David Malukas, driving for Brownsburg, Ind.-based HMD Motorsports, romped to his seventh win of the season – and third in a row – under picture perfect skies at Portland International Raceway in Race 1 of the Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix of Portland doubleheader. Malukas, who will celebrate his 20th birthday in just under two weeks, finished over 5.4s clear of championship rival Kyle Kirkwood, extending his lead from three points to 10 in a tight battle with five races remaining.
Kirkwood, of Andretti Autosport, managed significant damage control in the point standings after rising from fifth on the grid to second. He also earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award for most positions gained.
“I didn’t do anything but look in my mirrors going into the chicane and all I could see was cars flying everywhere!” Malukas exclaimed. “But I think it had to do with all the oil dry on the track – coming to the start, I could see that my tires were almost white and I knew that wasn’t going to be good. I locked up the fronts and ended up behind, but the officials sorted it out which I think was the right thing to do. Once we got going, I was just keeping the pace and not taking any risks. There was really nothing else I could do. The team was timing Kyle’s pace and I was doing my best to match it. Tomorrow will be interesting – Linus went with old tires for this race and tomorrow he’s going with new tires, so it will be tough. There’s going to be a few guys trying to take my spot so tomorrow will be a showdown as far as momentum goes.”
Linus Lundqvist (Global Racing Group w/ HMD Motorsports) rounded out the top three, notching his first podium since Round 8 in Detroit.
Malukas secured his series-leading fifth Cooper Tires Pole Award of the season in qualifying on Friday as his stablemates at HMD Motorsports and Global Racing Group w/ HMD Motorsports locked out the front two rows of the grid with Lundqvist, Benjamin Pedersen and Manuel Sulaiman – who impressed in his first-ever Indy Lights qualifying session after moving up from the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires this weekend.
“That race was damage management for us,” Kirkwood said. “I knew I had to make some bold moves but at the same time, if I made a mistake I had to make sure it wasn’t too costly. But in assessing risk versus reward, the reward is far greater. We all had so much stuff on our tires at the start because of all the oil dry and I think that caught everyone off guard. As a group, we broke pretty early going into Turn One – I broke the latest of any of us – so we thought it would be fine, but all of the sudden we were all locking up. I didn’t have a good restart but I knew I had to get Manuel quickly if I was going to make up any ground. Benjamin made a mistake battling with Linus and I was able to get around him, but Linus really made me fight for it. I used a lot of push-to-pass and he defended well. I made a move and we both went in too deep but I was able to make the move stick. I didn’t have anything for Malukas, though, because I’d burned off my tires.”
The command was delayed approximately 10 minutes due to a clean-up of hydraulic fluid in Turn 12. After a chaotic start which saw several cars short-cutting the track in the Shelton Chicane Turns 1, 2, 3 complex, the grid was reset and it was hammer down for Malukas, who was followed by his teammates around the 1.964-mile, 12-turn road course for the first six laps.
Your Race 1 podium here at @portlandraceway!🏆🍾
Let's do it all again tomorrow!
— Indy Lights (@IndyLights) September 11, 2021
On lap seven of the 30-lap feature, Kirkwood found his way around Sulaiman and a slight bobble by Pedersen set up the two-time Road to Indy champion for a charge to the front after moving into third. Closely trailing Lundqvist for several laps, Kirkwood made his move with an outside pass in Turns 1-2, but by then Malukas had already eked out a 5.6s lead.
“I knew that starting on old tires meant my best opportunity was right at the beginning, so when I saw a gap at the start, I went for it,” Lundqvist said. “We broke a bit too late and had to use the escape road, but luckily it didn’t cost us once they sorted all of it out. It was a tough race. David was just a bit faster on the new tires and Kyle was able to use the push-to-pass to get me. He made a good move. I thought we were both going to go off, but we kept it on the black stuff. I’m happy to be back on the podium; it’s been a while. I don’t have much to lose if I finish second or third or fourth in the championship; we’re all here to win races. And that’s what we’re going to try to do tomorrow.”
Pedersen, fresh off of dual podiums in the last event at World Wide Technology, finished fourth followed by Andretti Autosport’s Robert Megennis in fifth. Newcomers Sulaiman and Rasmus Lindh (Juncos Hollinger Racing) rounded out the top seven respectively on their series debuts.
Malukas put an exclamation point on his performance at Portland to date by claiming a second Cooper Tires Pole Award in this morning’s second round of qualifying. The green flag for Race 2 will take place at 10:30 am PDT tomorrow, just prior to the NTT INDYCAR Series headline event.
Provisional championship points after 15 of 20 races:
1. David Malukas, 403
2. Kyle Kirkwood, 393
3. Linus Lundqvist, 334
4. Benjamin Pedersen, 264
5. Danial Frost, 257
6. Devlin DeFrancesco, 255
7. Robert Megennis, 242
8. Toby Sowery, 236
9. Alex Peroni, 228
10. Sting Ray Robb, 181