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Lights Rivals Askew, VeeKay Hope To Follow Same Path to Big Show as Herta, O'Ward

A year from now, Oliver Askew and Rinus VeeKay expect to be back at Indianapolis Motor Speedway preparing to run in their first Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.

That’s not just youthful optimism for racing rivals in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires.

Last year, Colton Herta and Patricio O’Ward were teammates pushing for the title in the Road to Indy developmental series, with Herta driving for Andretti Steinbrenner Racing and O’Ward for Andretti Autosport. Both have since ascended to the NTT IndyCar Series. And Herta, in becoming the series’ youngest winner at 18 with a victory in March at the Circuit of the Americas, has proven what the ladder has shown for years, that anything is possible for up-and-coming talents.

“I think I’m capable of doing the same as Colton and Patricio,” said VeeKay, an 18-year-old driver from Netherlands. “After (Herta) took the youngest win (honor), I have to go for being the youngest champion. Let’s go for that.”

Askew, a 22-year-old Florida native, has a six-point Indy Lights lead on VeeKay entering Friday and Saturday’s races on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course. The first race is at 1:30 p.m. (ET) Friday with the other scheduled for 1:15 p.m. Saturday. Askew drives the No. 28 car for Andretti Autosport while VeeKay steers the No. 21 car for Juncos Racing.

They’ve been racing against each other since their go-karting days in Europe and America. VeeKay won the Indy Pro 2000 title last year while Askew finished third. In 2017, Askew claimed the USF2000 championship with VeeKay finishing second.

“I think there’s been a change in the tide with young drivers moving up through the ranks and making it to INDYCAR at such a young age,” Askew said. “I think we see that in Formula One, as well. People are starting to realize that younger drivers are just as capable at racing at the front with the right equipment under them. For sure, guys like Colton and Pato are paving the way for guys like Rinus and I.

“Coming through the Andretti program, I look at what (Herta and O’Ward) have done, and I look at their data every day and I compare myself to them. I think I’m very capable of doing the same thing. But right now, I’m not too worried about that. I’m trusting the process and making sure I get everything out of the car at the racetrack.”

Herta, the son of team owner and former driver Bryan Herta, recalled how he was that teen-aged dreamer a year ago. He lost the Indy Lights title to O’Ward but has made the most of his full-time NTT IndyCar Series debut, sitting 10th in the points. O’Ward, driving a partial schedule for Carlin, is 17th in the points. His best finish in three starts was eighth at COTA.

“I knew it was possible because of how many people had moved up from Indy Lights before,” Herta said. “Mazda Road to Indy does a great job of getting drivers ready and getting scholarships out, as well, for drivers who can’t find the sponsorship. It seems like it’s the plan that’s worked for a lot of guys. I know (five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon) did it. It’s worked for a lot of the Indy car drivers, present and past.”

Perhaps Askew and VeeKay will be the next to do so. Each considers a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner as inspiration. For Askew, it’s the late Dan Wheldon. He was the first pro driver Askew ever met when they were on the same go-kart team in 2011, the year that Wheldon died. For VeeKay, he considers Dutch driver Arie Luyendyk his mentor. Luyendyk is now an NTT IndyCar Series race steward.

“We’re always very close to each other in the races and qualifying,” VeeKay said of Askew. “Yeah, it’s fun that the rivalry grows together with us. It’s nice to race against the same rival as who I started with. Let’s see who gets the championship this year.”

Then, hopefully, it’s on that next level. Not that Askew is getting too ahead of himself when asked if he and VeeKay are the next NTT IndyCar Series stars.

“I don’t think that crosses my mind too much,” Askew said. “I just live, eat and sleep racing.”

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