WATKINS GLEN, New York – Rinus VeeKay won the battle. Oliver Askew won the war.
VeeKay (right in above photo) drove to a dominant win in today’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda race at Watkins Glen International. By finishing runner-up, Askew claimed the season title and earned a Mazda scholarship to compete in the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires in 2018.
The 20-year-old Floridian kicked off the 2017 season by winning five of the first six races and persevered through VeeKay’s late-season rally to claim the crown in his first full season of racing cars.
“I’ve dreamt about this moment for so long,” Askew said after his eleventh podium in 14 races on the season and becoming the seventh straight driver from Cape Motorsports to win the USF2000 title. “It’s such a huge weight off my shoulders, to be champion.”
Pabst Racing’s VeeKay, from The Netherlands, capped a sparkling debut season in America with his third win of the year. The 16-year-old finished the championship in second place, seven points behind Askew.
VeeKay’s pass of pole sitter Askew on the outside of Turn 1 at the start proved to be the winning move. VeeKay scampered off from there to a winning margin of 9.6053 seconds.
“I’m happy, but I could be happier,” said VeeKay. “I hadn’t really planned to pass Oliver at the start, but I saw him brake for the inside and I went for the outside and all of the sudden I passed him.”
Finishing no worse than sixth in any race, the Dutch teenager impressed many and intends to return to the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires in 2018.
“I will take some time in the offseason and figure out what I want to do next year,” VeeKay added. “I definitely want to stay in the Mazda Road to Indy. I don’t know where on the ladder, but I think we will move up (to Pro Mazda or Indy Lights).
“It was a great season, with 12 podiums out of 14 races with three wins, so I cannot thank the Pabst team enough for giving me a great car and getting better every weekend.”
Guaranteed a full Pro Mazda season in 2018, Askew was understandably thrilled.
“The priority was to finish on the podium in case Rinus won and got maximum points, and we did that,” he said. “I can’t thank the Cape team enough. I’m so happy to be able to continue my relationship with Mazda, they’ve helped me so much.
“This is not going to sink in for a while. I can’t wait for next year!”
Franzoni outduels Martin for key Pro Mazda win
Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni scored maximum points in today’s Pro Mazda race to hold the lead of the championship heading into Sunday’s season finale, but it was far from an easy task.
With a skillful pass of Franzoni on the opening lap, Cape Motorsports’ Anthony Martin appeared poised to take the race win and the points lead. But Franzoni used an equally daring pass on Lap 12 to regain the lead and sprinted to the checkered flag, beating Martin by 3.5743 seconds.
“My only thought during the race was to pass Anthony,” said Franzoni, who leads Martin by nine points heading into Sunday’s race. “I had to win, but at the same time, I had to stay calm enough not to make any mistakes. It’s been this way all year long and that’s taught me a lot.”
Franzoni also won the pole for Sunday’s race and Martin will start fifth after being assessed a two-position penalty for disobeying the checkered flag at the end of the session.
The Pro Mazda finale starts at 7:55 a.m. ET Sunday and will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.
Herta earns seventh Indy Lights pole of season
Colton Herta will not win the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires championship on Sunday, but the Californian notched his seventh pole of the season today with a fast lap of 1 minute, 32.4394 seconds in qualifying at Watkins Glen.
“It was tough,” said Herta. “With the tires and the cool conditions, we just kept going quicker and quicker and that’s the hardest session. You just have to keep putting in the laps consistently. I’m not sure what the gap was (to second), but I think it was a pretty good lap.”
That gap was sizable, as the Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing pilot was more than three tenths of a second quicker than Belardi Auto Racing’s Santi Urrutia (1:32.7947). Urrutia sits eight points ahead of Herta for second in the standings heading into the weekend.
Championship leader Kyle Kaiser qualified 10th (1:33.2702). With a 31-point advantage on Urrutia, all the Juncos Racing driver needs to do is take the green flag to secure the Indy Lights title and claim the $1 million Mazda scholarship to compete in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2018.
The Indy Lights season finale begins at 10:50 a.m. Sunday. It will also stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.