Road to Indy
VeeKay Closes on Pro Mazda Title With Dominant Gateway Oval Win
MADISON, Ill. – Dutch teenager Rinus VeeKay moved another step closer to this year’s Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires with another dominant performance this afternoon for Juncos Racing at the 1.25-mile Gateway Motorsports Park oval. VeeKay, who started second, leapt into the lead at the start, then fought off a mid-race challenge from teammate Robert Megennis before cruising to victory – his fifth in a row – to open up a commanding lead over closest rival Parker Thompson with only two races remaining this season.
Megennis, from New York, N.Y., finished second – his fourth podium in succession – while Englishman Harrison Scott made an impressive Pro Mazda return with RP Motorsport Racing by taking third after starting on the pole position.
Series officials earned praise from throughout the garage area by reworking today’s schedule after inclement weather curtailed activities on Friday, finding time for a brief 15-minute practice session this morning which was followed shortly thereafter by qualifying.
Scott, who had been forced to skip the two most recent races at Mid-Ohio following a huge accident on the streets of Toronto, found the most substantial overnight improvement, vaulting from seventh in Friday practice to second this morning – in significantly warmer conditions – before earning his first-ever pole position. VeeKay qualified second, while the unfortunate Thompson, from Red Deer, Alb., Canada, was obliged to start from the back of the 11-car field after his Exclusive Autosport car was hobbled by an electrical problem and was unable to make a qualifying attempt.
VeeKay seized his opportunity to perfection, driving around the outside of Scott at Turn One to take the lead. Megennis also made a strong start, overtaking surprise third-place starter Moises de la Vara (DEForce Racing), from Guadalajara, Mexico, at the start and then sneaking past Scott for second place at Turn Three. The die was cast.
VeeKay extended his lead to over two seconds inside the opening handful of laps, while Megennis similarly stretched away from Scott in third.
The gap grew to over three seconds by Lap 12, and while Megennis managed to reduce the deficit as the 55-lap race moved toward its halfway point, there was no stopping VeeKay. The Dutchman put some lapped cars between himself and Megennis, then reeled off a string of hot laps – in broiling conditions – to take the checkered flag a commanding 8.5507 seconds clear.
Scott finished a similar margin farther back, although de la Vara, the reigning NACAM Formula 4 champion, reeled him in during the closing stages to finish less than a second adrift.
Oliver Askew spent most of the race in a relatively lonely fifth for Cape Motorsports, but he had to pay attention in the waning laps as a flying Thompson, who easily claimed the Tilton Hard Charger Award, closed in on his Soul Red car’s rear wing.
Ricardo Juncos celebrated his seventh PFC Award as the winning car owner, while VeeKay stretched his advantage in the quest for a Mazda Scholarship worth almost $800,000 to graduate to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires – the top tier on the Mazda Road to Indy – in 2019 to an almost insurmountable 47 points, 366-319, prior to next weekend’s double-header series finale at Portland International Raceway in the Pacific Northwest.
Rinus VeeKay (#2 Jumbo Supermarkets/La Place Restaurants/KNAF Talent First-Juncos Racing Tatuus-Mazda PM-18): “I knew the start would be the time to make a move and risked it a little bit going into Turn One because I didn’t know how the car was going to be. But the car stayed stable and I got around Harrison in Turns Three and Four and held it the rest of the way for a one-two for the team. They gave me a great race car, so I’m so grateful. I tried to focus in every corner, on doing the best I could and not take more risks than I needed to because the championship was in the back of my mind. I stayed pretty cool – but in my head, not around me because it was super hot.”
Robert Megennis (#9 Palo Alto Networks-Juncos Racing Tatuus-Mazda PM-18): “I had a good start – I got around Moises in Turn One and Harrison in Turn Three, and from there I just tried to catch Rinus. I got close midway through the race but he was more aggressive in traffic and got a gap. We had a ton of pace; the car was awesome. I couldn’t be happier with Juncos Racing right now. Everyone has gelled really well, we have a great time in the tent and the cars are just flying. It will just be full throttle at Portland to try to get that first series win to finish off the year.”
Harrison Scott (#10 epicura/Masterpack Innovative Printing-RP Motorsport Racing Tatuus-Mazda PM-18): “Had you told me that I would come here and take the pole and a podium, I’d have been over the moon. Of course, once you have the pole you want more. But I’m happy to be back, especially after what happened in Toronto, and to get a podium on an oval is great. We have come so far as a team. We had nothing when we got here, no information on where the car should be. This is only our second oval race, and the first one we’ve finished. We didn’t know what to expect here so it was a guess in the practice sessions. We went with what we had in qualifying for the race so there’s a lot we can take away from this, information for next year.”
About Pro Mazda: The Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires debuted in 2013 as a new series, replacing the Star Mazda Championship which ceased operation in 2012 after 22 years. The series is sanctioned by INDYCAR and owned and operated by Andersen Promotions. It is the second official step on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder system with the series’ champion awarded a scholarship package from Mazda to advance to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires competition the following year. For more information, visit promazdachampionship.com.
About Mazda, Mazda Motorsports: Mazda Motorsports boasts the most comprehensive auto racing development ladder system of any auto manufacturer in the world. The Mazda Road to 24 program offers a number of scholarships to advance drivers up the sports car racing ladder, beginning with the Global MX-5 Cup series and culminating with the Mazda Prototype team. The Mazda Road to Indy is a similar program that includes Mazda-powered categories of USF2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. In grassroots road racing, more Mazdas race on any given weekend in North America than any other manufacturer. Follow all of the latest news at MazdaMotorsports.com, @MazdaRacing on Twitter, and MazdaMotorsports on Instagram and Facebook.
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 Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, a development program within the Verizon IndyCar Series. Cooper tires can also be seen on the track as a sponsor of the Americas 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. To connect with Cooper, visit www.coopertire.com, www.facebook.com/coopertire or www.twitter.com/teamcoopertire.