Friday’s 17th Annual Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is shaping up to be a pivotal event on the 2019 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires schedule. Such was surely the case last year when 18-year-old Colton Herta’s win at IMS proved to be a springboard toward a full-time ride in the NTT IndyCar Series.
This year’s race could also go some way toward settling the three-way battle at the top of the Indy Lights order which, after six races, has settled into an all-rookie title fight featuring Juncos Racing’s 18-year-old Rinus VeeKay from Hoofddorp, Netherlands; rising American star Oliver Askew, from Jupiter, Fla.; and Askew’s Andretti Autosport teammate, Robert Megennis, from New York, N.Y.
Friday’s Freedom 100, series Round 7, will be the first of two oval events on the 18-race Lights calendar and a chance for these young drivers to impress both a live television audience (on NBCSN) and expected large crowd on hand for the traditional IndyCar “Carb Day”.
Megennis claimed his first Indy Lights victory in the first of two races on the IMS Grand Prix course earlier this month, and maintained his May momentum in testing yesterday on the 2.5-mile oval, posting a fastest lap of 45.5202s, an average speed of 197.714 mph.
“It is just so much fun racing here,” Megennis said. “Today was everything I expected it to be, and more. Running flat out, going 200 mph, being two-, three-, four-wide — you don’t get that anywhere else.
“I ran a bunch in traffic to get used to it,” the 19-year-old continued. “There’s such a big draft here and it was a blast. Andretti Autosport gave me such a great car and we prepared so well in advance that we barely changed anything. It’s not the most important thing, to get P1 in testing, but it’s still a nice way to finish off before we come back on Thursday. I can’t thank all my partners enough for getting me out here!”
VeeKay, who is mentored by fellow countryman and two-time Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk, was second on the speed charts in both of the day’s sessions. His best lap of 45.5949s was just 0.0747s shy of Megennis’ benchmark.
“It was really fun, really cool, especially the first lap that you’re all the way flat,” said the Dutch teenager. “Amazing. These are very high speeds and the racing is so close – the teams are so competitive, and it makes for fun racing. You really feel the speed here, but it’s never quick enough, you always want to go faster.”
Askew, who has finished on the podium in five of the six races, including a pair of wins in Texas, was third in the second session and fourth-fastest overall with a 45.6878s best. Just ahead of him, another Andretti Autosport teammate, Ryan Norman., who was fastest in the first test session with a 45.6488s, third overall on the day.
Also impressing in yesterday’s test was Jarett Andretti aboard a fourth Andretti Autosport Dallara-AER IL-15 — fifth fastest in his first public Indy Lights outing. The 26-year-old third-generation racer, whose father John raced at Indianapolis 12 times, will be making his Indy Lights debut this week, 50 years on from great-uncle Mario Andretti’s lone Indy 500 triumph.
“It’s hard to put into words exactly what this means,” said Andretti. “You take a glance at the Pagoda and you start to take it in. The only other time a track has hit me like that was in the 24 Hours of Daytona, when I saw the ferris wheel at 3 a.m.! You have to take in those moments and really appreciate them.
“But this is totally different than any track I’ve ever been on. It was good to get the experience of running in traffic; getting better in that area will be one of the most important things. Now we’ll continue prep work, watch a lot of video and prepare as much as I can.”
Others to watch this week include Canadian Dalton Kellett (Juncos Racing), the pole winner last year, who has three consecutive podium finishes at the Speedway; and USAC open-wheel star Chris Windom, who was ninth fastest in Monday’s test and will be making his long-awaited Indy Lights debut with Belardi Auto Racing.
Windom’s busy schedule this week includes the 64th Annual “Hoosier Hundred” USAC Silver Crown race at the Indianapolis State Fairgrounds on Thursday night; Friday afternoon’s Freedom 100; and Friday night’s Dave Steele Carb Night Classic USAC Silver Crown race.
The Indy Lights drivers will be back on track Thursday, May 23, for 45 minutes of practice at 10:00 a.m. EDT, followed by single-car qualifying at 1:30 p.m. The Freedom 100 will start at 1:00 p.m. on Friday and will air live on NBCSN and live and on demand on NBC Sports Gold. Outside the U.S., the race will be live-streamed globally on RoadToIndy.TV, the Road To Indy TV App and indylights.com.