INDIANAPOLIS – The best way to sum up Friday’s Freedom 100 presented by Cooper Tires Indy Lights race was: smashing start; thrilling finish.
At the end, it was Oliver Askew of Jupiter, Fla., celebrating the big win by the length of the front wing of his No. 28 Idex Invest Dallara.
Askew charged past Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Norman coming down the frontstretch to win the Freedom 100 by the fourth-narrowest margin in race history. He crossed the finish line .0067 seconds ahead of his teammate to claim the trophy in the centerpiece race of the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season.
“I can’t really put words together to describe it,” Askew said. “I woke up this morning, I felt good. I honestly, like this is the most calm I’ve ever been this week. I don’t know what it is. But just – it’s still sinking in, the emotions of winning at such a historical track and with such a historical team, as well. Unbelievable.
“I was screaming on the radio after I won. Honestly, I was just in the right place at the right time. It could have been anybody’s race, honestly, and I was just happy to take the opportunity that presented itself.”
A massive two-car crash involving Chris Windom and David Malukas in turn four on the opening lap brought out the red flag to stop the race. Luckily, neither driver was injured, but both cars were destroyed and the SAFER Barrier had to be repaired.
Malukas spun and collected Windom, a USAC driver making his Indy Lights debut. Windom was also involved in a crash in the Hoosier Hundred at the Indiana State Fairgrounds Thursday night when his car flipped.
The crash didn’t keep Windom from leaving IMS quickly to compete in the pavement USAC Silver Crown race at Lucas Oil Raceway Park.
He will also race in the 71st annual Little 500 at Anderson (Ind.) Speedway Saturday night.
Norman led 29 of 40 laps on the IMS oval and was ahead exiting Turn 4 on the final lap. But Askew got a run and slid inside to pull out what he called the “biggest race I’ve ever won in my life.”
Meanwhile, Norman was left dejected after a heartbreaking runner-up result.
“It’s definitely the most disappointing podium finish I’ve ever had,” Norman admitted. “We had a little bit of a rough start this year, and definitely it was good to put the car back up there and going to definitely take this momentum into the next races and just keep this going.
“I still got a long way in the season, so I’m looking for the next one.”
On the final lap, Askew stalked Norman’s car and was able to get a tremendous run off turn four, perfectly timing the pass so that the momentum would put him ahead of Norman at the checkered flag.
“It was important just to stay flat in 4 and then he was trying to break the draft and I just slingshotted by him,” Askew said. “I didn’t know when the finish line was going to come. I was just hoping it was going to be late enough for me to get back by him.
“Unbelievable. Big thanks to everybody involved and all my supporters who are here today, as well, and sitting next to J-F (Thormann, Andretti Autosport President), as well. We’re in a long conversation to get the season started, and I’m just glad that they gave me the opportunity to do this.”
The triumph allowed Askew to stretch his championship lead to 21 points over Rinus VeeKay of Juncos Racing, who finished third.
Friday’s back-and-forth race officially featured 12 lead changes at the start/finish line.
Oliver Askew, Ryan Norman, Rinus VeeKay, Toby Sowery, Dalton Kellett, Jarett Andretti, Lucas Kohl, Robert Megennis, Aaron Telitz, Chris Windom, David Malukas.