David Malukas is finding confidence in himself, his race car and his team, and it’s translating to on-track performance as he earned his career-best starting position of sixth in qualifying at the Raceway at Belle Isle for Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear.
The performance follows a strong Month of May for rookie Malukas, who started 13th and finished 16th in the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge in the No. 18 HMD Honda for Dale Coyne Racing with HMD.
Saturday marked an impressive rebound for Malukas from Friday, where he placed 17th on the opening practice speed charts. In Saturday morning’s practice session, he landed fifth as a prequel to his Firestone Fast Six run of 1 minute, 16.6104 second that rounded out the top six.
“I remember just doing the first two laps and saying, ‘Wow, the car is spot on,’” Malukas said of his first qualifying run Saturday afternoon. “I came in, and the team asked if I wanted to make any changes, and I said: ‘Do not touch it. This is good.’ I’m so happy.”
Malukas was strong from the beginning in NTT INDYCAR SERIES qualifying for the NTT P1 Award for pole. He posted the fastest lap in Round 1 for Group 2 to advance to the second round. From there, he posted the second-fastest lap of Round 2 behind Pato O’Ward in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.
Heading into the Firestone Fast Six, eventual NTT P1 Award winner Josef Newgarden said he was impressed by Malukas’ performance and thought he and his Dale Coyne Racing teammate Takuma Sato in the No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda would be his biggest challengers. Sato will start second.
“These guys are on it this weekend, as you can see,” Newgarden said. “They were very difficult to beat. I thought both of them did a great job, especially David there in the early part of qualifying. It was very impressive.”
In the final round of qualifying, which determined the top six starting spots for Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear (3 p.m. ET, live on USA Network, Peacock Premium and INDYCAR Radio Network), Malukas struggled on used Firestone alternate (red) tires.
Going into Turn 5 on his first qualifying lap of the session, Malukas had a slight bobble with his black, red and white car and lost the momentum he needed to put together a fast lap. From there, it was all about maintaining car control to ensure he came away from the session clean.
“Both me and Takuma were doing really good, and I tried my best,” Malukas said. “First time on re-run reds, I didn’t really know what to expect. Of course, we were expecting the first lap to be the ‘go’ lap, and it was, and I had a big moment.”
Big moment or not, Malukas topped his best NTT INDYCAR SERIES qualifying effort by seven positions – his 13th starting spot in last week’s Indy 500 was a career best. The last two NTT INDYCAR SERIES races have marked Malukas’ only two qualifying efforts inside the top 15.
Malukas feels as though he’s slowly coming into his own as an NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver after two seasons in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires. In his first season, in 2019, he failed to win a race and finished sixth in the championship.
However, last year he won seven races, scored 16 podium finishes and narrowly finished second in the championship to Kyle Kirkwood. Last year at Belle Isle, Malukas finished fifth and third, respectively, in the doubleheader Indy Lights weekend.
The 20-year-old American said a strong Month of May in Indianapolis, where he finished 12th in the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, consistently showed speed in Indy 500 practice and was the highest-finishing rookie in the Indy 500, has built up his confidence as the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season continues.
“I’ve gotten used to the way the team works and how Takuma is, and how we intermesh our data together,” he said. “Especially after how well the Month of May went for me, I thought we overachieved and did everything I wanted, but like way better, times 10.
“My confidence is increased. I just feel a lot more comfortable with the car and also with the team.”
As for how he expects his car to race tomorrow on the 14-turn, 2.35-mile street circuit, Malukas is unsure. He said his team spent the majority of Friday and Saturday’s practice sessions trying to perfect the car for qualifying.
Teammate Sato’s speed in qualifying proved to Malukas he could push the car and get away with it. He expects to follow that similar mindset tomorrow, keeping an eye on his two-time Indianapolis 500 winning teammate.
“I definitely wouldn’t have pushed as hard as I did if I didn’t hear that Takuma was also making it,” he said. “I think it will be a really good question after warmup after we spend some time seeing if the car can do long stints in heavy traffic.”
Malukas’ previous best finish on a street circuit is 21st at Long Beach. Based on his NTT INDYCAR SERIES performance over the last month, that could change Sunday.