Teenage Dutch talent Rinus VeeKay arrived at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with a seven-point deficit to Canadian rival Parker Thompson in their battle for the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. Up for grabs is a Mazda Scholarship worth almost $800,000 to graduate into Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the final rung of the Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel development ladder, in 2019.
On the heels of an impressive sweep of the two most recent races on the streets of Toronto two weeks ago, VeeKay, who finished second in last year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, scored a convincing victory in the first of two races which will comprise this weekend’s Cooper Tires Pro Mazda Mid-Ohio Grand Prix. VeeKay’s fifth win of the season vaulted him into the championship lead with four races remaining.
David Malukas finished second for BN Racing as VeeKay’s Juncos Racing teammate, Robert Megennis, maintained his run of success with a second successive podium finish.
VeeKay made clear his intentions yesterday afternoon when he secured pole position for today’s 12th round of the 16-race championship. He duly took off into the lead, while behind him an intense battle for second at the first corner saw Megennis, who started fifth, dive to the inside of Thompson, who had qualified third. Brazilian Carlos Cunha, driving a third Juncos Racing Tatuus-Mazda PM-18, also was in the thick of the battle.
The leaders emerged from Turn 1 in the order of VeeKay, Malukas, Megennis, Thompson and Cunha. Then, at the end of the back straight, Thompson also found himself under pressure from Cunha. He fought off that initial attack but was unable to prevent Cunha from finding a way past into fourth a couple of laps later following an opportunistic outside-line run at Turn Five which finally gave Cunha the preferred inside line for Turn 6.
There was precious little to choose between the top five drivers, who traded fastest lap honors on virtually every lap before VeeKay sealed the honor – worth a potentially vital additional championship point – with a new lap record of 1m16.3310 (an average speed of 106.494mph) with five laps remaining.
Malukas slipped back a little in the closing stages, eventually finishing 2.8753 seconds behind, with Megennis, who earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award, taking third, just over a second in arrears. Cunha narrowly fended off Thompson for fourth, aiding his teammate’s quest for the championship, while Oliver Askew finished sixth for Cape Motorsports.
Felipe Drugovich, who leads this year’s EuroFormula Open Championship, and Colombian Mathias Soler-Obel, stepping up from USF2000, finished seventh and eighth on their Pro Mazda debuts for RP Motorsport Racing.
Ricardo Juncos took home his fifth PFC Award as the winning car owner — and will have an opportunity to chase a sixth one tomorrow when the race begins at 11:05 a.m., although it will be Malukas who starts on the pole position after posting the fastest lap during qualifying this morning.