SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Florida rising star Oliver Askew inched past Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Norman at better than 200 mph on the final run to the checkered flag as the top six finishers crossed the yard of bricks blanketed by less than six-tenths of a second at the conclusion of another memorable Freedom 100 Presented by Cooper Tires.
The 17th annual edition of the Carb Day curtain-raiser at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway once again lived up to expectations with a large crowd on its feet and cheering to the rafters as the Indy 500 aspirants put on quite a show. Officially there were 12 changes of lead at the start/finish line – and countless more during a scintillating 40-lap contest. Askew’s final margin of victory was listed at just 0.0067 of a second – the fourth closest in IMS history, behind only the Freedom 100s in 2017 (0.0024), 2013 (0.0026) and 2014 (0.0050).
Norman, who officially led 29 laps, had to be content with second place, while Dutchman Rinus VeeKay (Juncos Racing) edged out Englishman Toby Sowery (BN Racing/Team Pelfrey) by just 0.0773 in another photo-finish for the final podium position.
The red-hot action mirrored the hot, humid conditions which replaced morning rain and proved quite challenging for the drivers. Indeed, there was drama even before the cars took to the track when it was announced after qualifying that five cars had failed post-qualifying technical inspection and would be banished to the rear of the starting grid. Then on the first of two pace laps, debutant Jarett Andretti lost control in Turn Four. Thankfully, the Indianapolis native was able to continue unscathed, although Aaron Telitz, who had rejoined the Belardi Auto Racing team at almost literally the last moment, also struck misfortune as he was forced into the pits before the green flag by a broken driveshaft.
When the green flag finally flew, one lap later than original scheduled, the field was already jockeying hard for position when David Malukas (BN Racing), from Chicago, Ill., lost control and spun at the entrance to Turn Four, moments after being passed by VeeKay for fourth place. A close-following Chris Windom (Belardi Auto Racing), from Canton, Ill., was unable to avoid him, whereupon the two cars made heavy contact with the outside retaining wall. Neither driver was hurt but the race was red-flagged shortly thereafter for repairs to the SAFER barrier.
The race was restarted after an almost 10 minute delay and the drivers immediately took up where they had left off, slicing and dicing for position all the way around the 2.5-mile four-cornered oval. The crowd loved it.
Norman, from Aurora, Ohio, led the majority of the laps on the official charts, but that fact told barely anything of the story, with VeeKay frequently drafting past to lead the way into Turn One and polesitter Robert Megennis (Andretti Autosport), Askew, Canadian Dalton Kellett (Juncos Racing) and Sowery also exchanging places almost constantly. It was a good old-fashioned nail-biter.
Eventually, and perhaps unsurprisingly, a relatively minor glance of Sowery’s right-front wing against Megennis’ left-rear wheel at the exit of Turn One resulted in Megennis being tipped into a spin, although moments later the teenaged New Yorker’s car was back pointing in roughly the right direction when the two cars once again came into contact. Miraculously, both regained control and continued, and the field was granted a brief respite when the yellow flags waved.
Sowery was instructed to fall to the back of the pack at the restart, after being adjudged to have caused the incident, but before long he was slicing his way back through toward the front. The Englishman even nosed ahead into the lead for a few yards with a couple of laps to go, eliciting a huge cheer from the crowd, but as the final lap unfolded it came down to a battle between Askew, Norman and VeeKay for top honors.
Askew led at the white flag and, unusually, was able to maintain his advantage through Turn One, only for teammate Norman to come back at him in Turn Three. The Ohio native led the way off the final corner but Askew was tucked up tight behind in the draft, pulling out once he knew he had enough momentum and then edging up alongside as the top two sped underneath the checkered flags. It was an emotional victory for the talented young man from Jupiter, Fla.
Norman had to be content with second and VeeKay third, while Sowery and Kellett also were separated by mere fractions, with Andretti and Brazilian Lucas Kohl (Belardi Auto Racing), who sneaked past Megennis in the dash for the line, also hanging in the draft. Telitz, too, was classified in ninth, five laps behind, after his Belardi team worked hard to repair his car during the earlier red-flag stoppage.
Next up for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires contenders are a pair of road course races at Road America, in Elkhart Lake, Wis., once again in support of the NTT IndyCar Series, on June 22/23.
Oliver Askew (#28 Index Invest Dallara-Andretti Autosport Dallara-AER IL-15): “I can’t put words together to describe this – it’s still sinking in, the emotions of winning and at such a historic place, and with such a historic team. I was just screaming on the radio. I was in the right place at the right time. It could have been anyone’s race, so I am happy to have taken the opportunity. My plan was to stay in the top three, in clean air and saving the tires. I had trouble early but the car really came in at the end. On the restart, I wanted to be in the top three and was able to make it happen on the back straight, driving by three cars while other cars were battling it out – if that hadn’t happened, I may not have been able to get to the front.
“But I am just so happy to be here. Racing is my life, and my entire Road to Indy career, I’ve put everything I have into it. Two weeks before the season began, I didn’t know where I was going to be, so to be here, leading the championship and winning the biggest race of the year, the biggest race of my life, in front of all these people at Indianapolis is just crazy. Big thanks to all my supporters and to my engineer Doug Zister – he was Colton Herta’s engineer and he just gave me a rocket ship.”
J-F Thormann, President, Andretti Autosport: “One of my jobs is to watch the Road to Indy, and I’ve been watching Oliver since his karting days and into the ladder system. He was scoring a lot of wins and that got our attention. We watched how he behaved outside the car, because that’s important when you’re representing our corporate sponsors and the Andretti brand. It’s not all about the speed. We’ve been saying hi to each other in the paddock for years, but I’ve been telling him that one day he would drive for us. It was a tough road to get there but he had good supporters, as do we, and Michael is quite bullish on him. There’s a bright future for him.”
Ryan Norman (#48 EVO Dallara-Andretti Autosport Dallara-AER IL-15): “This is the most disappointing podium finish I’ve ever had, the timing just wasn’t there at the end. I’ve had a rough start to the season so it’s good to be back up front and taking this momentum forward. Rinus and I were pulling away, in a rhythm of sling-shotting each other down the back straight and the front straight. The car felt so good that we got back into it after the restart. The car was on rails, I could place it anywhere I wanted it. My plan was to stay up front and keep my tires clean, so I tried to stay up front as much as I could. The last 10 laps were the real battle, and at that point, you really can’t have any plan, you’re just reading the situation as it goes. I’m glad in the end that if I had to get beat that it was Oliver. He just had the timing at the end.”
Rinus VeeKay (#21 Mazda/Jumbo Supermarkets/La Place Restaurants/KNAF Talent First-Juncos Racing Dallara-AER IL-15): “In the end, I’m happy with the result and with the points. The red flag wasn’t as much of a concentration breaker as the yellow flag was. That second restart really mixed things up and everything I had prepared wasn’t going to happen. I got into a mix with the other cars and lost momentum to the two Andretti guys. Coming from Europe, ovals were a new thing but I’ve felt good on them from the start back in USF2000. But this is a lot different than any other track we race on, bigger and quicker, but this was quite a good race for my first time on a super speedway. There were so many people, all cheering – you could hear them and feel them. In the back of your mind, you know that this is Indy and so many people are watching.”