MADISON, Ill. – David Malukas, driving for his family’s Chicago, Ill.-based HMD Motorsports team, came from behind this evening to sweep the double-header Cooper Tires Indy Lights Oval Challenge of St. Louis at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Ill. Still a month shy of his 20th birthday, Malukas spectacularly fought his way past polesitter Kyle Kirkwood (Andretti Autosport), from Jupiter, Fla., to secure his sixth win of the season and reclaim the championship points lead.
Kirkwood finished second for the second straight race, but with additional points being awarded in the only two oval races of the season, he now trails Malukas by just three points with six races remaining. At stake is a scholarship prize valued at almost $1.3 million to guarantee entry into a minimum of three NTT INDYCAR SERIES races in 2022.
Seattle, Wash.-based Dane Benjamin Pedersen finished third for the second successive race for Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports, vaulting him from seventh to fourth in the points table.
Kirkwood secured his fourth Cooper Tires Pole Award of the season by virtue of posting the fastest of each driver’s second and final lap of single-car qualifying on Friday, and took full advantage by taking the lead at the start. Malukas remained hot on his heels with Pedersen and teammate Linus Lundqvist, from Stockholm, Sweden, both squeezing past third-place qualifier Danial Frost (Andretti Autosport), from Singapore, for third and fourth on the opening lap.
The three leaders remained virtually tied together for the opening 30 laps, with Lundqvist hanging on as best he could – a remarkable effort given that he was driving the car used previously this season by Nikita Lastochkin after his regular Dallara IL-15 was heavily damaged in a crash on Friday.
Concerns about excessive tire wear led officials to issue a directive for today’s race which required a mandatory change of both right-side tires halfway through the scheduled 70 laps. In addition, teams were required to run a lighter fuel load, which would be replenished at the halfway mark.
With the fuel and tire stops completed under red-flag conditions, the race was restarted in single file with Kirkwood still leading from Malukas, Pedersen, Lundqvist, Frost and Italian-Canadian Devlin DeFrancesco (Andretti Steinbrenner Racing).
After a couple more green-flag laps, Malukas glimpsed his opportunity and took a high line into Turn One to slip alongside Kirkwood. The top two title protagonists proceeded to race wheel-to-wheel for most of the next three laps before Malukas finally was able to inch ahead on Lap 41 as they sped into Turn Three. Job done. In magnificent style.
Kirkwood remained virtually glued to Malukas’ rear wing for the next 15 laps before Malukas finally was able to eke just a smidgen of breathing room. Shortly afterward, the yellow flags waved again following reports of a tire issue for Frost, who had headed for the pit lane soon after being overtaken by teammate DeFrancesco. It turned out to be the only occurrence, but once again race officials erred on the side of caution by displaying the checkered flag after 62 laps, eight laps short of the intended distance.
DeFrancesco recorded another top-five finish, followed by Australian Alex Peroni, who posted another fine drive for the Carlin team, while Andretti Autosport’s Robert Megennis, from New York, N.Y., secured the Tilton Hard Charger Award after working his way from 12th to seventh.
The thrilling Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires title-chase will continue with a West Coast swing to Portland International Raceway in Portland, Ore., on September 11-12 followed by two more races on September 18-19 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, in Monterey, Calif.
Provisional championship points after 14 of 20 races:
1. David Malukas, 371
2. Kyle Kirkwood, 368
3. Linus Lundqvist, 312
4. Benjamin Pedersen, 245
5. Devlin DeFrancesco, 245
6. Danial Frost, 244
7. Toby Sowery, 236
8. Alex Peroni, 228
9. Robert Megennis, 225
10. Sting Ray Robb, 169
David Malukas (#79 HMD Trucking-HMD Motorsports Dallara-AER IL-15): “What amazing racing! This is the happiest I’ve ever been, I worked so hard for this one. Huge thank you to the team, they gave me an amazing car. I can finally put the accident at Indy behind me, we’ve overcome that. We’ve proven ourselves. The car was unbelievable from start to finish, just on rails. I didn’t have my radio for the first half of the race so I took it a little bit easy since I didn’t know when it would end – and right when I was ready to pounce, the yellow came out! But I knew from that experience where to do it, and we had an amazing side-by-side race. We knew we’d have to work the high line so we adjusted the setup for that in warm up so I knew the line, and I knew I could trust the car, and Kyle. I couldn’t stop screaming in the car – that was so cool!”
Kyle Kirkwood (#28 Road to Indy/Cooper Tires/Construction Contractors’ Club-Andretti Autosport Dallara-AER IL-15): “There’s a big level of respect between David and I – and really, among all the drivers on the Road to Indy. You have to give way on an oval. When we were side-by-side, he kept getting runs on the outside and slowly picked away at me, so hats off to him, that was fun. It’s been a long time since I’ve been that close for that long. Their cars were phenomenal – we were strong, but just not strong enough so we’re very happy to come away with two second-place finishes.”
Benjamin Pedersen (#24 DirtFish/Bell Helmets/The Heart of Racing/Colibri Capital-Global Racing Group w/HMD Motorsports Dallara-AER IL-15): “I am super pleased. This was our first oval but we knew from the test that we had the pace. Everything was new to us, from qualifying to getting used to dirty air, everything. We covered a lot of ground this week. I had a ball, it was so much fun, and I don’t think I could ask for more. This is my first year in this car and we’re learning so much, like tire management. I’m learning from David and trying to get as good as I can be. I will take so much from this weekend that I can use moving forward, and it’s good to be able to move up in the championship as well.”