Nothing elevates a sport quite like a rivalry.
It is the single biggest product that brings out the passion and spirit of fans and competitors alike.
Major League Baseball has the Boston Red Sox vs. the New York Yankees. The National Football League delivers on the gridiron with the Chicago Bears vs. the Green Bay Packers. One of the greatest stories in racing circles comes courtesy of Formula One with James Hunt vs. Niki Lauda. There is even one building this season in the NTT IndyCar Series as Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden goes wheel-to-wheel with Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi for the championship.
However, there is one that has been playing itself out over the last few seasons in the Road to Indy between Oliver Askew and Rinus VeeKay.
The three-tier INDYCAR-sanctioned development ladder has witnessed some incredible battles during its time, but simply put, this one is on a whole other level.
While the duo had countless battles in the karting ranks, the stakes were raised in 2017 as both entered the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship (first rung), which saw Askew take the title by a slim seven points over VeeKay.
In 2018, the two tangled again as they progressed up to the second step of the ladder – Indy Pro 2000 presented by Cooper Tires. Unlike the previous year, though, it was VeeKay’s time to shine as the Dutchman went on a summer hot-streak that carried him to the championship. Askew showed flashes of pace, but in the end was left to finish third overall.
And as if it were fate, the pair of up-and-coming drivers opted to move up to the third and final act: Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires. Winning the championship alone secures a $1.1 million scholarship for three races the following season in the NTT IndyCar Series, including the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
At the halfway mark with nine of 18 races now finished, both drivers hold firm at the top as Askew (No. 28 Andretti Autosport) holds a three-point lead over VeeKay (No. 21 Juncos Racing). They each have three wins and three poles heading into this weekend’s Cooper Tires Grand Prix, a doubleheader event at Toronto’s Exhibition Place.
When digging further into the numbers, there is a lot to suggest these two drivers have arguably provided the biggest rivalry seen in the Road to Indy program.
Collectively, they have both competed in a total of 39 races across all three series and shared the podium on 19 occasions. Askew has scored 11 wins, 23 podiums and 14 pole positions, while VeeKay possesses 13 wins, 28 podiums and 10 pole positions.
Additionally, the pairing has finished 1-2 seven times, which Askew holds the head-to-head win advantage at 5-2.
Those numbers could have been expanded upon further if not for the occasional on-track scuffles.
During the nightcap of the season-opening doubleheader weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, Askew started on pole for his home race with VeeKay alongside on the front row. As the green flag waved the field barreled into Turn 1, but moments later the front row competitors made contact, which sent Askew into the wall and evaporated any hopes of victory – one that VeeKay went on to capture.
Visually, it was easy to see the frustration on the face of Askew after the incident. But instead of dwelling on it, he used it as fuel to claim a flawless weekend at the next round at Circuit of The Americas, winning both races from pole en route to the sweep.
There is also bragging rights for Askew in winning the Freedom 100 – the crown jewel event for Indy Lights – back in May.
Regardless, the Indy Lights championship holds the tiebreaker to the 1-1 stalemate both drivers are locked into. As their careers have taken shape over the past three years, so too has the intensity. This battle is as fierce as it gets because there is no guarantee the second-place man gets called up to the NTT IndyCar Series.
There are nine races to go and the prize is in sight. With this rivalry, it isn’t a question of talent or skill, but more about will.
The moment is there for the taking, so who wants it more?