Rinus VeeKay joined elite company by winning Sunday’s Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race to conclude the series’ doubleheader weekend at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Not only was it the Dutch sensation’s first Indy Lights victory in just his second series race, it allowed the 2018 Indy Pro 2000 champion to join six drivers as winner in all three levels of the Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires development ladder. Others to achieve the feat were Matthew Brabham, Victor Franzoni, Nico Jamin, Sage Karam, Spencer Pigot and Aaron Telitz.
VeeKay won by 0.6238 of a second over Zachary Claman after a 6.5-second advantage evaporated due to a late caution and restart with four laps to go. Piloting the No. 28 Juncos Racing Dallara IL-15, VeeKay held off Claman (No. 13 Belardi Auto Racing) to collect the victory.
There was early drama as well. VeeKay started second next to pole sitter Oliver Askew (No. 28 Andretti Autosport) and the two battled side by side into the opening series of corners. VeeKay clipped the curbing in Turn 2 and made contact with the left rear of Askew, sending the latter into the wall and effectively ending his day.
“It was first of all a great race,” VeeKay said. “A little touchy at the start, but that's racing. I feel sorry for Oliver for retiring. The rest of the race was great. The car was great and just everything was right.
“Unfortunately, the safety car came out with a few laps to go, but it all ended well. I'm super happy for my first Indy Lights win.”
Claman leaves the opening weekend as the championship leader, holding a nine-point advantage (57-48) over VeeKay.
“That was the main goal this weekend, to come away as the leader, and that's what we did,” Claman said.
“I played this race a bit safe. At the end there, I pushed hard to get Rinus, but the car was a handful and it was moving a lot.”
Toby Sowery (No. 2 BN Racing / Team Pelfrey) backed up his runner-up finish in his debut on Saturday to finish third Sunday, with teammate David Malukas (No. 79 BN Racing) finishing fourth.
The top rung of the Road to Indy returns to action March 22-24 at the INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas.