Oliver Askew and Robert Megennis are two members of one of the most intriguing rookie classes in recent memory for the 2019 season in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires.
Both drivers were signed over the offseason with Andretti Autosport to help replace 2018 champion Patricio O’Ward and runner-up Colton Herta, who moved up to the NTT IndyCar Series this year.
Askew has made a quick and progressive path to the top step of the Road to Indy development ladder. After winning the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship in 2017, he advanced to the Indy Pro 2000 Championship presented by Cooper Tires (formerly Pro Mazda) last year. Though he finished third in the championship, Askew strung together four podium finishes over the final six races, including a victory in the opening race of the season-finale doubleheader at Portland International Raceway.
Entering his third RTI series in as many seasons, the 22-year-old Floridian credited his supporters in helping make the “opportunity to race with a top team in Indy Lights” happen. Askew was fastest of the drivers testing last month at Circuit of The Americas and qualified third on Friday for the season-opening race during the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg doubleheader weekend.
Askew said he is still learning the differences from the Tatuus chassis used in Indy Pro 2000 to the Dallara IL-15 for Indy Lights.
“The biggest thing for me is the wheel base (size difference) and the amount of downforce,” Askew admitted. “The (Indy Lights) car is a lot bigger, so it's not as nimble through slow-speed corners. Also, the turbo is a bit of an eye opener as well because that's the first car I've ever driven with a turbo. There's a little bit of lag in it, but once you get up to speed, you get used to it, and you can feel the harmonics of the engine and understand when that power kicks in so you can modulate the throttle of traction.
“I had my fair share of a couple of half spins when I first started getting used to this car, but it's a great deal of fun, for sure.”
Megennis has methodically moved through the Road to Indy, putting in two years each into USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000. He enjoyed a solid sophomore campaign in Indy Pro 2000 in 2018, scoring six podium finishes over the span of 16 races to finish fifth in the championship. The 19-year-old recognizes how significant this chance could be at launching him to the NTT IndyCar Series.
“It's something that I've really realized recently is the opportunity that this is and the opportunities that I'm getting in my racing in my life,” said Megennis, who qualified fifth on the No. 27 entry, “and I really need to take advantage of all of them.
“I've been training harder. I've been on my sim (racing simulator) more. I've been talking to engineers. I've been a lot more involved in trying to really make the most of this because you don't know how many years you get, how many opportunities you really get to drive with Andretti Autosport.
“It's such a good team and I’m loving every second of it.”
The approaches to this year for the pair couldn’t be more different as the season opener looms on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.
“My procedure through the race weekends won't change,” Askew said. “It's important to leave St Pete with points and that's how it always has been. Street races can throw a curveball at your season, so (I’m) looking to go there and get a clean result and, hopefully, a pair of wins.”
Meanwhile, Megennis is “just going to do the best I can" as he enters his first year in Indy Lights.
“I just want to learn as much as I can and set a really good foundation and just drive the piss out of the race car; that's all that I'm trying to do,” said Megennis. “We've been really fast in testing, so I know that we're going to be up there to contend for races. We could even contend for the championship if we have a good year, but I'm not setting any expectations for myself. I just want to drive as fast as I can.
“If I end up spending a couple of years in Lights, it's not the end of the world. I'm just going to do the best that I can. It's a rookie year, you should treat it like that.”
Claman wins pole for Indy Lights opener
Zachary Claman, who has driven in 10 NTT IndyCar Series races the past two seasons, made his return to Indy Lights memorable by winning the pole position on Friday for the first of the series’ two races this weekend at St. Petersburg. Driving the No. 13 Belardi Auto Racing Dallara IL-15, the Montreal native circled the 1.8-mile temporary street course in 1 minute, 5.8084 seconds (98.468 mph) to take top honors in the 10-car field.
Toby Sowery, a series rookie for BN Racing/Team Pelfrey, qualified second at 1:05.9232, with Askew third at 1:05.9879.
The first Indy Lights race of the weekend starts at 1:15 p.m. ET Saturday. The nightcap goes off at 10:05 a.m. Sunday. Both races stream live on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold, with timing and scoring available at RaceControl.IndyCar.com.