By: Tanner Watkins
September 3, 2019 | 1:00 PM
With just one weekend left on the 2019 Road to Indy calendar, there is a lot to look forward to when the ladder program reaches Laguna Seca later this month.
After a pair of races for each Indy Lights, Indy Pro 2000 and USF2000 this past weekend at Portland International Raceway, we gained a bit of clarity for a couple of championship chases – while setting up a great finish all around in two weeks time.
Askew set to clinch Indy Lights title entering final two races
Running with Andretti Autosport backing in 2019, Oliver Askew has been simply dominant as an Indy Lights driver this season. The third-year Road to Indy driver currently holds a 41-point advantage over Rinus VeeKay heading into the final two-race weekend at Laguna Seca following a pair of podium finishes in Portland.
As a result of his advantage, all Askew will need to do is start each of the final two Indy Lights races in 2019 to gain the points needed to clinch the title.
“This is a good feeling. This is what we’ve been working for all year – for all three years, really. It’s going to be nice to go to Laguna and experience my dream, which is to start and finish my Road to Indy career there,” said Askew following the second ‘Lights race of this past weekend.
“Big thanks to Andretti Autosport for believing in me, for giving me the car to do this. There have been several pivotal people in my career early on who helped get me from karts to cars, including John Doonan (Mazda) and Jeremy Shaw (Team USA Scholarship). It really kick-started my career and it was up to me from there, on and off the track – and off the track is just as important. I’ve stayed out of trouble and have done my job most of the time, so I’m really proud of that.
“I told my mom that I would win the championship before I saw her again, and that was before St. Louis. It will be great to give her a big hug.”
At Portland, VeeKay moved from 52 points behind to his current 41-point deficit by winning the first Indy Lights race and then finishing runner-up to Toby Sowery in the Sunday morning sprint. It wasn’t enough to make a realistic run at the 2019 Lights title, but VeeKay is holding his head high.
“I think I’ve shown what I have this season. I think the people in IndyCar see that, and my goals are to keep doing that,” said VeeKay on Sunday. “I cannot win the championship but I can show what I am made of, the fighting spirit the team and I both have. We’d like to keep that going and we have two more races to do that.”
Indy Lights will close the season with races on September 21 and 22. The winner of the Indy Lights championship will earn a four-race scholarship to the NTT IndyCar Series in 2020 – including a chance to qualify for the 104th Indianapolis 500.
Kirkwood sweeps Portland and takes Indy Pro points lead
It was a perfect Portland weekend for Kyle Kirkwood and his RP Motorsport crew as the team took both Indy Pro 2000 races on the Labor Day weekend schedule.
In the process, Kirkwood pulled the championship’s points lead away from Rasmus Lindh (Juncos Racing) and proceeded to pad a 20-marker lead heading into the season finale at Laguna Seca.
After winning the most recent race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Kirkwood was down six points entering the Portland doubleheader. While Kirkwood won twice this past weekend, Lindh could only muster finishes of fifth and third, losing ground in the aftermath.
Following his race one win on Saturday, Kirkwood seemed to keep up the mindset he spoke about post-race: “Having the championship lead doesn’t change my mindset at all – my goal is to finish ahead of Rasmus, and we’ve done just that.”
Two races remain on the Indy Pro 2000 calendar, which will be run on September 21 and 22. The winner of the title will earn an approximate $600,000 scholarship to advance into Indy Lights for 2020 – the final step before reaching IndyCar.
McElrea edges ahead of Eves, setting up USF2000 championship duel
Perhaps the most exciting championship battle on the table for the IndyCar race weekend at Laguna Seca will come from the lowest open-wheel ladder affiliated with IndyCar – USF2000.
This past weekend at Portland, New Zealand’s Hunter McElrea swept the USF2000 doubleheader to scoot past the heralded Braden Eves in the championship battle. Still, just six points separate the two drivers ahead of two final races in California later this month.
Each race in Portland saw McElrea finish on top while Eves was runner-up.
“This was an amazing weekend. To have a weekend like this – quick in all of the sessions, two poles and two wins – is so hard to come by,” added McElrea. “And to have a race like that (in race two), it’s the best-case scenario.
“I’m so happy with where we are now to have the points lead. The competition, the teams, and the drivers are so talented. To have the lead going into the final round doesn’t change anything: I’m going into Laguna Seca with the same mindset I’ve had all along, especially since Mid-Ohio.
“I’ll focus on my own thing and hopefully, the rest keeps taking care of itself. But the Pabst team gave me such a great car this weekend, and I owe them so much.”
While Eves wasn’t pleased to relinquish the championship lead in Portland, the rugged driver has faced adversity before – and he won’t go down without a fight in Monterrey.
“(McElrea) definitely had the stronger car this weekend, but all win streaks come to an end at some point and we’ll look to do that at Laguna Seca,” added Eves on Sunday.
“Cape has been good there and they’re the best in the business. I have full faith that they’ll give me an incredible car. The championship will definitely come down to the last two races.”
Stay tuned to Open-Wheels as we take a look at the championship battles all the way down to the checkered flag at Laguna Seca on September 22.
Header image by Road to Indy.