Rinus VeeKay Is Picture Perfect In St. Petersburg Pro Mazda
Rinus VeeKay drove another exemplary race under sunny skies Sunday to win the second leg of the Pro Mazda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Allied Building Products.
The Dutch prodigy remained unflustered after a miscue at the initial start which caused his Juncos Racing Tatuus-Mazda PM-18 to be shuffled back in the pack after having claimed the pole position during qualifying Saturday morning. The officials wisely red-flagged the race and ordered a complete restart, after which VeeKay maintained a slender advantage over BN Racing’s David Malukas throughout the remainder of the 25-lap contest to claim a hard-earned victory – his second in as many days – on the challenging, 1.8-mile downtown street circuit.
VeeKay’s Juncos Racing teammate, Brazilian Carlos Cunha, completed the podium.
Following an initial wave-off due to some debris on the track, the 16-car field was in perfect order as it exited Turn 14 in anticipation of the green flag. Unfortunately, a communication glitch resulted in some confusion at the start, whereby Harrison Scott (RP Motorsport Racing) leapt from seventh on the grid to the lead while VeeKay, the polesitter, found himself shuffled all the way to 12th as the field crossed beneath the starter’s stand.
The race was reset after a handful of laps, with VeeKay regaining his rightful position and the remainder of the field taking the green flag in single-file order. VeeKay, 17, who finished second in last year’s Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda – the first step on the world renowned Mazda Road to Indy open-wheel development ladder – immediately took off into the lead but was unable to shake off Malukas.
Oliver Askew (Cape Motorsports) initially ran a close third until clipping the wall in Turn Eight and knocking his car’s suspension out of alignment. The reigning USF2000 champion held the remainder of the field at bay for a couple of laps but his task was clearly a step too far, and by Lap 11 he had slipped to seventh, which he maintained to the finish.
The battle at the front remained intense as Malukas placed the leader under intense pressure. VeeKay, though, was up to the challenge, and even after a late full-course caution after Malukas’ teammate, Kris Wright, crashed in Turn Nine, VeeKay held on to win by just over a half-second.
Cunha, once he had found a way past Askew, charged hard in a distant third place and gained the additional bonus point for posting the fastest race lap at 1:09.2714 (93.545 mph).
Scott, from Chelmsford, England, couldn’t quite match that pace in fourth, primarily due to a front wing that had been damaged during the early stages, but looked set to maintain that position until the wing failed altogether at the final restart, dropping him to the back of the pack.
Idaho teenager Sting Ray Robb inherited fourth after another strong drive for Team Pelfrey. He was followed by yesterday’s second-place finisher Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport) and Askew, who was shadowed by teammate Nikita Lastochkin, the Team Pelfrey pair of Andres Gutierrez and Rafael Martins, with Englishman James Raven rounding out the top 10 for DEForce Racing.
VeeKay’s perfect weekend, allied to difficulties at one stage or another for most of the other pre-season favorites, ensured he will travel to the next two rounds of the championship at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama on April 20-22 with a healthy 19-point advantage, 62-43, over fellow rookie Thompson, with Cunha just one point further back in third.