Askew to Begin, End Road to Indy Career at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca
 September 17, 2019| 
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Askew WRLS

Oliver Askew stands on the threshold of a dream.

As the provisional Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion, the 22-year-old Floridian will complete a meteoric rise through the open-wheel racing ranks at the end of the race weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca: from karts to the NTT IndyCar Series in an unprecedented four years.

Askew, 22, needs only to  take the green flag in both races to capture the Indy Lights championship, and the scholarship that will guarantee him entry into three 2020 IndyCar races, including the Indianapolis 500.

And it all started at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

Askew began karting at the age of 7, with his dad as his mechanic, working out of the back of the family SUV. He came up through the Florida karting ranks, winning numerous titles, representing the USA at the Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Finals on three occasions and driving for the prestigious Ocala Gran Prix and Birell ART teams in the U.S. and in Europe.

From an early age, Askew’s ultimate dream was to reach the NTT IndyCar Series and race against the best in the world. But without funding for an open-wheel career, he continued karting while making several forays into race cars, including the four-day Skip Barber Racing School at Sebring in 2013. Askew was one of four Rotax karting drivers who earned a USF2000 test in 2014, and he drove the Van Diemen USF2000 car alongside Victor Franzoni with Afterburner Racing ahead of the 2015 season. Askew also competed in two Formula Masters China weekends that year, but returned to the karting ranks.

In the summer of 2016, feeling as though he had achieved everything he could in karting and lacking the budget to advance, Askew was close to walking away from racing entirely when he and fellow Floridian Kyle Kirkwood (the duo had been friends and competitors since Askew was 7 and Kirkwood was 5) were named to the Team USA Scholarship program. The scholarship earned them the chance to race in the Formula Ford Festival and Walter Hayes Trophy events in England, where the pair acquitted themselves well (Askew won a heat race and a semi-final and finished second in the Walter Hayes Trophy). But for Askew, the gains made weren’t all on track.

“Racing in England really propelled my career,” said Askew. “My confidence level on track increased, but what was even more important was my knowledge and confidence off track, and my understanding of what I needed to do to gain relationships. Without the Team USA Scholarship program, I wouldn’t know any of the people that I know in racing now. The results were great, but that was a bonus after meeting all the people we did and making good first impressions. It really set us up for the Shootout.”

Askew-JudgesWith their Team USA nod came automatic entry into the Road to Indy Scholarship Shootout at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. The first-year program brought junior formula champions, karting standouts and at-large entries to the legendary road course to compete for the chance of a lifetime: a $200k Mazda scholarship into the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship and the chance to begin their journey on the Road to Indy.  Askew knew it was make-or-break time: without the scholarship, his chances of continuing his racing career were slim.

“Every year I didn’t win a scholarship, we were close to pulling the plug. If I hadn’t won the Shootout, there’s no way we could have continued on this path. I probably would have stopped racing and gone to college, because karting just wouldn’t have been appealing at that point.”

Most of the other drivers at the Shootout had open-wheel experience – some with multiple seasons. Askew was one of only a handful of the 18 drivers who were coming off mostly karting experience, but he was determined to make the opportunity count.

“I was really fresh off of karts, so I was fairly nervous going into the weekend. Kyle and I both realized that our futures could be decided that weekend. We tried not to think about that, to just focus on our performance. I tried to remember everything I had learned and summoned that for those two days.”

WeatherTech Raceway hosted the inaugural Shootout in December of 2016, and the format was simple: the drivers would be judged on the way they handled themselves off track as well as their driving ability, evaluated by judges that included two-time Road to Indy champion (and scholarship winner) Spencer Pigot, 2003 USF2000 champion and Mazda sports car driver Jonathan Bomarito and former INDYCAR driver Scott Goodyear. The Shootout was conducted in the Lucas Oil School of Racing cars, with drivers switching to different cars each session to keep the competition on a level playing field.

Askew, with no prior experience at WeatherTech Raceway, participated in the Racing for Cancer event in the days leading up to the event in an attempt to gain what track knowledge he could.

“Laguna Seca is a very tricky racetrack. The conditions can change so rapidly depending on the amount of sand on the racetrack. Like so many of the tracks that I feel I excel on, it’s forever changing and you have to adapt quickly. And I might get in trouble for saying this, but the Corkscrew is one of the easier corners on the track – it’s a fairly slow-speed corner, you just have to watch out for wheel spin going downhill. It’s an important corner, but it’s not as hard as Turn Six, the fast left-hander.

“I was surprised how quick I was: I was on top in each session,” continued Askew.” I felt that I had it pretty locked up going into the race on Sunday afternoon so I just had to stay out of trouble. Some of my best memories from that weekend are the fight I had with Oliver White, duking it out over the second half of that race. I said at the time that it was one of the best races I’d ever been in, and to win the Scholarship was a dream come true.”

RTI_STL_082019_G_1441Askew would go on to win the 2017 USF2000 Championship over the driver who would continue to be his main rival throughout his Road to Indy career, young Dutch phenom Rinus VeeKay. VeeKay, 19, captured the 2018 Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires title (with Askew third) and gave Askew everything he could handle in 2019, coming up just short in the Indy Lights battle. VeeKay, who has also advanced from karts to cars in barely three years, is expected to graduate to the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series, where he and Askew plan to continue their rivalry for years to come. The championship is the second in a row for his Andretti Autosport team, who saw two of their 2018 Indy Lights stars graduate to the NTT IndyCar Series this season – last year’s champion Patricio O’Ward and Colton Herta.

For Askew, the weekend at WeatherTech Raceway will be an emotional one, both for what he has gained and for the door that is closing.

 “It will be bittersweet, leaving the Road to Indy. But I’m ready to make the jump into IndyCar, and now I have to take everything I have learned over the past three years and put everything I have into next year. Nothing I’ve done compares to the competition level in IndyCar. I’m looking forward to the challenge and trying to organize myself, making sure I have the best shot, and the best people around me to be successful. I feel confident in myself, having had the success on all three levels of the Road to Indy, but especially this season in Indy Lights. It’s comforting to know that I can move up the ladder quickly and continue to be successful with the process I’m using now.

“This is a perfect way to end my Road to Indy career. Everything I have now started that day in December of 2016, at Laguna Seca. All year, I’ve been dreaming about hoisting the champion’s trophy at Laguna Seca and we’re in a position to do that. It will be very emotional.”

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