Portland Road To Indy: VeeKay, Sowery win Indy Lights races
Rinus VeeKay and Toby Sowery won the Indy Lights races at Portland, while Kyle Kirkwood dominated both Indy Pro 2000 events and Hunter McElrea swept the USF2000 series’ weekends.
In Race 1, polesitter VeeKay made a perfect getaway in his Juncos Racing entry to establish a small margin over Andretti Autosport’s Oliver Askew as Robert Megennis desperately avoided the rear of his teammate and came under threat from Dalton Kellett in the second Juncos car. However, HMD Motorsports/Team Pelfrey driver Toby Sowery, having run wide on the exit of Turn 1, regathered his momentum and charged onto Kellett’s tail and would grab fourth.
Askew was threatening VeeKay’s lead from the start of Lap 3, but was firmly repelled each time, and by Lap 10 had fallen 1.7sec behind – in other words, outside of push-to-pass activation range. Once the lead was around 2.5sec, it held steady but the pair continued to draw away from Megennis who was 7sec off the lead by Lap 20.
The closing tours of the 35-lap race, while VeeKay was staying 3.5sec clear of Askew, were enlivened by Sowery’s attempts to make a pass on Megennis for third, but he came up 0.1098sec short. Kellett finished a further seven seconds down, with David Malukas in the second HMD machine nine seconds behind that.
At the start of Race 2, polesitter VeeKay held his line down into Turn 1, while Askew went too deep on the outside, and as he attempted to stay out of the run-off area he made contact with Malukas who was forced to retire. The impact spun Askew and he lost his front wing, but he managed to pit for a new nose and rejoin the back of the field without losing a lap.
At the restart, Sowery pulled to the inside before VeeKay could block him and outbraked the Dutchman into Turn 1 to take the lead. In VeeKay’s mirrors was Norman, chased by Megennis and Kohl. That was until Lap 7, when the charging Askew passed Kohl into Turn 1 to grab fifth, and the Belardi driver had to swerve through the runoff area.
That same lap is when Sowery’s lead went over the magic 1.5sec barrier, meaning VeeKay’s push-to-pass boost would not activate. By contrast Norman and Megennis were well able to hang onto the Juncos driver at this stage.
Askew passed Megennis for fourth at the start of Lap 16, just as VeeKay started pulling well clear of Norman and nibbling into Sowery’s lead which had reached over 2.5sec. First it lowered to 1.6-1.7sec, where it stayed for several laps as the pair traded fastest laps. Then VeeKay sliced under the 1.5sec barrier and suddenly with P2P availaible, he homed in.
With 10 laps to go, Sowery’s lead was only 0.37sec, and he was having to take a defensive line into Turn 1. Seven seconds back, Norman tried to do the same to protect his third place from teammate Askew but went into the Turn 1 run-off after leaving it a little too late to cede the corner or close the door.
Up front, Sowery was maintaining his cool under intense pressure from VeeKay, taking a canny ‘middle’ line into Turn 1 just to discourage his rival whenever he got close. Sowery was also quicker through the Turns 5-6-7 sequence, and held off VeeKay by 0.4sec at the checkered flag. That result virtually guarantees the title for Askew, who finished 8sec down but a similar distance ahead of Norman who in turn headed Megennis and Kellett by over five seconds.
Indy Pro 2000
Kyle Kirkwood of RP Motorsports grabbed the lead of the championship with a dominant victory in Race 1 on Saturday after first-time polesitter, Sting Ray Robb of Juncos Racing, was shoved into a spin by the second RP car of Artem Petrov as they went through the Festival curves.
Thereafter, Kirkwood had virtually no opposition as he drove to his seventh win in his last eight starts. Danial Frost, who had started fifth, ducked through the first-lap melee to claim second for Excluslive Autosport, and held it to the checkered flag, while Parker Thompson (Abel Motorsports) was gifted third after countryman Antonio Serravalle (Pserra Racing/RP Motorsport USA) was handed a 10-second penalty for an illegal track re-entry following the first-corner fracas.
Kirkwood’s title rival Rasmus Lindh suffered an engine issue in qualifying, leaving him seventh on the grid, and then a failing front-wing assembly restricted him to fifth at the checkered flag.
In Race 2, Kirkwood was again dominant, this time from pole, but this time Robb and Lindh were able to supply consolation prizes for Juncos by taking second and third. Lindh was initially challenged by Thompson – indeed the Canadian held third on the opening lap – but Lindh outbraked him into Turn 1 at the start of the second lap. Thompson and Frost continued to apply the pressure on the Swede, but then newcomer Petrov got by Frost on Lap 13 into Turn 10 to grab fifth.
Petrov then closed in on the Lindh vs Thompson fight, which got even tighter when Lindh locked his brakes into Turn 1 with five laps to go. However, he thereafter kept his cool, kept his third and kept Thompson and Petrov in his mirrors.
Kirkwood now holds a 20-point lead (382-362) over Lindh with just two races at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca remaining on the schedule.
Two straight poles led to two straightforward wins for Pabst Racing’s Hunter McElrea – his third and fourth of the season – which resulted in him wresting the championship lead away from Cape Motorsports’ Braden Eves who was second in both events.
In Race 1, McElrea’s battle with Eves was very close for the first eight laps, before he edged away, eventually winning by 4.9sec. Eves, meanwhile, had to focus on fending off Christian Rasmussen (Jay Howard Driver Development), who finished just half a second shy to finish on the podium for the fifth successive race.
The 14-year-old Jak Crawford in another Cape car exchanged places several times with Pabst’s Colin Kaminsky, before a mistake from Crawford allowed Kaminsky to claim fourth and Darren Keane (Cape) to snatch fifth in the closing stages.
Crawford held on for sixth, narrowly ahead of Mexico’s Manuel Sulaiman (DEForce Racing), and Eduardo Barrichello, who enjoyed a strong debut with DEForce.
In Race 2, polesitter McElrea made a perfect start to maintain his lead over Eves, but third-placed Christian Rasmussen went into the pits and inevitably dropped to the back of the field.
That left Kaminsky holding third but tenuously, because by Lap 3 Zach Holden was up to fourth from seventh and setting the fastest lap in the Legacy Autosport machine. A lap later he was into third, although 1.6sec behind Eves.
Crawford maintained fifth just ahead of one Cape teammate Keane and about 1sec ahead of another, Reece Gold, who was coming under pressure from Eduardo Barrichello. Then at the end of the back straight on Lap 6, Keane dived passed Crawford for fifth, and Barrichello was demoted by Manuel Sulaiman, although both – along with Bruna Tomaselli’s Pabst Racing entry, would pass Gold mid-race.
The final laps saw Kaminsky trying to separate Holden from third place but he couldn’t quite get the job done, finishing 0.1905sec behind.
Seven seconds up the road, McElrea beat Eves by 5.5sec, while behind the battle for third, Keane and Crawford held onto fifth and sixth.
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