ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Norman finally claimed his share of the glory in Saturday’s Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix of Road America Powered by AER.
One month after providing the hard-luck story at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where he led the majority of a dramatic Freedom 100 before being edged at the finish line by teammate Oliver Askew, Norman moved into the lead early in Saturday’s eighth Indy Lights Powered by Cooper Tires race of the season and never looked back.
Robert Megennis made it an Andretti Autosport one-two, while local favorite Aaron Telitz secured a third-place finish for Belardi Auto Racing.
The early stages of Saturday’s 20-lap race were truly spectacular as several drivers battled back and forth around the fast and challenging 4.014-mile road course. VeeKay, who started from the pole position after posting the fastest lap in qualifying yesterday, maintained his position at the front of the field at the green flag, only to run wide over the curbs at the exit of turn seven.
The Dutch teenager expertly regained control of his Juncos Racing Dallara after a lurid trip across the grass but, after rejoining the racing surface, he instinctively dodged left to prevent a close-following Megennis from making a move to the inside under braking for turn eight. The maneuver immediately caught the eye of the race stewards, who moments later instructed VeeKay to serve a drive-through penalty for blocking.
VeeKay, who afterward had no complaints about the call, rejoined a distant last, then showed what might have been as he posted the fastest lap of the race during a stirring comeback drive which earned him seventh place at the checkered flag.
As VeeKay headed to the pits, Megennis completed the opening lap with a narrow lead over Norman, Telitz, who started sixth, and Englishman Toby Sowery, who, remarkably, bounced back from a crash during the second period of qualifying this morning to rise from eighth on the grid to fourth.
Telitz thrilled the crowd at turn five by rising from third to the lead on lap two, but then it was his turn to be shuffled back as Norman took advantage of a huge draft – and the AER turbo engine’s 50-horsepower push-to-pass feature – to grab the lead at turn one. In a flash, Sowery was up to second and Telitz and Megennis found themselves back in third and fourth.
Soon, though, the race settled down with Norman turning a series of fast laps at the front of the field to edge clear of Sowery and Telitz.
By lap 10, Norman’s lead had been extended to over two seconds over Telitz, who had reclaimed second place from Sowery into turn one a couple of laps earlier. The gap grew to over five seconds before Norman eased off in the closing stage to secure a comfortable victory 4.6912 seconds clear of Megennis, who looked after his Cooper tires in the middle stages of the race and conserved his push-to-pass usages before pushing hard again and rising from fourth to second between laps 15 and 17.
“Last year’s (first Indy Lights) win (at Gateway Motorsports Park) was pure adrenaline and excitement but today felt more like relief to finally pull this off,” said Norman. “I’m so happy to get the No. 48 guys this win. I knew this was a long race so I tried to stay out of the fight early, especially with Rinus going off and guys going three-wide. Once things settled in, I was able to do what I needed to do.
“I think once I hit the wall in St. Pete, our momentum was thrown off, so my focus has been regrouping. I knew we were fast here and belonged on top so I just put my head down and made it happen. I have to win races to stay in contention in the championship, so this was a good start.”
Telitz was delighted with third in just his second open-wheel race of the season, with Sowery following home a worthy fourth to secure his first Tilton Hard Charger Award of the season.