Indy Lights set for Race Debut at Circuit of The Americas
Claman, VeeKay Seek to Reprise Winning Ways from St. Petersburg Openers
PALMETTO, Fla. – Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires will join the NTT IndyCar Series in making an eagerly anticipated debut this weekend at Circuit of The Americas 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 state-of-the-art, 20-turn facility located just a few miles from the bustling downtown of Austin, Texas, which has witnessed some exciting Formula 1 competition since its completion in 2012.
After the opening weekend of the season two weeks ago on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., Belardi Auto Racing’s Zachary Claman, from Montreal, Canada, 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. VeeKay 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 so 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. 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 merely a week before the start of the season, Sowery, 22, 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, from Chicago, Ill., 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 Championship by just one point over Belardi Auto Racing.
Oliver Askew, from Jupiter, Fla., 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 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 CoTA 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, from Aurora, Ohio, a race winner in 2018, and Robert Megennis, from New York, N.Y., also are 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.
The Indy Lights teams and drivers will continue to become more familiar with the Circuit of The Americas during a 45-minute practice session at 9:00 a.m. CDT on Friday, March 22. A pair of 30-minute qualifying sessions – at 1:20 p.m. on Friday and 9:15 a.m. on Saturday – will then set the grids for the pair of races which will start at 12:45 p.m. on Saturday and 9:10 a.m. on Sunday.
In the U.S., both 20-lap/60-minute races will air live and on demand on NBC Sports Gold with practice and qualifying coverage carried via live streaming on the Road to Indy TV App, RoadToIndy.TV, indylights.com and indycar.com. Internationally, all practice, qualifying and race events will be live streamed on the Road to Indy TV App, RoadToIndy.TV and at indylights.com. Additional coverage can also be found on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network broadcasts which airs live on network affiliates, Sirius 216, XM 209, indycar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile App powered by NTT Data.
About the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires: The Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is one of the most successful driver development programs in the world. Comprised of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, the ladder system provides a unique, scholarship-funded path to the NTT IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500. The NTT IndyCar Series grid is comprised of numerous drivers who have come through the Road to Indy. In 2018, 25 of the 33 starters in the Indianapolis 500 were graduates including the past five Indy Lights champions. The mission of the Road to Indy is to develop and advance, and that includes not only drivers but teams and personnel as well. More information can be found at www.roadtoindy.info, www.indylights.com, www.indypro2000.com, www.usf2000.com, www.roadtoindy.tv and www.indycar.com.
About Cooper Tire & Rubber Company: Cooper Tire & Rubber Company is the parent company of a global family of companies that specializes in the design, manufacture, marketing and sale of innovative, great-performing tires that you can count on to last for thousands of miles, getting you where you need to go, and back again. Cooper is proud to be the spec tire for all three levels of the Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, a development program within the NTT IndyCar Series. Cooper tires can also be seen on the track in rally, rallycross and short course off-road racing. Headquartered in Findlay, Ohio, Cooper, with its subsidiaries, has manufacturing, sales, distribution, technical and design operations in more than one dozen countries around the world. Connect with Cooper on Twitter and Instagram by following @TeamCooperTire or visit our website at www.coopertire.com.