PALMETTO, Fla. – Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires will join the NTT IndyCar Series in its much-anticipated debut at Circuit of the Americas this weekend.
As part of the IndyCar Classic, a pair of races constituting the Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix presented by Allied Building Products will be held at the 20-turn facility located just a few miles from downtown Austin, Texas.
After the opening weekend of the season on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., Belardi Auto Racing’s Zachary Claman leads the quest for a scholarship which will guarantee entry into at least three IndyCar races in 2020, including the 104th Indianapolis 500.
Claman, an Indy Lights race winner at Road America in 2017, has stepped back to the top tier of the highly acclaimed Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires following a partial IndyCar campaign in 2018.
He displayed the wisdom of that decision by claiming a commanding victory from the pole in race one at St. Petersburg, then cemented his position atop the points table by finishing second to Dutchman Rinus VeeKay in race two.
VeeKay, 18, continued his impressive rise through the Road to Indy ranks in Florida, winning in just his second Indy Lights start for Juncos Racing after claiming last year’s Indy Pro 2000 Championship presented by Cooper Tires title.
The teenager has similarly high expectations this week after posting the third fastest time – less than two-tenths of a second off the ultimate pace – during a recent test session at Circuit of the Americas.
“It’s a really cool track,” noted VeeKay. “It’s quite a bit more bumpy than I thought, but that makes it quite challenging, and the high-speed corners are super-nice. I’m looking forward to racing here.
“I challenged for the championship the last two seasons in the Road to Indy, so I don’t expect anything less,” VeeKay added. “Last year, I learned that consistency is the key. Winning is really nice, but the real thing is to score the points, and if you do that every race the championship will come.”
VeeKay currently lies just nine points adrift of Claman after the opening two rounds of the 18-race season, just one point ahead of Englishman Toby Sowery, who made a stunning Indy Lights debut in Florida.
After concluding an arrangement to join BN Racing/Team Pelfrey a week before the start of the season, 22-year-old Sowery shocked the establishment by claiming a remarkable double podium on the unforgiving streets.
Sowery, who had finished second in his only two Indy Pro 2000 races during the 2018 season at Road America, will return with the team this week, but faces an even tougher challenge as the only driver in the field not to have taken part in the February test.
Teammate David Malukas scored valuable points on his Indy Lights debut with a pair of fourth-place finishes, ensuring that BN Racing would travel to Texas in the lead of the coveted team’s championship by just one point over Belardi Auto Racing.
Oliver Askew also displayed excellent form during his Indy Lights debut at St. Petersburg. Askew, who beat VeeKay to the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship title in 2017 and finished third in last year’s Indy Pro 2000 title-chase, finished a solid third in race one and looked set to fair well in race two when he qualified on pole position.
Unfortunately, early contact with VeeKay ended with Askew’s Andretti Autosport Dallara-AER IL-15 parked heavily against the wall and out of the race. He is looking to bounce back this week after posting the fastest time during the pre-season test.
“I got a really good feel for the car and for this track and I think it really suits my style quite well, so hopefully we can transfer that to the race,” said Askew.
Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Norman, a race winner last year, and Robert Megennis are also seeking stronger results than were achieved in Florida for the team which dominated last year’s Indy Lights championship.
Frenchman Julien Falchero and Brazilian Lucas Kohl will join Claman at Belardi Auto Racing, and Canadian Dalton Kellett will drive a second Juncos Racing Dallara alongside VeeKay.