Laguna Seca Road To Indy: Askew, Kirkwood, Eves win titles
Rinus VeeKay’s fifth and sixth Indy Lights wins weren’t enough to stop Oliver Askew earning the championship, while Kyle Kirkwood earned the Indy Pro 2000 honors, despite a win and DNF, and Braden Eves captured the USF2000 title ahead of Hunter McElrea.
In Race 1, Juncos Racing’s VeeKay drove a perfect race from pole position to earn his fifth race win of the season by almost 10sec, ahead of Toby Sowery’s HMD Motorsports/Team Pelfrey car. The Dutchman appeared in a league of his own, stroking away from his nearest opposition almost throughout the 30-lap race around the 2.238-mile WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Askew, who qualified third, needed only to start the first race of the weekend to earn the crown and when Andretti Autosport teammate Robert Megennis passed him around the outside of the Andretti hairpin, Turn 2, Askew didn’t defend vigorously, and was content to smartly bring home fourth place. His seven-victory season earned him a $1.1m scholarship that will ensure he starts three NTT IndyCar Series races next year, including the Indianapolis 500.
VeeKay held the lead easily at the start of Race 2, while Askew had to defend from Sowery through the first three turns, which he did without major issue. Ryan Norman ran fourth in the #48 Andretti car, and his teammate Robert Megennis passed Dalton Kellett for fifth on the opening lap.
Freed from the shackles of championship considerations, Askew looked more aggressive in the early laps than he had the day before and was using his push-to-pass boost – but not as aggressive as Megennis who levered his way past Norman at Turn 2 on Lap 7 – already 9sec down on the leader.
On Lap 9, VeeKay got his lead out to 1.67sec and so Askew no longer had P2P available. Unless VeeKay was using his tires too hard, this looked a lock for another VeeKay victory even though his lead remained under 2sec for several laps. However, by Lap 24, the Juncos car’s advantage was five seconds, and he ran out an easy winner.
Sowery finished a further 12sec down, but seven seconds ahead of Megennis. Thirteen seconds back, Norman held off Kellett’s challenge for fifth.
INDY PRO 2000
Rasmus Lindh was cheering for Juncos Racing teammate Sting Ray Robb into the closing stages of Race 1– the American with the unforgettable name was leading and therefore keeping Lindh’s championship hopes alive by fending off RP Motorsport’s Kyle Kirkwood.
However, five laps from home, under pressure from Kirkwood who had conserved his tires on the coarse track surface in the opening laps, Robb slid wide at Turn 5 on sand left by spinning backmarker Charles Finelli. Suddenly Kirkwood was alongside Robb and past. He went on to claim his ninth win of the season – indeed, ninth in 10 races – leaving him only needing to start the Sunday race to clinch the title.
Robb, who has yet to win, took his fifth runner-up finish of the season, well ahead of Lindh who nonetheless took his 12th podium of the season.
Parker Thompson (Abel Motorsports) held onto fourth despite pressure from the second RP car of Artem Petrov and Exclusive Autosport’s Danial Frost, while Thompson’s teammate Jacob Abel recovered to seventh after being swallowed up on the opening lap after starting fifth.
It was just as well that Kirkwood got the job of winning the title all-but completed in the first race, because at the start of Race 2, teammate Petrov collided with Robb and then spun, knocking Kirkwood into the Turn 2 gravel. The two RP cars were eliminated, so when the yellow flags were replaced by green once more, polesitter Lindh’s mirrors were now filled by Frost, and when the Swede made a mistake on Lap 6, Frost moved to the front, leaving Lindh to fend off the DEForce cars of Korey Enders and Moises de la Vara, and the Abel cars of Thompson and Abel.
On Lap 14 leader Frost suffered a suspected suspension failure from contact on Lap 1, and understeered off into the gravel at Turn 9, bringing out the second caution. That left Lindh leading for the restart ahead of Enders who was now coming under increasing pressure from the charging Thompson. Four laps from the end of the 25-lap race, Enders bobbled and Thompson was through into second.
Enders hung on to third ahead of de la Vara who scored his best ever Indy Pro result, while Abel clocked fifth ahead of Robb.
Lindh’s third victory of the season and Kirkwood’s DNF meant that the RP Motorsports driver finished only two points ahead in the title race, despite his nine triumphs.
Cape Motorsports’ Braden Eves used two sets of Cooper Tires to nail pole position for Race 1but it meant he started the race on a used set and he was to pay the price not long into the race. Christian Rasmussen of Jay Howard Driver Development was immediately all over the Cape car and passed him at Turn 2 on Lap 3. The Dane then pulled away to score his third victory of the season.
Eves’ misery continued when his title rival and points leader Hunter McElrea, along with McElrea’s Pabst Racing teammate Colin Kaminsky displaced him from a podium finish, to take second and third. With McElrea also setting fastest lap, he went into Sunday’s showdown with a 12-point lead – although he would start 18thfollowing a mechanical problem that meant he caused two red flags in qualifying. Eves would start third.
Eves’ teammate Jak Crawford played faithful tailgunner in Race 1, maintaining fifth place and never making an attempt to pass while also holding off DEForce Racing’s Eduardo Barrichello.
Pole-winner Kaminsky led Barrichello at the drop of the green for Race 2, but Rubens’ son made a slow start and Eves moved up from third and rubbed wheels with Kaminsky on the exit of Turn 2 to take the lead. Meanwhile Manuel Sulaiman retained fourth in another DEForce car ahead of Darren Keane, and Rasmussen moved up from 10thto sixth. There was a yellow to retrieve the spun Jak Crawford, and then Sulaiman spun away fourth at the restart.
By Lap 4, McElrea had moved into 10th, but that wasn’t going to be enough to retain his championship lead if Eves could remain in front. By Lap 9 of the 20, McElrea was into eighth, and Barrichello had fallen to fourth behind Kaminsky and Rasmussen. A lap later, Rasmussen was up into second and set fastest lap to close in on Eves, while McElrea was into seventh ahead of teammate Yuven Sundaramoorthy. If the field froze at this point, McElrea would fall five points short.
Rasmussen tried Eves around the outside on Lap 14, but Eves got his elbows out on corner exit and Rasmussen drifted into the sand, losing second to Kaminsky and came under pressure from Barrichello. However, the latter was passed by Zach Holden’s Legacy Autosport machine.
Kaminsky then ran very wide at Turn 2 on Lap 17, allowing Rasmussen back ahead, but the Dane still had a 0.9sec deficit to Eves. He closed in but couldn’t find a way past, thus Eves won the race and clinched the championship with Cape Motorsports, with Rasmussen, Kaminsky, Holden and Barrichello completing the top five.
Keane held off the vanquished McElrea to the flag.
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