LEXINGTON, Ohio – Teenaged Dutch talent Rinus VeeKay arrived at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with a seven-point deficit to Canadian rival Parker Thompson in their battle for the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. Up for grabs is a Mazda Scholarship worth almost $800,000 to graduate into Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the final rung of the Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel development ladder, in 2019.
On the heels of an impressive sweep of the two most recent races on the streets of Toronto two weeks ago, VeeKay, who finished second in last year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, produced another copybook performance this afternoon to score a convincing victory in the first of two races which will comprise this weekend’s Cooper Tires Pro Mazda Mid-Ohio Grand Prix. VeeKay’s fifth win of the season vaulted him into the championship lead with four races remaining.
David Malukas, from Chicago, Ill., finished second for BN Racing as VeeKay’s Juncos Racing teammate, Robert Megennis, from New York, N.Y., maintained his run of success with a second successive podium finish.
VeeKay made clear his intentions yesterday afternoon when he secured pole position for today’s 12th round of the 16-race championship. He duly took off into the lead, while behind him an intense battle for second at the first corner saw Megennis, who started fifth, dive to the inside of Thompson, who had qualified third. Brazilian Carlos Cunha, driving a third Juncos Racing Tatuus-Mazda PM-18, also was in the thick of the battle.
The leaders emerged from Turn One in the order of VeeKay, Malukas, Megennis, Thompson and Cunha. Then, at the end of the back straight, Thompson also found himself under pressure from Cunha. He fought off that initial attack but was unable to prevent Cunha from finding a way past into fourth a couple of laps later following an opportunistic outside-line run at Turn Five which finally gave Cunha the preferred inside line for Turn Six.
There was precious little to choose between the top five drivers, who traded fastest lap honors on virtually every lap before VeeKay sealed the honor – worth a potentially vital additional championship point – with a new lap record of 1:16.3310 (an average speed of 106.494mph) with five laps remaining.
Malukas slipped back a little in the closing stages, eventually finishing 2.8753 seconds behind, with Megennis, who earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award, taking third, just over a second in arrears. Cunha narrowly fended off Thompson for fourth, aiding his teammate’s quest for the championship, while Oliver Askew finished sixth for Cape Motorsports.
Brazilian Felipe Drugovich, who leads this year’s EuroFormula Open Championship, and Colombian Mathias Soler-Obel, stepping up from USF2000, finished seventh and eighth on their Pro Mazda debuts for RP Motorsport Racing.
Rinus VeeKay (#2 Jumbo Supermarkets/La Place Restaurants/KNAF Talent First-Juncos Racing Tatuus-Mazda PM-18): “The first half of the race, David got pretty close. I had to adapt a bit because I didn’t want to be quick and hurt the tires and damage my chances in the second race. I got into a good rhythm and was able to push hard at the end of the race to get the quickest race lap as well, so I’m happy with my points from today. Leading the championship doesn’t change anything: every race I try to win and get everything out of the car and myself. I just have to focus as much as possible. But towards the end of the race, my spotter Charles Crews told me to bring it home which just reminded me not to push too hard. I’m really happy to get my third consecutive win.”
David Malukas (#79 HMD Trucking-BN Racing Tatuus-Mazda PM-18): “It’s quite difficult to pass here so I knew that keeping in Rinus’ tow early was my only real chance to pass him. I needed just a little bit more to get him. It’s frustrating when you can see someone but can’t get to them, because that’s when you start over-pushing and making everything worse. But today, I kept my calm so of all my races, I feel as though this was one of my best. I kept my focus and didn’t make any mistakes. People say that because I’m young, it’s hard for me to put mistakes behind me. But I’m proud of how I handled things today. And I’m on pole tomorrow, so I hope it’s the other way around.”
Robert Megennis (#9 Palo Alto Networks-Juncos Racing Tatuus-Mazda PM-18): “I had a good start and was able to jump past the whole row in front of me into third in Turn One. I braked super-late and just went for it, because I knew that was one of my only chances to get them since it is difficult to pass here. Plus, with Parker and Carlos both in the championship, I didn’t think they would challenge me. They have much more to lose, so I could make that kind of an aggressive move. From there, we managed the tires and had a good race. If the race had been longer, I might have been able to get close to David but, starting from fifth, I’m happy to get to the podium. We’re starting third tomorrow so I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do.”