Oliver Askew on track

A year from now, Oliver Askew and Rinus VeeKay expect to be back at Indianapolis Motor Speedway preparing to run in their first Indianapolis 500.

That’s not just youthful optimism for racing rivals in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.

Last year, Colton Herta and Patricio O’Ward were Andretti Autosport teammates pushing for the title in top rung of the INDYCAR-sanctioned Road to Indy developmental series. Both have since ascended to the NTT IndyCar Series. And Herta, in becoming the series’ youngest winner at 18 years, 259 days with a victory at the Circuit of The Americas in March, has proven what the ladder has shown for years, that anything is possible for up-and-coming talents.

“I think I’m capable of doing the same as Colton and Patricio,” said VeeKay, an 18-year-old driver from Netherlands. “After (Herta) took the youngest win (honor), I have to go for being the youngest champion. Let’s go for that.”

Askew, a 22-year-old Florida native shown in the No. 28 Dallara above, has a six-point Indy Lights lead on VeeKay entering the doubleheader weekend on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course. The first one-hour race is at 1:30 p.m. ET Friday with the other scheduled for 1:15 p.m. Saturday. Both races stream live on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold.

Askew and VeeKay have been racing each other since their go-karting days. VeeKay won the Indy Pro 2000 presented by Cooper Tires title last year while Askew finished third. In 2017, Askew claimed the Cooper Tires USF2000 championship with VeeKay finishing second.

“I think there’s been a change in the tide with young drivers moving up through the ranks and making it to (the NTT IndyCar Series) at such a young age,” said Askew, who drives for the same Andretti Autosport Indy Lights team that fielded Herta and O’Ward last season. “I think we see that in Formula 1 as well. People are starting to realize that younger drivers are just as capable at racing at the front with the right equipment under them. For sure, guys like Colton and Pato are paving the way for guys like Rinus and I.

“Coming through the Andretti program, I look at what (Herta and O’Ward) have done, and I look at their data every day and I compare myself to them. I think I’m very capable of doing the same thing. But right now, I’m not too worried about that. I’m trusting the process and making sure I get everything out of the car at the racetrack.”

Herta, the son of NTT IndyCar Series team co-owner and former driver Bryan Herta, recalled how he was that teenaged dreamer a year ago. He lost the Indy Lights title to O’Ward but has made the most of his full-time NTT IndyCar Series debut, currently sitting 10th in the points. O’Ward, driving a partial schedule for Carlin, is 17th in the points. His best finish in three starts was eighth at COTA.

“I knew it was possible because of how many people had moved up from Indy Lights before,” Herta said. “(The) Road to Indy does a great job of getting drivers ready and getting scholarships out as well for drivers who can’t find the sponsorship. It seems like it’s the plan that’s worked for a lot of guys. I know (five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon) did it. It’s worked for a lot of the Indy car drivers, present and past.”

Rinus VeeKay on trackPerhaps Askew and VeeKay, who drives for the same Juncos Racing team that guided him to the Indy Pro 2000 championship last season, will be the next to do so. Each considers a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner as inspiration. For Askew, it’s the late Dan Wheldon. He was the first pro driver Askew ever met when they were on the same go-kart team in 2011, the year that Wheldon died. For VeeKay, he considers Dutch driver Arie Luyendyk his mentor. Luyendyk is now an NTT IndyCar Series race steward.

“We’re always very close to each other in the races and qualifying,” VeeKay (shown at left in the No. 21 Dallara) said of Askew. “Yeah, it’s fun that the rivalry grows together with us. It’s nice to race against the same rival as who I started with. Let’s see who gets the championship this year.”

Then, hopefully, it’s on that next level. Not that Askew is getting too ahead of himself when asked if he and VeeKay are the next NTT IndyCar Series stars.

“I don’t think that crosses my mind too much,” Askew said. “I just live, eat and sleep racing.”

Road to Indy practice at IMS

Ryan Norman, Askew’s teammate at Andretti Autosport led the official opening Indy Lights practice of the INDYCAR Grand Prix weekend on Thursday afternoon with a best lap of 1 minute, 16.2589 seconds (115.139 mph). David Malukas of BN Racing was second (1:16.3108, 115.061 mph) and VeeKay third (1:16.4811, 114.805 mph).

In Indy Pro 2000, Rasmus Lindh of Juncos Racing paced the opening practice with a lap of 1:20.4894 (109.088 mph), with RP Motorsport Racing teammates Ian Rodriguez (1:20.7606) and Kyle Kirkwood (1:20.8222) second and third, respectively.

In USF2000 practice, Braden Eves of Cape Motorsports topped practice at 1:25/6653 (102.497 mph), with Hunter McElrea from Pabst Racing second (1:25.7940).

Race 1 qualifying for each series takes place Friday morning, with USF2000 scheduled for 8 a.m. ET, Indy Pro 2000 at 8:35 a.m. and Indy Lights at 10:10 a.m. Race 2 qualifying for USF2000 goes off at 10:55 a.m. with Indy Pro 2000 at 11:30 a.m.

USF2000’s first race of the weekend starts at 2:45 p.m. Friday, followed by the first Indy Pro 2000 race at 3:40. All USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 sessions stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, as does Indy Lights qualifying.