PORTLAND, Oregon – Patricio O’Ward captured the 2018 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires championship by winning Saturday’s race at Portland International Raceway.
The 19-year-old Mexican-American had to overcome a disastrous qualifying bout for the second race earlier in the morning, leaving his No. 27 Andretti Autosport Mazda/Dallara IL-15 with damage. With his crew making quick work of the repairs, he managed to make the grid and take his spot on pole for the first race.
O’Ward led teammate and title rival Colton Herta (No. 98 Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing) off the drop of the green flag. Herta attempted a diving move entering Turn 1 on Lap 4, locking up his tires to no avail in a plume of smoke. However, the very same move proved successful the next lap as Herta pushed to the lead.
Clinging in Herta’s shadow, O’Ward made his move 10 laps later entering Turn 1. Side-by-side, the duo’s rear wheels made slight contact as O’Ward took back the lead. By result of the contact, Herta drifted off course and over the rumble strips, nearly falling into the clutches of third-place Victor Franzoni (No. 23 Juncos Racing).
Ultimately, O’Ward led 26 of 35 laps and finish 1.6867 seconds ahead of Herta to claim his eighth victory of the season.
“It’s been a hard-fought year, and I’m glad I can finally relax,” O’Ward said.
“I am really excited for tomorrow because I am starting from the back. So I want to do a good race and I think I can. Hopefully, it is. I know I have the car. It’s just been a year of a dream. We’ve had so many wins. We’ve had so many poles. The car has been an absolute bullet everywhere and I couldn’t thank Andretti enough for giving me such a warm welcome to the team.”
The champion of the top rung of the Mazda Road to Indy, O’Ward also receives a $1 million scholarship to run three races next year in the Verizon IndyCar Series, including the Indianapolis 500.
“Honestly, that hasn’t even sunk in yet,” O’Ward confessed, “but I am going to believe it when I am sitting in an Indy car on the grid.”
Ryan Norman (No. 48 Andretti Autosport) starts on pole for the final Indy Lights race of the season, which begins at 12:55 p.m. ET Sunday and will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.
Askew Scores Maiden Pro Mazda Victory, VeeKay Takes Title
Oliver Askew broke through to take his maiden win in the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires in the first race at Portland International Raceway.
The driver of the No. 3 Cape Motorsports Mazda/Tatuus PM-18 started second alongside pole sitter Rinus VeeKay (No. 2 Juncos Racing), but got the early jump and held steady despite constant pressure to lead all 30 laps and take a 1.3482 second margin of victory.
“I can’t really describe it,” Askew said. “That was one of the hardest races, under pressure the whole time. So I was just trying not to make mistakes. I know it’s super hard to pass here, so my priority was to not make any mistakes. Pace wasn’t really an issue. I was really trying to not give Rinus any opportunities to get around. It’s a huge monkey off my back!”
Even with his streak of five consecutive victories snapped, VeeKay, crowned as the newest champion, had every reason to smile.
“It feels amazing,” VeeKay said. “To finally be a champion … it’s what I’m living for. I’m just flabbergasted. Now, it’s starting to sink in, so it feel’s amazing. I cannot wait to go (do well) in Indy Lights next year.”
VeeKay captured the pole for the second race after resetting his own track record during qualifying with a lap of 1 minute, 5.897 seconds (107.294 mph). The final race for the second rung of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder will start 5:15 p.m. ET Sunday and be streamed live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.
Kirkwood Claims Intense USF2000 Victory in Race 1
Kyle Kirkwood fended off a frantic late restart to capture the opening race for Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda at Portland International Raceway.
Starting on pole in the No. 8 Cape Motorsports Mazda/Tatuus USF-17, Kirkwood led 24 of 25 laps, with the ultimate test coming on a late restart with four laps to go. He was leading a four-car breakaway and was forced to put up a masterful defense as the trio behind fanned out and they entered Turn 1 four-wide.
The chaos shook allowed Igor Fraga (No. 91 Exclusive Autosport) to jump from fourth to second. Meanwhile, Calvin Ming (No. 21 Pabst Racing) progressed up to third after teammates Rasmus Lindh (No. 23 Pabst Racing) and Kaylen Frederick (No. 24 Pabst Racing), who restarted second and third, went off course and fell to fifth and eighth, respectively.
Kirkwood, the recently crowned USF2000 champion, scored his 11th victory of the season with a 1.1776 second margin of victory.
“That was a knife fight out there,” Kirkwood said. “It didn’t really matter where we started, I don’t think. I fell back (on Lap 1) and made a pass on the second lap into Turn 2. After that, we had that restart, where it could have been anyone’s game – anyone in the top four.”
Kirkwood also sits just one win away from tying the USF2000 record of 12, set by JR Hildebrand in 2006.
“We’d really like to get to 12 wins, but we’ll see what happens,” Kirkwood added. “I’m grateful enough with everything we’ve done this year.”
Kirkwood put down a record lap of 1 minute, 10.826 seconds in qualifying to win the pole, but received a two-spot grid penalty after running through the checkered flag twice. As a result, Lindh will lead the field to green for the final USF2000 race of the season, which will run at 6:20 p.m. ET Sunday on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.