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 3. 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.
“I knew the start would be the time to make a move and risked it a little bit going into Turn 1 because I didn’t know how the car was going to be. But the car stayed stable and I got around Harrison in Turns 4 and 4 and held it the rest of the way for a one-two for the team.” said VeeKay. “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.”
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.