SPEEDWAY, Ind. – David Malukas moved back atop the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires point standings following his third victory of the season for HMD Motorsports on Saturday.
The teenager had to work hard for his laurels, though, as a late challenge from Englishman Toby Sowery saw the top two separated by just .0283 of a second at the checkered flag on the Indianapolis Grand Prix road course.
Australian Alex Peroni and Kyle Kirkwood also were in close contention at the end of a thrilling 35-lap race, which served as a precursor to Saturday afternoon’s NTT IndyCar Series GMR Grand Prix of Indianapolis.
Malukas was bound and determined to take advantage of his third Cooper Tires Pole Award of the year, which he earned in qualifying earlier Saturday morning by less than a tenth of a second over Friday’s race winner, Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports stablemate Linus Lundqvist.
Malukas did so, narrowly, and his high spirits were further enhanced when Sowery found a way past Lundqvist on the second lap.
Lundqvist had another scare just a couple of laps later when he locked up his brakes at turn one and immediately had to concede two more positions to a fired-up Peroni, who enjoyed his best Indy Lights race to date, and Kirkwood, the former USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 champion who had scored his first Indy Lights victory last time out at St. Petersburg.
Sowery never allowed Malukas any real breathing space at the front of the field, and while Peroni and Kirkwood slipped away a little bit during the middle stages, they closed in again toward the finish to ensure a gripping four-car battle.
Malukas remained under intense pressure, especially with Sowery – and his other three rivals – all enjoying a little extra boost with their AER engines “push-to-pass” feature, which allowed them an extra 50 horsepower. The two fast friends thoroughly enjoyed their tussle, which saw Sowery squeeze alongside at turn one on the final lap, only to be narrowly rebuffed.
Undeterred, Sowery mounted one last challenge as they raced toward the finish line, with Malukas holding on by the narrowest of margins.
“The field was so close, so we knew this would be tough, especially once everything sorted out and Toby was in my rear-view mirror,” said Malukas. “He’s like my brother and he’s really good at racing so I knew I was in for a ride! It helped to know his strategy, that he’s a late-braker, so I thought that if I could hold the corner exits, he couldn’t get a run. I didn’t know where he would try to make a run at the end so I just played the middle. I had a big slide in the last corner so he got closer, but that set up a stellar finish right on the bricks.
“Coming back into the pits, nearly crying, I looked up at the video screen and they were replaying it, and I thought – I need to hang that photo up on my wall!”
The four leaders all flashed underneath the waved checkered flags separated by just 1.1236 of a second, with Kirkwood earning the Tilton Hard Charger Award after having started in the sixth position.
Lundqvist struggled in the closing stages after several more lock-ups before successfully holding on to fifth place despite the best efforts of Italian-Canadian Devlin DeFrancesco. Further back, Andretti teammate Robert Megennis managed to squeeze past Singapore’s Danial Frost on the final lap for seventh.