Having marked himself as a rising young star in American open-wheel racing over the past two years, Oliver Askew continued to make his presence felt as two days of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires testing concluded this morning at Circuit of The Americas.
On Wednesday Askew, 22, announced his program to join the defending champion Andretti Autosport team for 2019, then took advantage of cool, dry conditions – plus a fresh set of Cooper tires – to post the fastest time, 1m53.8017s, an average speed of 107.872mph around the 3.41-mile road course situated just a few miles from downtown Austin. The challenging, 20-turn venue will host the third and fourth rounds of this year’s championship alongside the NTT IndyCar Series on March 23-24.
“The track’s amazing,” said Askew, who also set the best lap yesterday at 1m54.3065s. “It’s a complete rhythm track. You have to be super smooth, especially from Turn 3 through to Turn 10; it’s all connected, so if you get Turn 3 wrong it translates through that whole complex. I really enjoyed the test. The car feels like it’s on rails and the crew worked really well all week, so I’m super happy.”
Askew edged out Andretti Autosport teammate Julien Falchero by just 0.0424 of a second on fresh tire runs this morning, with reigning Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires champion Rinus VeeKay (Juncos Racing) and Ryan Norman aboard a third Andretti Autosport Dallara-Mazda IL-15, all blanketed by a mere 0.1325 seconds.
“My engineer and the team really helped me a lot and I’m really happy to test with Andretti,” said Falchero, 21, from Valence, France, who has raced in the GP3 Series, in support of F1, for the past two seasons. “To be honest, the car is great. I’m coming from GP3 and it’s very different. You have more grip with the Indy Lights, you have more aero, the brakes are way better, it’s really good, and the Cooper tire as well makes a big difference.”
VeeKay, 18, overcame some braking issues during the two test sessions yesterday to vault into contention this morning. He was actually the first to make his final run on a brand-new set of Cooper tires, vaulting to the top of the timing charts with a lap of 1m53.9314s before being edged by both Askew and Falchero in the waning moments.
“We had some issues yesterday, so we had to start all over this morning, but we figured it out and today went pretty well,” said VeeKay. “We finished in third place but very close on new tires and I think that was a good recovery. It’s going to be a tough season for sure but it looks like we’re going to be competitive, so we’ll see.
“It’s a really cool track. It’s quite a bit more bumpy than I thought but that makes it quite challenging, but the high-speed corners are super nice so I’m looking forward to racing here.”
Zachary Claman De Melo posted the fifth-fastest time this morning (and fourth yesterday) for Belardi Auto Racing, followed by Robert Megennis (Andretti Autosport).
The field of 10 runners was completed by David Malukas (BN Racing), a pair of Carlin Dallaras in the hands of Logan Sargeant and veteran Dalton Kellett and Brazilian Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship graduate Lucas Kohl, whose running in the first session yesterday for Belardi Auto Racing was hampered by some gearbox gremlins.
Next on the agenda for the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires teams is the final pre-season Spring Training test at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Monday, March 4, followed by the first two rounds of the 18-race season on the streets of St. Petersburg the following weekend, March 9-10. At stake over the course of the season is a scholarship prize to guarantee at least three races in the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series, including the Indianapolis 500.