Size isn’t everything; at least, not when it comes to Indy Lights Championship fields. Only 11 cars took the start, three were out of the picture within the first three laps – and yet the 2019 edition of the Freedom 100 still managed to serve up a thriller.
A five-car draft-fest over the closing stages was diluted down to a head-to-head between Andretti teammates Ryan Norman and Oliver Askew in the final lap. Askew drafted past Norman to lead as they passed the white flag, and Norman returned the favor at Turn 3. He still led exiting Turn 4, and correctly anticipating one last attack from Askew, he moved to the inside to defend the final run to the checker.
Askew had already tucked in behind him though, and popped out of the draft for the final drag race to the finish. They crossed the bricks separated by just 0.007s; Askew claiming the win by roughly the width of a front wing endplate.
“This seems so surreal — I’ve never raced in front of so many people in my life!” said the stunned Askew after taking the fourth-closest finish in Freedom 100 history. “Starting from eighth, I knew I was going to have a good car — thanks to everyone at Andretti Autosport.
“Look how close that was,” he added as he watched the replay of his No. 28 darting ahead of Norman’s 48 at the line. “That finish, I’m going to remember that for the rest of my life. I just can’t believe it.”
Neither could Norman.
“I knew right away [that Askew had won],” he said. “I could see his nose a little bit in front of mine. It really sucks to lose by that much. Thanks to the team for giving me a great car. It was a great race, definitely happy about it, but also sad, to be sure. The only goal going into it was me and him being 1-2. I’m happy it was at least him. He played it well. The timing just wasn’t on my side.”
Rinus Veekay, Toby Sowery and Dalton Kellett rounded out the top five, with just 0.6s covering the top five places. Veekay had forged to the front from seventh after the restart, swapping back and forth with Norman while polesitter Robert Megennis tussled with Askew for third through the first half.
Sowery moved up to third shortly after halfway, then made a bold move around the outside of VeeKay on Lap 28 for the lead, only to drop back third by the end of the lap as Veekay and Norman re-asserted themselves.
The lead pack was thinned out a little on lap 30 when Sowery understeered up in the left rear of Megennis, sending the latter into a half-spin. Both managed to save their cars and continue, losing just a handful of places, but bringing out a full course yellow.
Sowery was sent to the back of the field for avoidable contact for the restart with nine laps to go, but despite that handicap, he needed just four laps to blast back up to the lead pack.
It was a short afternoon for David Malukas and Chris Windom, who were eliminated in a huge accident on lap three when Malukas spun and Windom had nowhere to go but straight into him. The short track star’s car rode over the rear of Malukas’ and was dragged along the fence, still on top of Malukas, before the cars finally came to rest in the middle of the track. Both drivers escaped injury.
“I’m feeling OK, not sure what happened,” said the bemused Windom, who’d also suffered a heavy accident in last night’s Hoosier 100. “The 79 lost it in front of me and I had nowhere to go. Just devastated for all these guys who put this thing together.”
There was also disappointment for Aaron Telitz, who pulled into the pits with a mechanical problem before the green flag and eventually returned five laps down. Debutant Jarett Andretti also has a scare when he spun on a warm-up lap, but he was able to get the car pointed the right way again and make the start.