David Malukas loves Road America. Returning to the track where he claimed his first Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires pole position one year ago, the young ex-karter from Chicago, Ill., sped to an impressive first-ever car race victory — both for himself and the BN Racing team — in this afternoon’s Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Road America Presented by Cooper Tires.
New teammate Toby Sowery, from Cambridge, England, impressed by finishing second on his debut in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. Fellow countryman Harrison Scott followed in a distant third place for RP Motorsport Racing.
After topping the timing charts during an open test at Road America one week ago, Malukas picked up where he left off by claiming his first Pro Mazda pole during qualifying yesterday afternoon. His time of 2:00.7814, an average speed of 119.641 mph, exemplified the effectiveness of the new-for 2018 Tatuus-Mazda PM-18 by comfortably eclipsing the old track record of 2:03.849 set way back in 2006 by Adrian Carrio.
Malukas made a perfect getaway from the rolling start and bettered the old race lap record, which stood to Pablo Donoso at 2m05.302s, on the very first lap as he romped clear of the field to the tune of 1.6 seconds. Conversely, championship leader Parker Thompson — who qualified second for Exclusive Autosport — was swallowed up at the start, falling to sixth place by the end of Lap 1. Instead it was Sowery, who started fourth, who took advantage of BN’s low-downforce setup to vault into second during an eventful first time around the fast and undulating 4.014-mile circuit.
Malukas bettered his own new lap record four more times in the opening five laps to extend his advantage to more than two seconds over his teammate, only for Sowery to show his own paces by leaving the new standard at 2m01.3306s, an average speed of 119.099mph, on Lap 7.
“When I saw the white flag I was so happy, but I think I made every mistake on that last lap! When I made it to the checkered flag, it was such a good feeling,” related Malukas. “It was a tough race but it was a great race for BN Racing. I realized it was my teammate behind me, in his first Pro Mazda race, and that was a bit of a relief. I had enough of a gap that I could judge how far back he was on each lap. But having him back there and trying to maintain that gap really helped me keep my focus.
“Last year in USF2000, we qualified on pole but didn’t get it done in the race. Since then, we’ve finished in every position, from podiums to in the wall, but we haven’t been able to break through until now. All I wanted was that win, so it’s such a relief. And to do it here means so much, with this being my home track. It blows my mind!”
The two BN cars continued on their merry way, with Malukas never seriously challenged as he sped to an eventual winning margin of 1.4528 seconds over Sowery. The rest, led by Scott, were left trailing in their wake.
Scott had to fend off the attentions of Juncos Racing teammates Rinus VeeKay and Carlos Cunha through the middle stages of the 15-lap race, with Thompson bringing up the tail of the train.
A mistake by Cunha, who was struggling with excessive oversteer, in Turn 5 enabled Thompson to move up into fifth place on Lap 9, whereupon he quickly closed onto VeeKay’s tail. The pair waged a spirited battle as the race wound toward its conclusion. On the final lap, Thompson drafted alongside on the long run through Kettle Bottoms before taking over fourth place with a brilliant maneuver on the outside line under braking for Turn 12, Canada Corner.
Raul Guzman made a strong Pro Mazda debut by finishing seventh in a second RP Motorsport entry.
But there was no catching the BN Racing pair, with a delighted Bryn Nuttall claiming his first PFC Award as the winning car owner. In addition, Sowery secured the Tilton Hard Charger Award. To complete the team’s perfect day, earlier in the morning Malukas posted the fastest time in the second qualifying session to assure himself of pole position for Race 2, which will see the green flag tomorrow at 2:05 p.m. CDT.