North America with an internal development ladder system bridging from F1600 racing into the Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, will expand once again in 2020 by making its debut in the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires.
The growing operation has acquired a Dallara IL-15 chassis and currently plans to field at least one entry next season. The team plans to debut its new acquisition, dressed in new Exclusive Autosport red and white livery, alongside its USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 cars at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Oct. 19-20.
“This is truly a dream come true,” enthused Michael Duncalfe, Team Principal. “When I started Exclusive Autosport in 2013, competing in the Road to Indy was always the goal, however it seemed like a distant reality. To be sitting here, announcing that we are expanding to Indy Lights and have a four-tiered ladder system after seven years of competition, is one of the proudest moments of my career. This transition is a natural fit for the Exclusive Autosport program. Dan Andersen and the entire Road to Indy organization have been incredible to work with from day one. They have been very supportive of our efforts. We are thrilled to be a part of it. I want to thank my wife and children for all of their support and my incredible crew led by Mirl Swan. We are looking forward to what 2020 will bring.”
Exclusive Autosport is the winningest team in Canadian Formula 1600 competition over the last six years, having won the last eight titles in the Toyo Tires F1600 Championship (Ontario) and the Formula Tour (Quebec) programs. They have also earned the championship in the last four seasons in the combined F1600 Super Series. The team has expanded steadily over the last three years, making its debut in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship in 2017 and the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires in 2018. In both of its debut seasons, the team scored victories, racking up 11 wins since adding the RTI component to their schedule. The team also has two wins this season in Indy Pro 2000, with series rookie Danial Frost topping the competition on the oval at Lucas Oil Raceway and on the street circuit in Toronto.
In 2020, Exclusive Autosport will become the only Road to Indy team with its own driver development ladder reaching from F1600 up to Indy Lights. In fact, the team’s reach delves even deeper, as they are the title sponsor of the Western Canada Karting Championship. For the last two years, they have awarded WCKC champions with valuable F1600 test and evaluation days in their title-winning Spectrum F1600s.
“We are excited to welcome Exclusive Autosport into the Indy Lights family,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Michael Duncalfe parallels our goals in the Road to Indy of providing a complete ladder system for drivers to advance, and his expansion into Indy Lights now completes this platform for his well-established and highly regarded team. His passion for helping tomorrow’s talent was evident from Day One, and we look forward to seeing him and his drivers on our Indy Lights grids next season.”
Road to Indy hosts perspective drivers
Eight drivers representing top junior series around the world are attending this weekend’s event at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca as guests of INDYCAR and series promoter Andersen Promotions.
The drivers include frontrunners in FIA Formula 3, British F3, F3 Americas and Porsche Carerra Cup Italia.
“The Road to Indy have done a tremendous job to keep us entertained,” siad Aryton Simmons, an 18-year-old English driver who finished third in British F3 this season. “We’ve had access to all the teams and I was even on the pit wall with Scott Dixon. It was so amazing.
“The environment in America is so different (from what I’m used to). The fans are so hard-core and INDYCAR is a dream for most racing drivers. And I’d love to live the American Dream but I like to keep my options open.”
Joining Simmons for the visit, which introduced drivers to key contacts in all levels of INDYCAR’s development system, including the NTT IndyCar Series were former Team USA Scholarship winners Dakota Dickerson and Neil Verhagen, Ryan Tveter, Benjamin Pederson, Jaden Conwright, Josh Mason and Quinlan Lall.
“It’s extremely important for top talent around the world to experience what we feel like is the best development ladder system in all of motorsports,” said Jason Penix, INDYCAR’s senior director of competition and Indy Lights. “That’s why we’re hosting these young drivers this weekend and are hopeful they’ll take the time to look at us when it’s time to go racing in the future, if not next season.”