David Malukas grasped the advantage at the start from pole winner Rinus VeeKay, then led throughout Sunday afternoon’s Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Portland Presented by Cooper Tires. It was the rookie teenager from Chicago’s third victory of the year for BN Racing.
VeeKay had to settle for second for Juncos Racing after yesterday clinching this year’s Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, as well as a Mazda Scholarship prize of $790,300 to make the step to Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires – the top rung on the unique Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel development ladder – in 2019.
Saturday race winner Oliver Askew finished on the podium for the fourth time in his last six races for Cape Motorsports to secure third place in the final championship standings.
The Festival Curves at the Portland International Raceway road course always invite excitement on the opening lap, and this afternoon’s Pro Mazda contest was no different. The leaders all funneled into the tight Turn One right-hander in tight formation, with Malukas braving it out on the outside of VeeKay to claim the preferred inside line for the even-tighter left-hander at Turn Two.
Askew followed in third ahead of a battling Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport) and Robert Megennis (Juncos Racing), who came together a little farther around the lap in Turn 7. The contact left Thompson with a punctured right-rear Cooper tire and damaged the left-front wing on Megennis’ Tatuus-Mazda PM-18. Thompson pulled into the pits for a replacement next time around, while Megennis continued in fourth place for another 15 laps before giving up the unequal struggle with a compromised car.
Malukas remained under pressure from both VeeKay and Askew for the opening seven laps before the threesome came across Thompson, who had rejoined only a few seconds ahead of the race leaders. The interloper allowed Malukas to make a slight break, which he then consolidated by virtue of a sequence of 14 laps all within two-tenths of a second of each other. He eventually took the checkered flag a comfortable 3.5821 seconds clear of VeeKay to claim BN Racing’s third PFC Award of the season.
“It’s difficult to pass here so I knew I’d have to go deep on the first lap,” said Malukas. “Learning from what my coaches told me, I set up for Turn 1, braked late and just held it, coming through with the lead. I was blown away.
Then I just put my head down and just watched the times, took care of the Cooper tires and stayed consistent. I’ve grown so much this year, starting with making mistakes but that’s why we moved up to Pro Mazda early, to put me against really good drivers, like Askew and VeeKay, and learn from them. So I feel really, really prepared for next year.”
The new champion narrowly held off a race-long challenge from Askew, who was unable to find a way past but was able to post a series of three fastest race laps, which earned him another championship point, in the closing stages.
Askew’s Los Angeles-based Russian teammate, Nikita Lastochkin, was the final unlapped finisher in fourth, earning himself the Tilton Hard Charger Award after starting seventh. It also ensured that Cape Motorsports would clinch second place in the Team Championship, far behind Juncos Racing but narrowly ahead of BN Racing and Exclusive Autosport.
The championship honors for both VeeKay and Pabst Racing, as well as many other prizes and awards, will be presented tomorrow evening at the traditional end-of-season Mazda Road to Indy Championship Celebration.